Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Deep Sequencing: Unshuttering Shutter

Or a look at the use of style motifs in Shutter: Volume 4
by Joe Keatinge, Leila Del Duca, Owen Gieni, John Workman; Image Comics

Shutter is a comic I'm always looking forward to reading the next trade of. Its a solidly engrossing story built around the collision between Saturday-Morning-Cartoon fantasy adventure and a mature approach to consequences. It's also a comic filled with a delightfully mad mashup of well, everything: anthropomorphic animals, steampunk robots, magic, mad science. It's imagination unleashed and super fun to see. Shutter is also proving to be a comic that does some really smart and compelling things with storytelling. And since that is the reason for this blog, I'm going to take a closer look at a couple of my favourite aspects of the comic. 

There will be *SPOILERS* for Shutter Vol. 1-4.

One of the chapters that make up Shutter Volume 2 is split into three parallel backstories. This comic tells the origin stories of Chris Kristopher Jr, The Leopard, and Kalliyan, three secret siblings of Shutter's protagonist. The comic presents all three backstories at once, splitting each page into three panels with one devoted to each character. The comic also colour codes each of these panels, blue for Chris, yellow for The Leopard, and magenta for Kalliyan. This makes the division between stories super obvious to the reader and also gives each story it's own visual character and distinct feeling. It's an effective solution to a clarity problem and basically allows the for the simultaneous presentation of each story. Which is really important because the magic of this chapter is how the three stories play off each other. While a reader could basically read each tiered third as its own miniature comic, the real pizzaz of this part of the comic is seeing the parallels and differences between each character's circumstances. This allows for some really beautiful moments of common humanity and some pretty powerful and sharp differences, especially given what the reader already knows about each character. It's a pretty remarkable comic in its construction and experience. 

The other thing about this volume of Shutter that I quite enjoyed was its use of stylized flashbacks. I've been interested for a while in how comics sometimes use different, retro styles to distinguish between contemporary and flashback sections of the comic. Shutter is interesting because rather than just use a generic 'old comic' approach to its flashbacks, it uses art and comics styles that riff on particular art style and eras. This functions to provide narrative information (contemporary/flashback) but also grounds these flashbacks in a kind of loose timeline. The story about young Chris Khristopher Sr. falling in love borrows a Eurocomic/Herge style that, along with fashion choices, sets the comic in the 1930s or 40s. The flashbacks of Kate Khristopher and her romance with Huckleberry use a kind of zine comic style that feels like the 1980s or 90s. The flashback introduction of Zohra, a past mentor to Chris Khristopher Sr., uses bright popart stylings that tie the flashback to the 1970s or early 80s. Finally, there is a brief flashback sequence of one of the magic ratguys from the comic that uses pure, sepia-toned dot colours and a cartoony style to evoke old timey comics. This choice is less about evoking an era, but more about playing off the contrast between the Saturday-Morning-Cartoon-nostalgia of Shutter's world with the realistic violence and drama that permeates the comic. All of these choices work to provide story clarity but add an extra level of context that helps make Shutter feel more like a real world with a distinct history. It's good stuff. 


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