"Chapter Two" of Kevin H.'s Rumbling is now available. Some sample pages:
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Sunday, March 22, 2009
In The World of Steve Ditko, Blake Bell recounts a story about the editing of Ditko’s Static, which appeared in the first three issues of Eclipse Monthly in 1983. Dean Mullaney altered Ditko’s script for the episode in #2 because he felt it was “too wordy, and visually unappealing.” (Bell agrees with Mullaney’s assessment, noting that Ditko’s debt to Ayn Rand “continued to have an impact on the quality of the storytelling” (145).) Ditko rejected the changes, and the story ran as he intended.
Mullany’s criticism reflects a common belief about comics storytelling: comics is primary a visual medium and so the text must always be dramatically subordinated (at least in terms of the amount of space it fills per panel) to the image. But I think the intensity of Ditko’s sequence visually depends upon the fact that, moving through the first three panels, the words take up an increasing amount of space as the image area decreases (with the fourth panel echoing the first):
The third panel brings the focus solely on the image of Mac’s calm, yet intense eyes, surrounded by his philosophical argument:
To lessen the text would be to lose the visual effect – the art would read differently, featuring more of the character and diminishing the focus on the eyes (a Ditko hallmark). The words function both as a visual frame and as dialogue; the image becomes an extreme close-up because of the text, not because of the “camera-to-subject” distance, a uniquely comics effect.
Here is the passage in context. Ditko frames the part of the conversation that takes place on this page with parallel long shots with full figures (panels 1 [figures are stationary] and 7 [figures in motion]):
It’s true that pages four and five of this story are relatively ‘text heavy,’ but the pages before and after return to a much more conventional word/text ratio. This fact gives the story a kind of rhythm clearly intended by Ditko, one in which conversation-heavy pages are followed by action sequences:
If we look at Ditko's independent comics in the period, we find a real diversity of text/image ratios. In many ways, page 5 from EM #2 is an exception, that like Ditko's text-minimalist pages (e.g. 1985's "The Expert"), demonstrates the considerable attention he paid to the issue.
It seems that Mullaney was not thinking of Ditko as a cartoonist and designer, but as a writer whose characters spoke too much for the tastes of 1980s comic fans, who Mullaney likely believed (and was certainly right), wanted more action than dialogue. Readers often come to Ditko with narrow expectations about how the comics page should look and strict rules about the visual balance between word and picture. They often wish that Ditko remained “faithful” to the corporate storytelling principles that governed his mainstream work, especially his 1960s Marvel comics. Although I enjoy this work, his independent comics (and his Charlton work with Joe Gill) reveal an artist constantly expanding comics’ visual and verbal aesthetics. And you can look at the word-picture ratio on pages by artists such as Kevin H. and Ivan Brunetti and trace a formal lineage back to Ditko:
From Brunetti's Schizo #2.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
So there's a massive exhibition of Charles Burns' work, Soto Pelle, in Italy right now hosted by the BilBOlbul international comics festival. "The exposition will show more than 100 works, among comic tables from Black Hole, sketches and illustrations realized for magazines and books during the last thirty years."
Posted by Alvin Buenaventura at 3:55 PM
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Four comics I read this week featured the same classic gag . . .
Sam's Strip (11/3/1961): Walker and Dumas. Reprinted in an excellent collection of Walker and Dumas's 'metacomic' Sam's Strip just released by Fantagraphics.
Yogi Bear #29 (7/1967): Artist unknown.
The Yellow Streak and Friends Annual #1 (1968): Artist Boring. Reprinted in David Boring (2000): Artist Clowes.
Nubbin (5/5/1986). Artists Boltinoff and Burnett. Reprinted in Robin Synder's Revolver Annual #1 (11/1986). Please note the umbrella in the last two comics. Was there really a chance of rain the day shown in Nubbin? I don't see any clouds in the sky. I think the "WOP!" was premeditated. Where would children's comics be without the "injury to the brain" motif?
Friday, March 13, 2009
Saturday, March 7, 2009
In Adventure Comics 425 (Jan. 1973) artist Alex Niño does something unusual. He dramatically changes the style of characters’ faces numerous times.
The title illustration features three objects that evoke the central conflict of the story: the helmet of a Spanish Conquistador, the spear of a Caribbean Indian, and the face of the natives’ leader, Fero (who names himself “Captain Fear,” hoping to generate terror in the “white devils” trying to enslave him). The face below is drawn in what we could call Nino’s baseline style for the story:
Yet on page two, Fero’s and his father’s faces look significantly different from the baseline style, which is visible in the panels superimposed on the main panel. Niño uses an almost pixilated effect, as if he’s enlarging a photo that can’t take being blown up, and so becomes blocky:
A close-up of the Spanish leader receives a similar, though even more abstracted, treatment:
The story’s next close-up employs a round and thick inking style:
The next face (Fero again):
Stylistically, this looks somewhat similar to the one above with its smooth areas of black, but the single color gives it a distinct, statue-like effect.
I’m not sure who colored the story -- no credit is given -- but the colorist understands Niño’s technique and uses a different palette for each new face, a palette unlike the story’s general approach to color.
Then, a new cartoony style of distortion is used for the face of a pirate as Fero slays him, and his head almost melts as his hair disintegrates:
The same character a few panels earlier:
When Fero names himself Captain Fear in the penultimate panel, his face resembles a picture taken by a thermal imaging device (a way to suggest the “white hot” intensity of his rage), and it looks like a looser version the statue effect used earlier:
Here are the last two faces in the context of the story's final eight panels:
The last two unique faces -- and even the story’s approach to faces as a whole -- seem to owe a debt to the kinds of distortions that characterize 1970s psychedelic art. There's something 'trippy' about reading a comic whose characters appear to be transforming in front of you . . .
The shifting styles approach is not often found in non-humor comics, where artists, though they might employ heightened exaggeration as Niño does, tend not to move between distinct styles that appear only for a single panel. And I can't think of many comics artists in any genre who use so many visual approaches within a single piece. Niño's technique here seems almost radical.
And there’s something about the ‘integrity’ of the older mass-produced comics page that makes the effect Niño employs -- or perhaps the effect it has on readers -- distinctly a comics’ one. While his changes are dramatic, the limited production methods used during the 1970s (the way comics had been produced for decades) ensure a kind of ‘naturalness’ to something that might otherwise be jarring, especially if used, say, in a movie. The warm, flat colors printed on newsprint make certain that the images don’t jump out at you in the way they might in animation or in the overdone coloring styles prevalent in current mainstream comics printed on glossy paper.
And it’s not surprising that Niño's style shifts would focus on faces, the part of the body perhaps most central to the art of caricature.
In the second part of “Captain Fear” (Adventure 426), Niño draws the story in a single style.