Saturday, April 3, 2010

Stanley's Shading


Like nearly everyone, I enjoy John Stanley’s cartooning in Thirteen Going on Eighteen -- the looseness of his characters, their constant sense of motion, their expressive faces . . . But there’s one thing that doesn’t always work for me:
his approach to shading.

Sometimes, I’m not sure how to interpret the hatching. While it often serves a typical function of either representing shadows, reflections in glass, or the texture of a surface, at other times it’s not clear how the shading is supposed to “read”:

It's confusing to me when the shading appears at opposite angles in the same panel, as in the second above; it might imply two light sources, but I doubt that's what Stanley intends . . .

It's a little excessive at times and so is at odds with his otherwise successfully minimalist approach.

The shading below may be intended to amplify the characters’ excitement, and therefore to express two functions simultaneously (shading and emotion lines). But the lines almost overwhelm the figures:

I’m not sure what’s being communicated in the upper right-hand corner of the first panel:

It occasionally appears as if Stanley uses hatching to fill spaces that don't need to be filled. Or the shading outlines the characters in a way that distracts us from their facial expressions . . .

Here’s an attractive page that avoids these issues by using objects on the walls or in the room (where hatching might have been used to fill space) and a feathered-edge circular lighting effect in panels 4 and 5:

His shading is more minimalistic, and I think more effective, in the ½ page strips:

There's a real clarity in the above two examples that keeps attention focused on the characters and gags.

These are minor complaints about a minor aspect of Stanley's work, and the heart of his skill lies more in his writing and figures than in the background details of the cartooned environments.

9 comments:

blaise larmee said...

it's manga

Ken Parille said...

In a way, I think you are right.

chancepress said...

this is why i read comics criticism blogs... as a fan without a particularly sophisticated eye, i would either have never noticed this or noticed that something was a little bit off about certain panels without being able to put my finger on it. great post!

Ken Parille said...

Thanks -- I appreciate that --

Anonymous said...

I second chancepress. I love these close reads of various comics.

coy is coy said...

Good observation, I had the same impression about shading conveying an emotion.

LOOKA said...

Totally cool article! That's the kind of thing I like to loose myself in...

I thought that exactly:

"The shading below may be intended to amplify the characters’ excitement, and therefore to express two functions simultaneously (shading and emotion lines)..."

Also the Manga thing jumped to me as well. The intense hatching of Ikegami (although in a totally different surrounding of style) jumps to me.

Maybe Stanley brought it in as a means of getting out of the harmonic compositions of the other examples he had done before (like the circular lighting) and bring in some sort of abstraction to the otherwise formulated clarity of cartooning. You know, a "try something new, don't be so easy on the eye," kind of approach.

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