Thursday, March 03, 2011

Thursday Night Murals: Hey, Sentinels! Leave those kids alone!

He has his followers as well as detractors, but I'm a big fan of the comic book artwork of Chris Bachalo. Although I first discovered his work on Sandman and Shade The Changing Man, it's his quirky and distinctive artwork for issues of Generation X that made me a fan.

Two-page splash spread for Generation X #29 (August 1997), script by James Robinson; pencils by Chris Bachalo and Pop Mhan; inks by Al Vey, Eric Cannon, Tim Townsend, and Al Milgrom; colors by Marie Javins; letters by Richard Starkings and Emerson Miranda
Click image to Mondo-size

A quick Bullynote: this issue is pencilled both by Bachalo and by Pop Mhan (Spyboy, Blank). I'm gonna admit it: I can't really tell which pages are specifically by Bachalo or which ones are by Mhan. (Well, this one's definitely by Pop Mhan.) So if the panels and pages I'm pointing to turn out to be Pop Mhan rather than Chris Bachalo...boy, is my fuzzy face red. But just because I'm having trouble distinguishing between two similar manga-styled artists doesn't, I hope, distract from my appreciation for the art.

Bachalo's style had evolved by this time into an exaggerated bigfoot cartoon style that perfectly fit the young adolescents of Generation X: M, Husk, Skin, Chamber and everybody's favorite not-yet-vampiric and the aptly-not-appearing in this issue Jubilee. Big round heads, rubbery faces (and I'm not just talking about Skin), oversized feet—not quite manga, not quite western comic art, but a look that would become more prevalent in superhero comics over the next several years, paving the way for artists like Humberto Ramos and Joe Madureira. Some fans hated it, others lapped it up like chocolate milk. Mmmm, delicious chocolate milk. I'm not a blindly slavish Bachalo fanbull—his adult figures like Emma Frost looked like teenagers as well—but he took the strictly structured world of the X-Men franchises and brought a gleeful, colorful hallucinogenic quality to it. It was no stretch to believe that Howard the Duck or Spider-Ham existed in the world of Generation X. I love the two-page Where's Waldoesque (Where's Waldoish? Waldoiffic?) splash page to ish #29 (above). He's got the title team in there lost among the hurly-burly eccentric circus of Venice Beach, filled with inside jokes (is that Neil Gaiman's Death over there?). It's the kind of landscape and range of human figure we might expect the X-Men and Generation X to exist in...sure, they're mutants and they stand out among us...only, some places, less than others.

What's this got to do with Monday Night or even Thursday Night Murals? The cover's not part of a mural. We're smack-dab in the middle of the "Operation: Zero Tolerance" crossover in the X-books, where Sentinels are tracking down every one of the X-Mutants to totally eliminate and crush them...wait a minute. Just like Kid's Day, isn't every day in the Marvel Universe "Operation: Zero Tolerance"? Except for that time Rogue was flying over the military air show in her Daisy Dukes and a tube top...that was "Operation: A Little Bit of Tolerance."

Nope—unlike most of the examples in the Murals category you'll find on this little stuffed blog, I'm gonna show you an internal mural that I'm fascinated by. Here's two facing pages from the same issue, Generation X #29. Now, do I need to set up this clip for you? Gen X is being chased by Prime Sentinels through the streets or Los Angeles. You don't need to know much more than that, So, put on your widescreen glasses to get ready!

Click picture to Sentinel-size

Not a mural either, huh? But the cleverer among you (see how I keep my blog audience by giving them sneaky compliments, huh?) will have noticed that if you take your scissors and cut along here...and then snip this page off and apart like this...and you get your glue stick out and liberally apply here...and here...and then sit in a warm bath for a while so you can get the gluestick out of your might just wind up with something like this:

Click picture to Generation-size. You might need to click the resulting image to blow it up, too!

The six page-wide panels combine into one ultra-wide adventure chase mural. Unlike most of the murals I spotlight in this feature, this sextuple-wider combines a mural landscape with successive actions in time—in other words, as Scott McCloud would tell ya in his multi-billion selling Understanding Comics, Bachalo is using action moving across panels to show movement in time as well as space. (And without Doctor Who showing up, either!) As we an to the right on the long glued-together mural, the actions in each section are successive, not simultaneous; we see them across a moving landscape but not at one time. To simplify, our eyes are moving from left to right, but not as fast as the Gen X kids and their pursuing Prime Sentinels and the little skateboarding kid caught up in their chase, riding out the explosion like a wave.

I've had to fudge a little bit with pasting together the images: you'll spot that the first and second panels contain the same "no parking" sign at a slight different angle. Theoretically, you might get that same parallax view if you were running more slowly alongside the action from across the street...but I'm gonna guess that Chris Bachalo threw the sign in again to give us a visual clue that the panels were all part of one landscape. I chose to do it this way because pasting one sign on top of another would obscure the graffiti behind it; but between four and five I've cut out the second set of figures of the woman in black and her bald-headed boyfriend (and his punch line) to better preserve the visual continuity of the background. Bachalo's mural design isn't impeccable, but it's inventive and energetic, and I love the way he draws your eye from left to right across each separate panel in our natural reading direction, at the same time moving the characters and action and background in the same fashion. While the physical limitations of the comic book page have prevented him from actually creating a 48-inch wide comic panel—I picture a horizontal version of Vertigo's 2003 Vertical comic book—but Chris Bachalo has certainly done more with his own improvised "widescreen" format than most of the visual artists of the short-lived "Marvelscope" sideways-bound comic experiments like the New X-Men Annual and X-Treme X-Men Annuals of 2001.

And he did it without using the word "Marvelscope."

Or "X-Treme."

1 comment:

Rodrigo said...

that's because chris bachalo is amazing.

there's a similar idea of pacing in one of the two page spreads in an issue of Steampunk.