Monday, May 04, 2015

Scott McCloud Must Be Turning in His Grave, Part 1: The Unbearable Persistence of Panels

Maybe I worry a little too much about this stuff, but I've been a wee bit dismayed at recent comic books that seem to violate a couple of the basic rules of visual narrative storytelling. Or, to put it another way: that panel don't look right. True, unless you count How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way (sorry Stan, but I really don't), there's not truly a rule book for this sort of stuff, and in fact I salute heartily with my little mug of frosty root beer anybody who goes wild to create a phantasmagorical visual experience in comics (f'r example, the recent Silver Surfer #11). But you know that uneasy feeling you get when millions of voices suddenly cry out in terror, and are silenced? Or, the feeling you get when chili peppers burn your gut? That's the this is sorta off-key experience I have in looking at some of these comic books.

Here's a mild example:

Panels from Fantastic Four #644 (May 2015), script by James Robinson, pencils by Leonard Kirk, inks by Karl Kesel, colors by Jesus Aburtov and Tamara Bonvillain, letters by Clayton Cowles

Let me set up the context in what you're seeing here: the Fantastic Four and the Avengers are battling a team of nightmare fuel Avengers straight out of the 1996 "Heroes Reborn" era when Jim Lee's Wildstorm Productions and Rob Liefeld Extreme Studios took over creation of four top-tier Marvel comics for a year. (Short summary: it weren't that good.) That's why you've got All-New Captain America thrown' his mighty shield at all-over face-masked Hawkeye (who was supposed to be Wonder Man Simon Williams, except Rob Liefeld forgot to tell anyone). So that's why Captain America's shield is getting battered away in the third panel by another Captain America from the Heroes Reborn Pocket Universe. Clear as mud? Good.

Except...and this bothers me...

…there appears to be three shields in that panel.

Now, yes. I know there isn't. The big one that seems to be in the upper left hand corner is actually the shield from the first panel violating its panel borders, which makes the first panel bombastic and dynamic, but crosses over into another panel where there's already two identical items. Technically, there's actually nothing wrong here, and honestly, it's only momentarily disconcerting. But it still threw me for a second, and I don't think that I'm a particularly clueless comic book reader. It's just one of those panels that throws you out of the story momentarily. Or is it just me? Oh well, clear enough, fair enough.

Now let's talk about Wolverines #1 and another example that appears to violate one of those unwritten rules.

Get it? Because it says published every month except March and then it says the publication month is March!


Actually, that's not really what I wanted to point out to you in Wolverines #1, but it was just too good to ignore. Here's what I wanted to point out to you:

Panels from Wolverines #1 (March 2015), script by Charles Soule, pencils by Nick Bradley, inks by Walden Wong, colors by FCO Plascencia, letters by Cory Petit


In the first panel you have Endo (Endo? Truly, all the good superhero code names have been taken) on the left and Mystique on the right, and in the second and third panels, their positions are reversed. Add to that the visual confusion that Mystique is temporarily changing herself into Endo, and the storytelling isn't clear for a second. What, did Mystique suddenly take a jump to the left to do her quick change trick? Was Endo Mystique all along or...? My point...I do have one…is that any time you change the a general rule of visual storytelling, like constancy of placement from panel to panel, you risk throwing the little stuffed bull reader out of the moment.

Wait a minute. Let's try this, and we'll discover something interesting:

I've (very amateurly) flipped the orientation of each of the bottom two panels, and wait just one gosh-darned minute, when you do it this way the symbol on Endo's uniform in panels two and three matches the symbol in panel one. And the mountain range is in the same correct position! Which suggests that rather than Nick Bradley drawing the two characters in the wrong orientation, he originally drew them in the right orientation, but before publication those two panels were flipped. Maybe by Bradley, maybe by the editor of the comic; we don't know. The reason behind this could be that the third panel reads more powerfully (in my opinion) if you have Mystique leading on the left in the third panel. Mystique is talking throughout the third panel, and the way I've flipped it, at first glance it looks as if Endo might be the one talking. So it's appears to be a decision on the art that improves the storytelling in one place but violates it in another. At least it saved Nick Bradley from having to draw the whole thing again. But it still bugged me.

Say, is this post to be continued? Yes! Tomorrow: I try to re-write a Catwoman comic, and not just to add kitten jokes.

1 comment:

timber-munki said...

Couldn't the Wolverines page have flipped panel 1 instead, thus avoid the confusion of who's speaking in panel 3 and maintaining Endo's logo panel to panel continuity.

Alternatively there's a whole story between panel 1 & 2 explaining the flipping of Endo's logo...