Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from 100 Bullets #65, which was published by DC/Vertigo and is cover dated December 2005. Enjoy!
Eduardo Risso has more, I feel, to do with the success of 100 Bullets than Brian Azzarello, even though it’s a good partnership. Risso is wonderful on the book, turning Azzarello’s seedy world and pulpy scripts into mazes of storytelling, where the reader has to take in every single line in a panel in case they miss something that will be important later. Azzarello’s fine, I guess, even though 100 Bullets, to me, is a bit overrated, but I could look at Risso’s artwork all day.
Take this page. Does it really matter what Lono is saying? He’s blathering on about his uncle teaching him how to play cards, which is just Azzarello’s way of making a cigar gag on the next page (I’ll get to that). It simply doesn’t matter, and as we already know that Lono is a bad motherfucker, it doesn’t really reveal anything about his character, either. The word balloons (Clem Robins lettered this, by the way) don’t get in the way of Risso’s artwork too much (unfortunately, they do a little), which is all that I can say about Lono’s soliloquy.
Risso’s art, however, is another story. He moves us nicely across the page. In panel 1, the word balloon is right in the middle of the page, making what would have been a horrible descent blackened by inks and Patricia Mulvihill’s murky coloring into a terrifying hell not quite as devastating – the white of the word balloons dampens the impact somewhat. In the second panel, another word balloon obscures Risso’s machinery, which is perfectly normal in the basement of a commercial building but looks far more sinister under Risso’s pencils. Risso makes sure to lead us downward in both panels, moving us figuratively from the brightness of the surface to the horror lurking underneath. The center panel opens up and shows the entire scene, and it’s extremely impressive. Risso drenches the panel in black, but still shows enough of the machinery to make sure everything is still sinister. He places it in the front of the panel and Lono in the back, figuratively implying the importance of the machinery of the vast conspiracy in place in the book and the way it overshadows the human element (I have no idea if that’s what Risso was going for, but it’s common enough in the book that I think it is). What’s Lono doing? We don’t know, but check him out. He’s gigantic and muscular, and the way Azzarello makes him talk is enough to imply that he’s kind of a thug. He has a tool kit and bottled water, but his slacks mean that he’s not a repairman. He’s holding a towel in a way that could imply two things: he’s about to wipe the sweat off of his face or he’s carrying something. Given the pants, the fact that he might be sweaty feels slightly eerie, and who knows what he might be carrying, if he indeed is carrying something (he is, but we don’t know that yet). Perhaps it’s my imagination, but Risso seems to draw him with a slight bulge in his pants. If so, then something really weird is going on here … well, weirder than a shirtless man stalking around a basement.
Panel 4 just shows that he’s throwing the towel down, but the way the page is structured, it easily pushes us to panel 5, where we see some more disturbing things. There’s blood on the towel, so either Lono is bleeding (if he wiped his face) or the blood came from somewhere else. The tool kit is next to a giant knife, which adds another touch of creepiness to the scene. The cigar seems incongruous, and then there’s the finger. We don’t quite know what to do with the finger – it’s not Lono’s, and it doesn’t seem to be attached to anything. Without making it too obvious, Risso gives us a through-line – Lono is carrying a finger in the towel in panel 3, and when he throws it in panel 4, it lands in panel 5 next to the tool box, and the finger’s blood is staining the towel. Risso doesn’t need to call attention to it, because we can put two and two together. Azzarello’s story leads into a cigar gag, as Lono doesn’t cut the cigar, he cuts the finger of the man he’s torturing. Risso sets that up nicely on this page.
Risso’s work on 100 Bullets is superb, and Azzarello’s story usually moves along nicely, allowing Risso to have a grand old time with the pages. This page is just one example of how good Risso’s storytelling skills are, which makes the book a pleasure to read.
Only a few more days to suggest three writers for me to feature in April! Soon it will be too late! Toooooo laaaaaate!!!!!!!
Next: Well, I guess I own a lot of Peter David comics, so it’s not surprising they keep turning up. In the meantime, you can see which Azzarello comic I’ve already featured if you search through the archives!
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