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 GrimJack: The Manx Cat #2, which was published by IDW and is cover dated September 2009. Enjoy!
I’m not sure if this counts, because this was originally published on-line and I don’t know how they broke up the chapters, but when it got published, this was the first page of issue #2, so that’s good enough for me! This is, of course, by the classic team of John Ostrander and Timothy Truman, with Lovern Kindzierski on colors and John Workman on letters.
Ostrander and Truman begin with a panel advertising “Munden’s,” which is the bar owned by the main character, John Gaunt. This does little except establish the setting, but it’s still appreciated. Gaunt narrates this story himself, so his are the first words we see. Ostrander catches us up a bit – the lizard annoys him, the bartender doesn’t listen to Gaunt, and some dude named Goethe is there to see him. Gaunt and Goethe have met before, of course, and Gaunt is a bit peeved at Goethe for past deeds. The dialogue is vague, but that’s to be expected when two people are talking about something they both know about but a new reader would not. If you read the first issue, you can be expected to know what they’re talking about, but if you didn’t, Ostrander waits until the final panel to mention the “cat.” Goethe wants Gaunt because of something to do with a stolen cat. Gaunt has already done something to do with it, and thinks Goethe is playing him. Ostrander writes the page so that someone who read the first issue will be reminded of what happened while a new reader will (he hopes) be intrigued. It’s not bad.
Truman doesn’t have much to do with selling the book, although he gets to have some fun later in the issue. When we first see Gaunt, it’s from the back, but we still get a sense of what kind of person he is – the sweeping cape is anchored by the giant shoulder pads (a relic from the 1980s, true, but one that shows how tough he is) and the jaunty beret indicates that this is some kind of uniform rather than a costume. The word balloon is right above the object of the balloon, moving our eyes easily from Gaunt’s mention of the lizard to the lizard itself. Truman gives the lizard (his name’s Bob) an evil smirk in Panel 3, which is neat – Bob knows that Gordon (the bartender) won’t give him up, and he’s letting Gaunt know that too. Then we get to Panel 4, where we see Goethe for the first time (in this issue). The nice contrast between Gaunt the tough guy and Goethe the popinjay is handled well by Truman – we see Gaunt from the front here for the first time in the issue, which makes the contrast between him and Goethe have more of an impact. We do see in Panel 5 that Goethe isn’t just a dude who wears too much rouge – Truman gives him a steely gaze even as Gaunt’s hand goes to his sword hilt. It’s a nice panel, because Goethe is talking, which is his stock in trade, while Gaunt is holding his sword, showing that he’s more a man of action. Truman needs to cram Panels 6 and 7 onto the page, but it’s again a nice contrast – despite being thinner than Goethe, Gaunt can’t be contained by the panel borders, and we see only his thin nose and parts of his piercing eyes. Goethe, despite his plumpness, is almost diminished by the thin panel – he is jammed into it under a big word balloon, and if we get rid of the balloon, Goethe’s fez takes up almost as much room on the page as his face and hand, once again emphasizing his devotion to fashion but also making him the submissive one in the dynamic even as he struggles against it. We see this again in the final panel – Gaunt is encroaching on Goethe’s personal space, and the dandy shrinks back even as he’s still trying to enlist Gaunt. His arm crossed over his chest makes him even smaller, while Gaunt’s cape makes him seem larger.
As usual with these artists, you can hate the actual style of the artwork, but you can’t deny that Truman knows how to design a page, even when it’s not the most fun page. This page gives us a lot of visual information about Gaunt, Goethe, and their place in Cynosure, the city in which GrimJack is set. Ostrander gives us some information about the plot, while Truman gives us some information about the society. This is why they work so well together and why you really ought to read GrimJack. I’m sure you already have, right?
Next: I just love weird comics, don’t you? Well, this one is pretty darned weird! Seek comfort in the archives!
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.