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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 203: Hard-Bullied Comics #2

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Hard-Bullied Comics #2, which was published by Goodbum Studios and is cover dated December 2006. This scan is from the trade paperback, which was released in 2007. Enjoy!

Something really stands out on this page ... but I can't quite figure out what ...

Steve Earnhart’s strange, futuristic private detective comic features a truly wonderful balls-to-the-wall story, but what’s important for this discussion is his problem keeping an artist. Issue #1 featured the first two pages by one artist and the rest by a second artist. Issue #2 featured a new artist, but before the issue could even be published, he had to leave, so Earnhart got Rudolf Montemayor, whose work is shown above, to re-draw issue #2 and then finish the first 4-issue arc. At some point before the trade came out, Montemayor re-drew issue #1, as well, so that the trade features all his art even though the single issues have different art. Then, for the second arc, Earnhart had to get a new artist. Man, that has to suck. Plus, he had to change the original name of the book, “Hard-Boiled Comics,” because a certain comics creator thought that he owned that phrase even though it predates comic books, for crying out loud.

What that means for this column is that two different versions of page 1 of issue #2 exist, so let’s check out the “official” version above and then the “bootleg” version below. First, check out what Earnhart has to say on the page. Cynthia catches us up a bit in the first word balloon, as she runs down some of the plot developments from the first issue. We can infer that Cynthia herself is the “insider,” but perhaps not. The rest of the page doesn’t give us too much in the way of pertinent information, except that the person she’s talking to is seeking vengeance for his father’s suicide and he thinks Cynthia’s husband had something to do with it. The plot is too complicated to go into any further, but this page shows us know what kind of person Cynthia is and what kind of person she thinks her audience is. Earnhart does a nice job establishing Cynthia’s bad-assery just so, when she gives the man to whom she’s speaking permission to respond, he can one-up her on the next page, gaining back a level of dominance. Earnhart writes a seriously fucked-up relationship between these two, and this first page helps set that up nicely.

So there’s Montemayor, showing us essentially the same panel in a “first-person” view – we’re in the man’s position, so we see Cynthia exactly how he sees Cynthia. Montemayor takes what could be a dull, repetitive sequence and infuses some life into it, as his Cynthia is all over the place in her chair, and we can almost see her moving through the various gestures as she berates the man sitting across from her. It’s not an extremely exciting first page, but Montemayor does a nice job with it. Artists often re-use poses and drawings for several panels if they’re given a script like this, but because Montemayor doesn’t do this, it adds some energy and drama to the page. We get a sense of Cynthia’s fierce beauty as well as her shrewish ugliness, and Montemayor easily moves back and forth between those two extremes.

Contrast this page with Ulises Carpintero’s first page of issue #2 below. Carpintero is emulating Eduardo Risso nicely (they’re both Argentinian, so maybe they know each other?), and in some ways, he’s a better penciler than Montemayor. He’s not as rough and his page layout is a bit more stylish. But Montemayor’s page is more effective, I think. Why is that? Carpintero shows Cynthia in a similar fashion – she’s glamorous, sexy, and domineering. By focusing on different parts of her body, however, we don’t get the same transition between beauty and ugliness that we get from Montemayor’s layout. In Panel 2, we don’t see her face, and in Panel 3, when she should be sneering “geeks like you palm-polished your little pork-swords thinking about women like me,” she’s too busy lighting her cigarette. In Panel 4, when she says she’s going to be sick, she certainly doesn’t look it. Interestingly enough, the way the pages are laid out changes the way Earnhart’s script reads. In the “bootleg” version, the man says “Jeez Louise –” when Cynthia grosses him out with the masturbation reference, allowing her to interrupt in Panel 4 with “– Shut up. I’m gonna be sick.” In the “official” version, there’s no room for the “Jeez Louise –”, so Cynthia follows the masturbation reference quickly by saying she’s going to be sick, which makes it sound like she grossed herself out with her vulgarity. It’s a nice glimpse into the way comics occasionally have to be changed because of the way the artist lays out the page. Where Carpintero’s page, as nicely drawn as it is, fails is in the final panel. Montemayor breaks this part of the script into 2½ panels, while Carpintero uses only one. By shifting the point of view to behind Cynthia, he allows us to see the man she’s speaking with. We’ve already seen him in Panel 1, but from behind, and his casual holding of the cigar tends to clash with the way he’s responding to Cynthia. Now, in the final panel, the stuttering weakling doesn’t fit at all with the grinning, shadowed, cigar-smoking guy, so when he stands and re-asserts his dominance, it’s not as clever a change. He doesn’t look like a weakling on Carpintero’s Page 1, so the way he’s speaking in Earnhart’s script sounds off. Montemayor wisely keeps him hidden on the first page, so when he does screw up his courage and confront Cynthia on the second page, our mental image of him is shaken and we have to re-assess him. The guy in Carpintero’s version wouldn’t allow Cynthia to speak that way to him. By hiding him, Montemayor lets the reader create a picture of him in our mind, and only when he’s not acting like a weakling anymore are we allowed to see him. It makes the shift from servile to strong that much more jarring and interesting, while Cynthia’s shift from harpy to victim also more dramatic. It also allows their reconciliation to be more twisted in Montemayor’s version than Carpintero’s.

She's just not very nice

Despite the Risso influence, I really do like Carpintero’s pencils more than Montemayor. However, Montemayor seems to lay out his pages better throughout the issue, not just in this one. It’s a very interesting contrast, looking at a script that has been drawn multiple times. Luckily for us (but unluckily for Earnhart), the comic’s problems with artists means we get to see it!

Next: Man, another comic no person should ever admit to owning. At least I didn’t pay any money for this one, but I really should get rid of it. Luckily, it stars a giant codpiece, so that’s something! I don’t know if there are any giant codpieces in the archives, but you won’t know unless you check them out, will you?

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