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. This month I will be looking at four writer/artist duos, as voted on by you, the readers! This week features Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips! Today’s page is from Criminal: The Sinners #4, which was published by Marvel/Icon and is cover dated February 2010. Enjoy!
Unlike other first pages we’ve seen, on this one, Brubaker opts for third person, which immediately distances us from his subject, Evan. Why he does this is a mystery, but you’ll notice that this page is a bit more informative and expository than mood-setting, although it does that a bit. Evan is trying to remove Tracy Lawless from the picture, and somehow this will happen in the hotel. Evan is doing this for Father Mike, who wouldn’t be happy with Evan’s initiative. Evan doesn’t care, though, because he wants to show Father Mike how appreciative he is to the priest. If this were the first issue we got of this arc, we wouldn’t know who Tracy Lawless is or why Father Mike wanted him out of the way, but it’s not a bad foundation on which to build. Of course, the minute Brubaker narrates “the easy way,” there’s a gun shot and then someone – presumably Tracy – comes flying out of the window, so the irony is very evident, but that’s not too uncommon in comics writing.
This is a pretty recent comic, so Phillip’ voyage to a bit more abstract style is pretty much complete. Again, it’s not like we can’t figure out what he’s drawing, but he does more to suggest things than earlier. Evan’s hair, with its crazed jaggedness and thick inks, is one example. Phillips’ triangles in the final panel is another – we know it’s glass, but Phillips doesn’t care about being too specific with it, and simple geometric figures are fine. Earlier this week, we saw that Phillips (probably) used Photoshop for an automobile, but in Panel 1, he seems to settle on a fairly simple van and car, making it just concrete enough to show exactly what they are but not being too concrete. I don’t mean to imply that Phillips is being lazy, because that’s certainly not it. It’s just that he is confident enough to be concrete with certain things – Evan (not his hair) and Tracy, for instance – while making sure that the rest of the page is not taking focus away from those things. Once again, we get very heavy inks on this page – Evan’s face is black in certain places, and Panel 4 creates an impression of age and pollution on the bricks outside the window. The books that Philbaker do together deal in very dark moral and ethical areas, and Phillips’ jagged lines, harsh inks, and almost manic penciling (in some places) reflect this messy world. Even the light in Panel 4 is marred by a feverishly inked shadow. Val Staples is once again along for the ride, and he does a nice job blunting the yellow of the lights in Panels 1 and 4, giving the city a depressing, seedy look. The bright red of the final panel helps intrude on this scene – it’s a burst of violence, like we saw with Incognito yesterday, but it also subtly turns the exterior of the hotel from a dire reality into something bursting with intensity. The wrong kind of intensity, perhaps, but intensity nevertheless.
Phillips sets up the page pretty well, too. Note how Evan is looking toward Panel 2 in Panel 1, down to Panel 3 in Panel 2, over to Panel 4 in Panel 3, and right at us in Panel 5, letting us know we need to pay attention to what’s going to happen next. It’s a well-designed page, which isn’t surprising. Phillips usually knows what he’s doing!
Tomorrow we’ll head back to Incognito. Which issue? You’ll just have to be here to find out! Soothe your frazzled nerves by checking out the archives!
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