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 Incognito: Bad Influences #3, which was published by Marvel/Icon and is cover dated February 2011. Enjoy!
The first page of the third issue of the second Incognito mini-series is interesting, as it shows Brubaker once again narrating, but in an even more abstract way than he usually does. This is, in case you can’t tell (I couldn’t), third-person narration – we might think it’s first-person, but it ain’t – and in it, Brubaker goes Manichaean on us, expounding a philosophy of life that allows people like our friendly vigilante there to sleep at night. This is why we think it’s in the first person – this sounds like something our vigilante would think, and so this third person narration is similar to first person, even though it’s not. It’s an interesting device – third person is the most distant from the subject, but it’s not too hard to make it sound like it’s in the first person, which makes it more intimate. Nothing on this page indicates whether it’s in the first or the third person, and it’s interesting that our brain probably goes toward first person in this instance. Maybe it doesn’t for you, but it does for me. Brubaker deftly confuses the issue so that he can have an omniscient narrator and move around to different characters (as he does later in this issue) but make it feel closer to first person. Part of the reason he does this instead of just making the vigilante the narrator is that in this series, Zack is the main character, so only he gets narration in the first person. It’s an interesting stylistic choice.
Phillips goes for a 3 x 3 grid, with the top row forming one panel. What a panel it is, though. Look at that sucker. The barrel of the gun is the central focus of the panel, and check out how everything draws our eye toward it. The perspective forces our eyes to the figure and doesn’t allow us to go any further than that. The cape, which looks too long to be practical, sweeps up from the left and leads us right to the barrel. The man’s face is in shadow, keeping us from studying his features too much. He’s even tilted slightly to his right, so that his left hand and arm even move us toward the gun barrel. It’s a superbly designed panel, and it’s nice that it’s the first one in the issue.
In the bottom two rows, Phillips does some standard things and some not-so-standard things. The man shoots the gun to the right, so that it leads our eyes toward Panel 3, but notice that Panel 3 reverses that flow a bit. The victims are on the left, and the rays are streaming in from the right. It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but the brightness of the rays help with that, as we follow the brightness off to the right, which is where we’re supposed to go. The panel might seem poorly laid-out, but it’s not really as bad as we think. Panel 4 gives us a nice perspective directly over the vigilante, which is a good way to make us a bit more complicit in his killings. Notice that the narration doesn’t quite sync up with what the vigilante is doing – the people he’s just killed are not part of the gray areas, because they’re “evil” – but they no longer “exist,” so it’s not a bad parallel. Notice again in Panel 5, how the narration is about the fact that there are no gray areas in the world, and we see the vigilante, almost completely in black. Obviously, he doesn’t think of himself as evil, but the creators are leading us to the conclusions they want us to reach – perhaps this vigilante isn’t as good as he believes himself to be.
Once again, we see two major developments in Phillips’ work over the past decade. The inks remain very heavy, and the lines remain more jagged than they once were. The ray blasts are asymmetrical and ragged, turning clean lasers of science fiction into weapons from pulp fiction, causing horrible damage and looking messy as they do it. Notice, too, that even the faces of the criminals have become a bit more abstract – Phillips just uses inks to suggest features like eyes and eye brows. Obviously, this is because of the distance from the subject, and in other parts of the book, Phillips is very precise with stuff like that, but it’s still part of his move toward abstraction.
Val Staples is still on board as the colorist, and we see the nice use modern technology can be put to, as the ray gun blasts glow pink, lighting up the wall behind the two punks in Panel 3 and giving the entire page a nice, lurid glow to it. This book, more than Criminal, is very pulpy (Criminal is more noir), and so Staples is able to have some more fun with it. The red of the vigilante’s cape is linked to the pink of the gun, suggesting heat (the ray gun burns things), and both are linked to the background color of the final panel, where the vigilante gives chase to the punk who’s trying to get away. Again, the red tones suggest violence, so the cape’s color help imply that the vigilante is a violent man, which is certainly true. As we’ve seen before, coloring an entire panel red helps create a thought in the reader’s mind that the character allows violence to control him rather than the other way around, and I have to think Staples is suggesting that in the final panel. The character is angry that someone is trying to escape his wrath!
This is another well designed page by this team. Tomorrow, they move on to Image and get a new colorist. Will anything change? We shall see! Waste some time until then by checking out the archives!
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