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 Pherone, which was published by Image and is cover dated April 2009 (it was originally serialized in Heavy Metal in 2006/2007). Enjoy!
Pherone is a decent graphic novel – the story isn’t too great, but the artwork is amazing. Patrick Baggatta, Jim Sink, and Viktor Kalvachev wrote it, with Kalvachev providing the artwork. The art on this is the reason I bought Blue Estate, Kalvachev’s next project, because it’s really stunning.
Eve, the woman on this page, is an assassin. That dude is, of course, her target. So she’s trying to get him up to his room, ignoring dinner, saying she doesn’t get hungry until after sex, and thinking what a douchebag that dude is. We don’t know she’s an assassin yet, but this page sets up the scene well – we might think she’s a hooker, of course, which is probably what the writers are going for. They subvert this a bit in the final panel, but it’s obvious that the writers are leading us to that conclusion. A woman who looks like Eve can’t find that big ugly dude attractive, can she? I mean, look at him!
Kalvachev’s art is wonderful throughout the book, and this page gives us a good idea of what we can expect. We’re in Seattle, so Kalvachev gets to do a lot of scenes in the rain. The first panel sets the scene at the Madison Hotel, with the neon of the sign and the lights inside the bar and grill illuminating the panel. The rain is heavy and thick, making the scene more oppressive. The red at the top and the yellow at the bottom are unusual, because the neon sign at the top is hellish while the bar and grill at the bottom is comforting, which is a bit turned around. Notice, too, that this is the only panel on the page that’s fully colored – a good deal of the book is in black and white, with just some touches of color that we see on the rest of the page. The steak in Panel 2 is “bloody” – it might be steak sauce, sure, but it suggests blood, which is nice yet somewhat unsubtle foreshadowing. The word balloon in Panel 1 leads us to the top panel in the second column, and the fork in the panel points to the word balloon in Panel 3. Kalvachev shows us the lipstick-stained glass half-full of red wine, again implying blood and Eve’s status as a femme fatale. Kalvachev shows us the unnamed target with a bit of his face twisted in the glass, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s taking a big bite of steak. We don’t know him for long – Eve is successful in her mission – but it’s obvious he’s a ravenous dude, so the first time we see him he’s stuffing his gob.
Panel 4 shows us Eve for the first time, with her smoky eyes, her low-cut and high-slit dress, her stockings, and her bright red lips. She’s kind of crammed into the panel strangely – she’s sitting at a chair, as we see in Panel 6, and the table is in front of her, but I assume Kalvachev wanted to show her gams so he drew her oddly. It’s not a pose that is impossible to pull off, like we see in too many superhero books, but she does look a bit uncomfortable, doesn’t she? When she says that she doesn’t get hungry until after sex, Kalvachev puts the word balloon half into Panel 5, drawing our attention to the target, who looks even more ravenous now. Then we move behind Eve, so we see how Kalvachev actually puts her in the chair, and the pose looks a bit better. The rain outside is nicely done, with Kalvachev using white to highlight it instead of exterior light. Finally, Panel 7 focuses on Eve’s lips, as they curl into a small smile, because she has the target right where she wants him. It’s not an original kind of drawing, but it’s nice that Kalvachev doesn’t show anything else (you ought to see her chin if this were her actual face). It adds to the impact of her smile.
Kalvachev, you’ll notice, has a nice, hard line that helps contrast the faux softness of Eve – she’s an assassin, after all – with the roughness of the target. Notice the way Kalvachev etches lines on the target’s face as opposed to the lack thereof on Eve’s face. Obviously, she’s a woman and he’s a man, so he’ll probably be a bit more rough-hewed, so Kalvachev makes his eyebrows bushy and rough and gives him that thick mustache. Notice too that Kalvachev gives him predatory and wide teeth, making him even more ravenous. Kalvachev shows the restaurant in yellow in the first panel, but then he switches to black and white, so he is able to drench parts of the page in shadows. So in Panel 5, we get the half-shadowed face of the target, and in Panel 6, we go behind Eve so that the light source is in front of her, shadowing her back and doing a bit more foreshadowing about Eve’s true nature. It’s a nice way to present the page, and Kalvachev does it nicely throughout the book.
As I mentioned, Pherone could be a lot better, but it’s not bad. I’m sure you can find it around, so check it out if you see it!
There’s still some time to suggest your own first page for me to feature in October! I’ve been kind of slow getting in front of these posts, so I haven’t started on October yet (I wish I were further ahead!), but that just means you still have time! E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know which first page you want to see. It’s not hard!
Next: Another crossover between two different comics companies! Those are always fun, right? Whoo-hoo! You can find another crossover buried in the archives
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