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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 313: Capote in Kansas

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Capote in Kansas, which was published by Oni and is cover dated 2005. Enjoy!

Ominous!!!!

Capote in Kansas preceded the Truman Capote movies of a few years ago, and I wondered when those movies came out if any of the moviemakers had heard of this graphic novel. Ande Parks, generally known as an inker (Phil Hester’s inker, more specifically), and Chris Samnee, early in his career, put together a tremendous book, and you should probably try to find this and read it. But let’s check out the first page, shall we?

Parks, obviously, doesn’t have much writing on this page, but he does let us know that it’s November 1959 and that we’re in Kansas. Obviously, if you pick up a book called Capote in Kansas, you probably know this book will be about Truman Capote and the writing of In Cold Blood, so the date and place might not even be necessary, but there it is. Parks, presumably, also included the sound effect in the script – it’s a gun shot, but I don’t think it really does a good job of indicating that. We only really learn that it’s a shot when the killer comes into the room with a gun and we see the same effect. Oh, whoops – spoilers! Yeah, that girl dies. The crime was 50 years ago, people!

Samnee’s artwork gets us into the story nicely. The page design isn’t anything radical, but it’s still solid storytelling. Samnee’s lack of holding lines in the landscape of this comic helps evoke a bygone and somewhat shabby era, with Kansas contrasted to the much more cosmopolitan New York and the effete Capote. Kansas becomes more more elegiac, even, than New York, which Samnee draws with a lighter, crisper line. The tragedy that affects the Clutter family turns into something that affects all of Kansas, and we see some of that on this first page. It’s a November night, so of course it’s going to be dark, and Samnee throws long shadows across the house, shrouding it nicely. The tree on the left frames the scene, diminishing the car underneath it, and while I’m not sure if those trees would still have leaves (having never lived in Kansas nor knowing what those trees are), the black splotches they make are a nice effect. The house looks ghostly, which is what Samnee is going for.

In Panel 2, we move inside the house and see Nancy Clutter, one of the two children murdered on that night. Once again, Samnee uses black to define things, such as the furniture in the bedroom and even Nancy’s form, and the stark white of the moon shining through her window is meant as a symbol of her powerlessness – freedom is so close, but she can’t reach it. Samnee moves closer in Panel 3, and we can see that Nancy’s hands are bound behind her back, and although we see her hands in Panel 2, it’s in Panel 3 that we suddenly realize that something is very wrong (if we were unfamiliar with the case, that is). Samnee makes the connection between Nancy’s situation and the freedom she is denied even more obvious – her face is swathed in shadow, and she’s looking directly at the light coming in through the window. Finally, in Panel 4, Samnee gives us a close-up, and uses the shadows even more effectively – her eyes are hooded, her mouth is dark, and her hair is black even though we can tell it’s usually lighter. Samnee places black behind her, too, a clear reference to her fate approaching her, and the sound effect, even if I don’t love it, feels quite ominous in conjunction with the fact that she’s tied up. Samnee uses the old trick of beginning with a long shot and dollying in, but artists use it because it works, and on this page, it helps build the tension. We fear turning the page, but with just a few simple panels, Samnee makes us empathize with Nancy, so we have to turn the page. It doesn’t end well, as we soon discover.

According to the back of this book, this is by “newcomer” Chris Samnee, so I don’t know if this was his very first work or just one of his earliest ones. Either way, it’s clear he has strong skills and knows how to manipulate the reader very well. This is a very good first page, and the book only gets better, which is nice.

Next: A kids’ comic? What’s wrong with that? They still have first pages, don’t they? I’m sure you can find other comics appropriate for children in the archives!

5 Comments

One of the earliest Samnee things I’ve seen is something in Big Bang Comics, when he was 16 in about ’96, “Knightwatchmanga”.

Dude’s younger than me, then, and so much more talented! I wasted so much of my younger years!

This may sound crazy, but the first panel reminds me of Thomas Hart Benton’s somewhat monochromatic depictions of the Mid-West as a dark and foreboding place.

Can’t find a perfect example, but here’s a few samples of his work.

“Approaching Storm”
http://www.passionforpaintings.com/paintingdatabase/skin1/images/catalog/categories/oil%20paint/b/benton_thomas_hart/%5Bbenton_thomas_hart%5Dapproaching_storm/big.jpg

“The Hailstorm”
http://www.artchive.com/artchive/B/benton/hailstorm.jpg

But it’s OK if nobody else sees this…

Er, “Approaching Storm”!

I like this but panel 3 took me too long to figure that the piece of wood behind the girl is the bed’s headboard. Samnee switches to a low angle, which we can tell from the nightstand and the bed’s footboard (once we can locate it). But the placement of the girl’s hands feels weird against where the line of the bed’s edge should be. Also, she’s backed up substantially on the bed and toward the nightstand but it takes too long to see that this has happened. As well, the lump under the covers from 3 is pretty clearly her legs, but in panel 2 it looks more like something apart from the girl—as it would be awkward for her legs to hit that angle in panel 2.

Apart from that, I think this is pretty strong work and I’m now interested in picking it up!

Travis: You’re a wastrel!

Mike: Those are both pretty neat paintings. I don’t think you’re crazy at all!

Seth: Good point. I missed that, but when you mention it, it’s pretty obvious about the change of point of view. That’s why I like comments – because I know I miss things!

This is quite a good comic. I haven’t seen either of the recent movies that came out about this event, but I can’t imagine that they’re much better than what Parks and Samnee do here!

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