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 Baker Street #4, which was published by Caliber and is cover dated November 1989. This scan is from the trade paperback Honour Among Punks: The Complete Baker Street Graphic Novel, which was published by ibooks, inc. in 2003. Enjoy!
Baker Street is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche in which a Sharon Ford, our Holmes stand-in, is a genuine punk from London’s sub-culture. Sue, an American medical student, is our Watson. Sharon solves crimes. Easy-peasy, yes? Well, at least it is to check out this first page, and that’s all that matters, right?
Sue is studying abroad, so we see her in her collegiate setting. Gary Reed, who wrote this, gives us some information – they were in Professor Bell’s class, they just took a test, and Sue wasn’t expecting so much about Kreb’s cycle (Google it, because I’m not getting into it). Then the dude – Rich – sees a punk and calls her an “it,” showing us the class divisions in British society (this is a slightly different world than ours, but class divisions exist everywhere!). He calls her a dyke and questions her ability to read, while the female student makes fun of her looks. Reed makes it clear that Sue is either nicer than these two people or she knows the punk, because she begins to interject angrily, thinks better of it, and makes an excuse to stay. If this were the first page of this comic that we read, we’d be able to figure out that Sue knows this person, and this person is, in fact, Sharon, our Holmes stand-in. If we don’t know that, we find out soon enough that Reed was being ironic when he had Rich talk about Sharon, as she’s smarter than he is (she also “cleans up well” when she needs to, so the female probably would think she’s pretty if she saw Sharon like that). Reed manages to show the snobbery of the upper class and comment on not judging books by their covers and imply that Sue is uncomfortable with her schoolmates’ insulting of someone they don’t know. That’s pretty good for a page.
Guy Davis is a great artist, so it’s not surprising that this page works visually (Baker Street is very early in his career, and it’s interesting to watch his style evolve from much more cartoony to his gritty style that he uses today). The establishing shot shows a wide view of the campus, which screams old money, from the architecture to the creeping vines on the walls. In Panel 2, we see a bit more of this, with the arch off to the left. The two panels don’t sync up visually – the conversation doesn’t have a lull, yet the participants, who were out in the middle of a quad, and now very close to a row of buildings. But that’s the way it is! Davis draws Rich with a nice condescending sneer on his face as he spots Sharon, and notice his cravat and uncollared shirt – it’s a subtle indication of the different clothing styles in this world. They’re not too different, but they are a bit. Rich’s look and word balloon help lead us where Davis wants us to go. The word balloons in Panels 1 and 2 lead us diagonally down from the left to the right and then straight down into Panel 2, and Rich’s look and dialogue move us backward to the left so we can easily move to Panel 3. Sharon is a parody of a high-class member, with her ragged neckwear and her cane, and Davis does a nice job with her throughout the book. Here she’s just presented as an image, because she doesn’t come into the scene until the next page. Rich and his friend are not seeing a person, they’re seeing a stereotype, so Davis simply puts her in the middle distance and doesn’t allow them to get any closer to her. In Panel 4, Rich still has his look of disdain, while the girl joins in somewhat sheepishly. Davis gives Sue a look of sudden anger to show that she’s about to intervene, but in Panel 5, we see her look of embarrassment as her classmates leave. She’s embarrassed both because she didn’t confront them – Sue is not a confrontational person – and because they hold such attitudes and she doesn’t want to tarred with the same brush. She’s a bit embarrassed for Sharon, even though Sharon doesn’t get embarrassed. Davis draws her with slightly downturned lips and a slight blush over her nose, nailing her feelings perfectly. Her classmates lead us off the page to the right of the panel. It’s a nicely designed page, and Reed and Davis do a fine job getting across a lot of information about this world and the people in it.
Baker Street is a keen comic. You should track it down. You won’t be disappointed!
Next: Everyone love it when two superhero teams fight each, right? Well, this one is a doozy! Remember, the archives aren’t getting any smaller!
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