Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 351: Local #4
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. As it’s now December, I will be examining the LAST pages of random comics, so watch out for SPOILERS! Today’s page is from Local #4, which was published by Oni Press and is cover dated November 2005. Enjoy!
I’ve written about Local before, in case you’re wondering. It’s really good. So let’s jump right in, shall we?
Brian Wood is a smart writer partly because he knows when to shut up and let his artist do all the work. Local #4 takes place in Missoula, Montana, and it’s an emotionally gut-wrenching issue, a confrontation between two brothers. On the page right before this, someone dies, and that’s why Ryan Kelly draws the page this way. Wood has been moving back and forth in time, which is why we get the time in the upper left of this page. But otherwise, Wood doesn’t need to write anything. Kelly doesn’t need sound effects of a gun going off, because he uses the old cliché of birds scattering off the branches of trees. I don’t think that’s a bad idea at all – clichés are clichés for a reason, after all, and birds flying away after a loud noise is always a bit chilling, so the fact that Kelly uses them isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He lays the page out well, though – Wood’s caption box is on the same level as the first birds, so our eyes follow them down toward the diner directly below, which leads us to the police rushing in to stabilize the situation. The “silence” of the panel adds impact to the scene, as we’ve just turned the page from the instant before the gun goes off, so we’re expecting something “loud” and traumatic. Instead, Kelly pulls all the way back, giving us the bucolic Montana countryside shattered by violence – the birds seem almost to scar the landscape, as the black and white of the comic really helps create the feeling of contrast between the pleasant mountainous scene in the background and the birds rising from the trees below. The trees in the background are ordered and calm, while the birds look like gaps in the sky, implying the chaotic breakdown inside the diner. Kelly wisely uses negative space for the trees in the middle ground, because that creates a thickness to the layer of trees behind the diner – it’s not just one row of trees, but two, making the diner even more insignificant in the grand palette of nature. The fate of one man – who is unnamed in this issue, an important point – doesn’t matter too much. The birds indicate that nature has been upset, but the mountains behind imply it’s not going to be upset for too long. The police will rush in, clean everything up, and everyone will move on.
This is a stirring page partly because of what Kelly doesn’t show, and he leaves it up to the reader to interpret things their own way. This page is a fine example of why Local is such a good comic – Wood and Kelly never take the easy way, and they force the reader to involve him- or herself in the experience. That’s pretty cool.
Next: These days, we think of this writer as really cranky and not at all fun. But he’s written some very funny comics in the past, and tomorrow’s entry might be his funniest serial ever! You can find his work (and that of his collaborator) buried in the archives!