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Ecce picturae intra libros: Comics art for the week of 1 May 2013

05-02-2013 04;04;03PM (2)

‘I met Andy Warhol at a really chic party’ / Blow it out your hairdo, ’cause you work at Hardee’s!

If you’ve read this blog for any appreciable amount of time and don’t just show up to tell Kelly to burn in hell (seriously, what the hell was up with that?), you know that I’ve been trying to shift my attitude recently toward a more art-side appreciation of comics. There’s a number of reasons for this. I never felt like I was good enough at writing about art, so I’ve made an effort to correct that, and I think I’m getting better at it. There’s also a problem with writing in comics – there are too many comics that are far too similar, and after you’ve read thousands of superhero comics over the past 25 years, as I have, and after you’ve read thousands of genre-bending mash-ups over the past 25 years, as I have, plots just don’t concern you anymore (or at least plots don’t concern me). I have never cared too much about spoilers for this reason. All plots are about love or power, ultimately, so how the characters go about achieving one or the other might be interesting, but their endgame really isn’t. I’m much more interested in how writers create characters and make them “real” – I’ve always been more interested in that than plots, but as I get older, it becomes much more important. And art has become more important, because the way an artist tells a story can take a pedestrian script and elevate it or take a great script and ruin it. Art is incredibly important in comics, which might not sound like a revolutionary concept, but it’s still worth repeating. This week I got a bunch of solid comics, and they have a lot of different kinds of art styles. I thought I’d take a look at how the artists tell the story, because won’t that be fun?

I bought two black and white comics this week, Snapshot #4 and Wasteland #44. Black and white comics in this day and age are interesting, because coloring is so much easier than it used to be, so black and white comics, especially from mainstream publishers, is a deliberate choice by the creators. In the case of Snapshot, Andy Diggle writes in the back of issue #4 that Jock’s art looks so good in black and white, and coloring it would have raised the price of the book. I haven’t asked Antony Johnston why Wasteland is in black and white, but I imagine cost has something to do with it. It’s also that the book’s aesthetic – a story in a post-apocalyptic, stark desert landscape full of brutal people – makes black and white a natural choice. As hauntingly beautiful the one color issue of Wasteland was, it doesn’t add so much to the book that it’s worth coloring all of it.

I imagine there’s not much difference in drawing something that you know is going to be in black and white, although I could be wrong. Artists, presumably, ink the book a bit more stringently, knowing that there will be no colorist to fill in their empty spaces. This, of course, leads to far more black in black and white comics, as it provides the only contrast in the comic. This means we get a lot of negative space use (negative space is way cool) and a tone that is, in many instances, “more serious” than in colored book. Obviously, black-and-white comics are as versatile as colored comics, but if the artist is going for an intense mood, black and white often helps that quite bit. Consider the first panel from Snapshot #4:

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This panel might seem “too busy” at first glance, and the lack of color demands that we really focus on it and consider what we’re seeing. Jock doesn’t have the benefit of a contrasting palette to highlight the face behind the main action, which is the face of the man in the foreground. He’s trying to drown the hero, which is what’s going on in the foreground, but Jock uses negative space very well in the background to show his psychotic glee at doing his work. As the face emerges, it becomes a far more disturbing image than just one dude trying to drown another one (which is disturbing enough). It’s raining, too (ah, rain: the friend of “serious” comics and John Cusack movies), so you’ll notice that Jock uses a water theme on the panel – the rain is streaking across the characters, the bad dude is drowning the hero, and the background image is created partially by paint spatters, making it more “liquid.” This is a powerful image, one made more abstract by the lack of coloring.

Here’s another great drawing that works much better for being in black and white:

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First of all, the coloring or lack thereof has nothing to do with the perspective, which is phenomenal. Jock puts us in the point of view of the bad guy who was just trying to drown the hero, as the other hero has shot him in the arm and is now telling him he better not make a move toward his gun, which he dropped. We’re looking up at Callie, who’s pointing an Uzi right at our head, and it’s a wonderful drawing. Jock once again takes advantage of the rain, which streams down from the upper right and splotches the area around Callie and drips off the gun toward us, but he also using the lighting well. In a colored comic book, it’s conceivable that Callie’s face would still be shadowed, but it’s not a given, and Jock’s heavy inks in this drawing makes Callie a fearsome bringer of death instead of a nervous young lady. She’s posturing to a degree, but she’s also deadly serious, and Jock gets that across quite well.

Wasteland, the other black and white comic, has a bit of a different look, because it has “tones” by Matthew Razzano over Russel Roehling’s pencils, so the book, despite being set in a post-apocalyptic stark desert landscape, looks a bit less harsh than Snapshot. Razzano has been doing tones on and off on the book for a while, and I’m not the biggest fan of the decision. It does make the book feel softer, which is something that plagues colored comic books a bit, as digital coloring tends to do that. Roehling’s pencils are perfectly fine, and there doesn’t seem a need for “tones.” Razzano began on the book, if I recall correctly, when Justin Greenwood was drawing the book, and Greenwood’s pencils weren’t as confident as Roehling’s were, so perhaps Razzano was needed. I don’t think he’s needed on this book, but its schedule has slipped a bit, so perhaps Razzano was brought in to help speed up the process a bit.

Note the diffence, though, from Snapshot:

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I’m not talking about the actual pencil work – whether you like Jock’s art of Roehling’s more is a matter of personal taste – but I’m talking about the difference the tones make. The black and white in Snapshot is far starker than it is here – Razzano’s tones soften the faces of the bear and of Michael, changing the mood of the artwork. The art in Snapshot feels bleaker, while Roehling and Razzano’s is less abstract and more comforting, as unusual as that might be when it shows a bear about to rip someone’s face off. Are the tones used to make the characters more “real”? I don’t know, but it’s interesting to point out how Roehling and Razzano show the attack of the Sand-Eaters later in the issue:

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Obviously, as we get more in the background, Roehling is going to use fewer details, but even in the foreground, Razzano seems to use fewer tones, perhaps to highlight the inhumanity of the Sand-Eaters. The inks are streaked more, of course, implying movement, and also to show that the Sand-Eaters in the back are farther from the light source (I’ll write about light sources below). This is a nice panel, and while Razzano still uses tones when we see the Sand-Eaters a bit more closely, it still feels like the tone pattern he uses is somehow less … sophisticated? Maybe I’m just seeing things. The one thing we do see with regard to the tones is that Razzano uses them far less when Roehling draws landscapes, leading me to believe, again, that the tones are to soften the characters in the context of the stark desert around them. But I could be wrong. [Edit: Antony Johnston was nice enough to let me know that the tones in the book have nothing to do with the price – it’s just the way they want to do the art. Meanwhile, Roehling has been doing the tones for the rest of the arc. Yes, I ought to have contacted Johnston about it. I’m just too damned lazy.]

Moving on, let’s check out the Caped Crusader, the Dark Knight Detective, the Masked Manhunter, the one and only Bat-Man! I bought two books starring Bats this week, and I got three different interpretations of everyone’s favorite raging hero. John Layman finished his first big arc on Detective, meaning we got a showdown between Ignatius Ogilvy – Emperor Penguin – and the Dynamicest part of the Dynamic Duo. I’m not going to get into how Emperor Penguin suddenly became a superhero, although Layman did set it up fairly well and it involves COMICBOOKSCIENCE!!!!!, the most scientific of all the SCIENCES!!!!! Of all the comics I bought this week, this is the most superheroey, as Jason Fabok fits in well with the stereotypical superhero artist. There are good things and bad thing about this stereotype, and Fabok kind of embodies them all. As I’ve noted more than a few times during this arc, he has to get better at facial expressions. Batman is ALWAYS constipated:

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These pictures are all the images of Batman we can see close up when he’s facing the reader well enough to see his mouth, with one exception, and that’s when he’s getting punched hard, so of course he looks a bit different. His expression never changes. He’s just Angry McGrumpypants, and this is not the first time we’ve seen this during Fabok’s run on ‘Tec. It’s not like Fabok can’t do other expressions – Ogilvy himself runs a gamut in this very issue – but for some reason, Fabok has decided that Batman always must look like he’s had way too much cheese and not enough fiber. Poor Brucie!

“But Greg, you tool!” you might say, if you were in the habit of talking to a screen, “Bats is just angry for justice, man! Everyone draws Bats as some kind of ‘roided-up rageaholic!” Well, not really – Alan Davis and Norm Breyfogle might want to have a word with you – but in the No-Fun DCnU, I can see your point. In the other Bat-centric comic I’ll look at, Legends of the Dark Knight, both Tradd Moore and Sergio Sandoval tend to draw Batman as ultra-serious. In both stories, though, the artists break a bit from the rule – Moore gives us Sad Batman in one panel, while Sandoval sneaks a grim smile onto Batman’s face while he’s investigating. I don’t know why Fabok does this so regularly. It’s kind of weird.

Fabok is influenced by David Finch and, to a lesser degree, Gary Frank, so it’s not surprising he works in a more “realistic” style and is rather hyper-detailed. He tends to use softer inks than some artists, and Jeromy Cox, the colorist, also tends to soften his work. Cox isn’t a bad colorist by any means, but he does work in a style that I’m not too fond of, and a great amount of superhero books tend to fit within this template – sharp pencils smoothed down a bit by overzealous colorists. I still don’t know if it’s because of the preponderance of digital coloring – I’m not smart enough about the process to know that – but it does seem to be a trend that’s here to stay. What it gives us is less definition in faces, a reliance on black, making the books darker both in tone and in appearance, and more special effects. I dig the special effects, actually, when they’re used well – the digital coloring makes eerie glows easier to render, and Fabok’s precise linework in this issue helps Cox creates some cool effects. When Batman zaps Ogilvy, for instance, we get this nice panel:

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Some of the electrical crackles don’t even look like they were drawn in – it’s almost as if Cox simply colored them in without any guiding lines. Some you can clearly see the border, but I imagine Cox had some leeway in showing some of the sparking. If you’ve read the issue, you’ll notice that it’s raining. Ah, rain. Again. This page shows some of it while also being a good example of Fabok’s storytelling:

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There’s a lot going on here. The tilted panel borders are a bit clichéd, but they’re better than nothing, and Fabok leads our eye nicely from one panel to another, both through the placement of the narrative boxes and the word balloons and the action itself. Fabok is pretty good at action, so the figures don’t look stilted like they often do in fight scenes. Cox colors in enough background to give us some context, and for some reason, the sky is red (is it dusk?), so he keeps that consistent. Notice the rain, though – where in the black and white comic, the rain is black lines, Cox makes them streaks of light – I doubt if Fabok drew them in at all. In a color comic book, rain can’t just be black streaks, so Cox’s choice is a good one, especially when you consider that it’s not night time yet, so perhaps the raindrops are being lit by the setting sun. And you can see what I mean with regard to the coloring “softening” the artwork – look at Ogilvy’s collar in the final panel. Cox uses brush work to add in texture, rather than Fabok using line work. An artist can certainly do this by hand, but I imagine it’s easier digitally, so it’s more prevalent these days.

Luckily for us, it’s a week in which DC ships comics, so there are multiple comics in which Batman appears, if we so choose to indulge. Legends of the Dark Knight, which takes previously-published digital material and puts it onto paper so that old-timers like me can enjoy it, shipped an issue this week, and we get two different versions of Batman, courtesy of the aforementioned Tradd Moore and Sergio Sandoval. Sandoval is much more mainstream, so his collaboration with Ikari Studios’ colorists David Lopez and Santi Casas looks more like a mainstream superhero book. It’s important to note, however, that just because a book is colored doesn’t mean it’s terribly colorful. Lopez and Casas drain the color from the story, giving us a gray, bleak, almost monochromatic Gotham City. There’s a method to their madness, to a degree – they tend to stick to a basic color palette based on where Batman is, so when he’s in the Batcave and the computer screens are the only source of illumination, everything is tinged green, but when he’s out in the foggy Gotham day, everything is more brown. The use of a limited palette makes the few bloody panels stand out even more, which is a nifty effect. There’s still a preponderance of soft lines in the story, but that’s not surprising. Writer Ricardo Sanchez, however, does allow Sandoval to have some fun, letting him draw Batman in a silly disguise:

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Moore, meanwhile, does some superb things with his story. His rubbery, cartoony style might not seem to work with someone as stoic as Batman, but Batman is still a superhero, and Moore draws action phenomenally well, so he’s able to bring a good, frenetic pace to his story. One interesting thing he does is make Batman a giant:

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Obviously, that lady is supposed to be short, but Bruce Wayne is taller than two ladies wearing very high heels in a later scene, and even later, it’s clear Batman is taller than the police men around him. It’s just a cool little detail.

If you’ve seen Moore’s work, you know he’s excellent at action, and Paul Tobin’s story gives him some bad guys to beat up, so it’s all good. Note how differently he draws the fights than Fabok does. While the choreography is similar (which isn’t surprising, given that there’s only so many ways you can draw two dudes fighting), Fabok’s more “realistic” style contrasts sharply with Moore’s more “abstract” style. Whichever you prefer is, of course, entirely subjective.

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(In case you don’t feel like scrolling up, here’s a side-by-side comparison of the two fights):

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Note that Moore uses speed lines far more liberally than Fabok, and his fight almost flows over the page, while Fabok is much more concerned with the nuts and bolts of how Ogilvy is beating on Batman. Moore’s cartoony style gives us the punk in Panel 3, whose face gets distorted when Batman hits him. Also in Panel 3, Batman’s fist is moving so fast that it’s just a blur, rather than the solid chunks with which Ogilvy hits Bats. In a couple of other panels, we see how Moore uses his rubbery style to good effect in fight scenes:

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In the grand tradition of Batman artists, Moore also goes a bit nuts with the cape (notice also Batman’s confused caveman face in the first panel):

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Personally, I like Moore’s art more than Fabok’s, and one reason is that Moore creates a tone just by using his pencils. Rick Lokus, the colorist, does a fine job enhancing that tone, but I think Cox does more to help create the mood when he’s coloring Fabok’s pencils, and I don’t know how that art stands on its own. That’s just a personal opinion, of course, and I imagine plenty of people disagree with me, but that’s okay. For our purposes, it’s just interesting how three different artistic teams interpret Batman and Gotham City.

Speaking of John Layman and cartoony art, Layman’s run on Mars Attacks came to an end this week, and presumably John McCrea’s involvement ended as well. I don’t even know if IDW is planning to continue the series – another issue hasn’t been solicited in the past two Previews, so who knows what their plans are. I don’t have much to say about the artwork, because McCrea has a fairly solid track record and you know what you’re getting with him, but I’d like to point a few things out. Like a lot of artists who are a bit more cartoony, McCrea is quite good at facial expressions, even when it comes to the alien-looking Martians. So just the placement of the pupils in a Martian’s eyes can speak volumes:

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McCrea furrows Blyx’s brow just slightly and moves his pupils to the left, and it’s enough to show how worried the Martian is. Very well done by McCrea. Of course, he’s good at the gross stuff, too:

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And, because not everyone thinks comics should be deadly serious, Layman and McCrea have a bit of fun. Of course, this drawing might not work if a more “realistic” artist was drawing it, because it would just look weird, but McCrea’s cartooning helps him get away with it:

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Sure, it’s a cheap gag, but since eating boogers may be good for you, that dude is just ahead of the curve, man!

If we circle back around to superheroes, we come to X-Factor #255, which is illustrated by Leonard Kirk, Jay Leisten, and Matt Milla. Kirk has been channeling Stuart Immonen for a while now, and I’m not sure if it’s because he can work faster or if he thinks channeling Stuart Immonen will get him more work. Either way, it’s not a bad look, although I’m not sure if Leisten’s inks are the best fit for him. As I’ve often mentioned, I’m even worse writing about inking than I am about penciling, so I can’t really say if Leisten’s inks aren’t the best fit over Kirk’s pencils, but they feel different than earlier issues of X-Factor, when (I believe) Kirk was inking himself. I could go back and dig out some older issues of X-Factor, but that sounds too much like work. Kirk remains one of the better artists to work on the comic, however (and, considering it’s going to end in the fall, he’ll probably remain so), and his work on this comic, while different from his earlier pencil work, shows why he’s been one of the more reliable superhero artists of the past 15 years or so.

Kirk doesn’t get to flex his creative muscles too much in this issue, as it features two big fights, so he just has to show a lot of people pounding on each other. Toward the end, everything slows down, so he gets to show off a bit more, but he’s a good action artist, so the fights are well done. The main fight, in which X-Factor fights against the demon Madroxes and other beasties, is a bit of a mess (in a good way), but Guido’s battle with Monet is much better done, because it’s on a smaller scale and the stakes are higher – we learned recently that Monet is dying, so when Guido starts beating her pretty decisively, even he gets worried, because she’s usually much tougher. As boring as the page layout is, this scene is a good one:

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Monet, of course, won’t admit that anything is wrong, and Kirk does a really nice job in the final three panels showing how she’s just completely wasted by the bashing Guido’s giving her, but he doesn’t suspect a thing. Kirk also gets to draw some nice full-page spreads of Mephisto declaring his victory, which means he gets to show demons ruling the world and everything. If you’re going to be a superhero artist, you need to do spectacle well, and Kirk has that down. But he’s perfectly fine at the quieter moments, like when Tier finally accepts his “destiny”:

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Of course, Kirk’s most impressive feat is drawing Jezebel in various poses where her dress still manages to cling to her giant breasts. Well done, Mr. Kirk! Matt Milla, meanwhile, does his usual solid job with the coloring – like a lot of superhero colorists, he’s kind of like a referee – you only notice him when he’s doing something wrong. He doesn’t do anything wrong here, and so the coloring works well with the pencil work. As this is the 21st century and everyone loves digital coloring, like Cox above, Milla enjoys making things glow. It’s just what they do, man!

Which brings us around to Ten Grand, the new Image comic by J. Michael Stracyznski and Ben Templesmith. Templesmith colors this himself, so maybe I should have saved it until I got to the other artist who colors his own work below, but it’s also, like a lot of Templesmith books, very “glowy” – Templesmith really digs that kind of effect, and Ten Grand might be his glowiest book ever. I mean, come on!

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Templesmith, however, has always been interesting in the way he lights a comic. He uses neon a lot in his comics, but very often, that’s the major light source in his exterior shots. Illumination comes from incandescent bulbs, too, of course, but when Templesmith puts his character in the seedy neighborhoods his characters always seem to inhabit, he enjoys neon. This makes his comics, well, glow. In Ten Grand, some of the action takes place in a strip club, so of course there’s going to be neon there, as well.

What makes Templesmith’s coloring interesting is that he thinks about how the light would affect the space, so that very often, if there’s no light source in a spot on the panel, the details fade. While this can be frustrating, it makes his books look odder than they would with more standard lighting. Even in panels where there’s no visible or logical light source, Templesmith does this heighten the effect that there’s something lurking just beyond the panel border:

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The light in this sequence seems to come from an unknown source, but the way Templesmith fades quickly away from the source makes this a far creepier scene than it would be otherwise. Lighting has always been important in Templesmith’s artwork, and it’s interesting to see how he uses it.

Templesmith also has a reputation as a horror guy, which is probably because, well, he draws a lot of horror. But being known as the horror guy can obscure some of his other chops, and he’s a fine artist for other reasons, too. His pencil work isn’t what you’d call “realistic,” but like some of the other people in this post, he can suggest emotions very well even if his work is a bit more sketchy than some artists. He doesn’t get enough credit for his body language, but consider Debbie in Ten Grand. Here she is in two successive panels, as her resolve weakens just a bit:

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The first face is good, but the second is amazing, as Templesmith shows a young woman in so much pain that she can’t bear it. He does it more subtly with Joe, the protagonist, but it’s still impressive. Templesmith has always been more than just harsh, jagged lines and disgusting creatures, and while he makes good comics doing horror, part of the reason why he’s so successful at it is because he doesn’t forget the human element.

While still thinking about light sources, we get Sherlock Holmes: The Liverpool Demon #4, which remains a solid if unspectacular comic. That extends to Matt Triano’s art and Brennan Wagner’s coloring, but one thing they do really well is use the light of the nineteenth century, when electricity wasn’t as ubiquitously used as it is now. One thing movies set in the pre-electric age tend to do is use too much light – they need to, I would imagine, so we can actually see the images on the screen, but it’s often brighter than I would expect (weirdly enough, a lot of movies set in the present day are too dark, at least to my old-man eyes). Triano and Wagner actually take the time to think about how this book would look if it were lit only by candle – there’s electric lighting in the book, of course, but in much of it, the characters use only fire. Early on, the book is well lit as Holmes, Watson, and the police discuss the case so far. But then Holmes and Watson head back to the church, where the first murder occurred, and then they descend into the sewers beneath Liverpool. Triano and Wagner do a very good job with these scenes.

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Little touches like this can make a decent comic that much more interesting. This comic isn’t a great one, but it’s nice that you can still get some cool things out of it.

The other Dynamite comic that I bought this week, Miss Fury, is a bit odder. Rob Williams is telling a time travel story, so of course my brain is going to hurt a little, but two issues in, and it’s been okay, although this Miss Fury is absolutely nothing like the Tarpé Mills creation, so as long as you ignore that, it’s fine. She’s a bit more psychotic and meaner than the old version, for instance. Jack Herbert, whose art was so good on Kirby: Genesis, is the reason I started getting this, and he’s been pretty good, although a few times he draws Marla as, well, a bit goofy. I’m not sure why – the situation isn’t goofy, but Herbert’s drawings of her are a bit more awkward than I would expect:

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Those two drawings are just … off. Herbert does a pretty good job with the rest of the book, though, although I do wonder if colorist Ivan Nunes sneaked a nipple in. Dynamite doesn’t seem to mind ass in their books, so Herbert takes full advantage of that, but it doesn’t appear he drew in an areola, but Nunes colored one in. WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!?!?!? However, Herbert does have one unusual trait going for him in this book, and you can see it in the two panels I posted above. It’s … an O-Face on Marla? It’s not even really an O-Face, just that her mouth is really wide open in this book. A lot. Regardez!

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Unlike Jason Fabok above, Herbert does show different emotions on Marla’s face, and there’s a reason in some of these panels that her mouth is so wide open. Others … not so much. Plus, she never opens her mouth that wide when she’s not in a leather cat suit, so maybe she gets really angry when she thinks about all the Twinkies she’s missing just so she can fit into that thing (and maybe that’s why Mills rarely put her in the suit). And just like Fabok, Herbert can certainly show a lot of emotion on the faces of his characters, but with Miss Fury, he’s doing a lot of RAGE!!!! Bizarre.

But let’s check out the most artistically pleasing comic of my week, which is of course Francesco Francavilla drawing and coloring Hawkguy #10. David Aja is a stellar artist, as we all know, but if you need a guest artist, you can’t do much better than Francavilla, and he shines in this issue. Francavilla’s pencil work has always been solid, but it’s usually the least fascinating thing about his work. I don’t mean that as an insult, but Francavilla doesn’t dazzle you with his designs like, say, Frank Quitely might. His people look like regular folk, and he doesn’t adorn his characters with a lot of hatching or other intricacies. His pencil work suggests far more than it shows, which is not a bad thing at all, but he still doesn’t amaze with what he can do. Where Francavilla shines is in his page layouts and his coloring, both of which are a cut above almost anyone else in comics. I would say, in recent years, the ways he lays out a page is eclipsed only by J. H. Williams III, which is heady company, I agree, but if you find someone else better than Francavilla, let me know. Meanwhile, his coloring is better than almost any other colorist who specializes in that, even stalwarts like Dave Stewart. I know I’m being bold, but AUDENTES FORTUNA IUVAT, CANES FEMINAE!!!! So this issue of Hawkguy was still a visual treat, in a different way than if it had been drawn by Aja.

First, the layouts. Francavilla thinks about where to place panels for maximum effect, and he’s not afraid to be a bit more abstract to suggest details that are occurring at the same time as the main action. When the circus burns down, look how he crams a lot of visual information into one panel:

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Using sound effects as panel borders is an oldie but a goodie, but not a lot of artists do it any more, and that’s too bad. This not only serves to separate the panels, but the increase in size implies that it’s getting louder and closer, and of course, it builds tension:

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This is just a tremendous splash page, as the shattering glass forms panel borders that show many people getting shot. Horrifying but stunning.

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Then there’s Francavilla’s coloring. Interestingly enough, these pages are flashbacks. I mention that only because flashbacks are usually colored in cooler tones than the present, but Francavilla changes that up to show the past is stark, hot colors, because of the rawness of the events depicted in them. Meanwhile, in the present, Kate Bishop meets a mysterious man and flirts with him, and Francavilla, counter-intuitively, colors this in extremely cool tones. The scene is a swanky party at the top of a skyscraper, so I imagine he wants to show these people existing apart from the roiling city below him (as implied in the panels below), but it might also be to show how damned cool Kate is. Because she totally is. Anyway, Matt Hollingsworth has been coloring both Clint and Kate’s clothing purple to connect them to their superhero identities, and Francavilla doesn’t change that, but he uses purple and blue to much better effect than Hollingsworth has:

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The cool tones makes the creepiness of Kazi’s conversation with Kate (who’s obviously not under age, but she’s still probably 18-21 years old) more uncomfortable, because Francavilla’s purple can imply embarrassment and/or curiosity, as well:

05-04-2013 10;27;24AM

One thing that Francavilla does so well as a colorist and as a layouter is eschew “realism” – he draws so that the mood of the book is more important than whether it looks “real.” When you read a Francavilla-drawn comic, it might not look like something that occurs in real life (well, as much as fabulous-looking costumed people running around beating on each other can look realistic), but the way he places things on the page and the way he colors them hits the reader emotionally, which helps them connect to the comic on a deeper level than the simply aesthetic. There are a lot of artists who draw more precisely than Francavilla and there are colorists who subtly add texture and shading to the artwork, but not many appeal to our emotions as well as Francavilla does, and that’s why his artwork is always a treat to see.

So that’s a short tour through the artwork of the comics I bought this past week. If you didn’t think it was “short,” well, I apologize for going on. You know I like to! It’s really fascinating, for me, to examine what choices the artists make in interpreting the script, and I wish I knew a bit more about the actual process so I could speak more knowledgeably about it. But I hope you enjoyed this. Coming up soon (not next week, probably, but who knows?): A breakdown of the writing tics in various comics! Won’t that be fun!

13 Comments

Out of your many, many points, I’ll pick one to comment on:

Who lays out a page better than Francavilla? Marcos Martin (he eclipses Williams, too, to my eye).

Others with comparable–if not always as ostentatious–layout chops: David Aja, Chris Samnee, Walter Simonson, Cliff Chiang, Tozo, Paolo Rivera….

Mignola. Steve Rude. Paul Smith. Even in mainstream commercial comics, it’s not that elite a club.

Chris Ware. Mazzucchelli. Michel Fiffe.

JH Williams gets tons of attention because the design of his pages is impossible to overlook; it eclipses everything else, even his famously varied rendering styles. But while his pages are pretty much uniformly balanced and attractive, they don’t always read as well as simpler, more traditional layouts might. A lot of this is due to the tension between the natural tendency to view the single vertical page–perhaps especially, but not uniquely, when it’s printed–as a unit, and Williams’ interest in turning almost everything into a double-page spread, even if this means placing relatively small panels across the spine. Problems also occasionally arise when Williams’ layout draws the eye in one direction even as his (legendary) letterer Todd Klein places balloons to pull it in another. So while Williams definitely gets points for his willingness to experiment, I’m not sure I’d hold him up as the gold standard for laying out a page.

Regarding Francavilla’s colors, I think something similar may be going on. His palette is so particular it’s impossible not to notice. But I’m not convinced that makes it any more effective than the work of Javier Rodriguez, Matt Wilson, Nathan Fairbairn, or the many other excellent colorists working in comics these days.

None of which is meant to dump on Francavilla. He’s an enormously prolific artist, and yet his cover work impresses me almost without exception. His interiors can be more hit and miss, in that at times the crudeness of some of the drawings gets to the point where I find them difficult to decipher (I’m basing this off his Captain America and Bucky run, which may or may not be fair–I just remember staring at a figure trying to figure out how it was walking…).

Carl: Yeah, as usual, I screwed up and should have written “mainstream superhero comics” with regard to Francavilla. I agree that Ware and Mazzuchelli are probably better than he is, but I’m not convinced about the others. All artists can lay out pages very well, but Francavilla, to me, takes more chances that work more than the others you mention. But that’s just my opinion. As for his coloring, as I point out in the post, one reason I like him so much is because he colors to mood more than to realism, and he seems, to me, to be one of the few who does this consistently. I appreciate the colorists you mention, and I think Wilson is superb, but I think Francavilla and artists like Juan Ferreyra and Rob Guillory, who color their own work, seem to be more in tune with what they want. If that makes sense.

All of what I write is opinion, of course, so as confidently as I might write, I get that there’s room for disagreement. You make some interesting points, so thanks!

I loved reading this, but I get the impression that when you reviewed Francavilla’s coloring, you went backwards (i.e. “I liked the art and coloring, so now lets try to add meaning to the colouring choices”). It seems to me especially obvious with the line “because Francavilla’s purple can imply embarrassment and/or curiosity”. Still, pretty great a read, and hope to see stuff like this regularly.
And I love Francavilla’s work

Tom Fitzpatrick

May 5, 2013 at 6:30 am

That was an interesting bit about comics being drawn in black and white. About those selections of Jock’s drawings in Snapshot, the first drawing where you have to focus to see the smaller man reminded me of a black and white film called The Begotten. Don’t know if you’ve seen it, but gruesome and very effective in black and white that your mind cannot quite process what it’s seeing.

The second Jock drawing remind me of Brad Pitt looking up at Kevin Spacey holding a gun on him in the movie Se7en. (not quite shot in black and white, but might as well been considering the film’s contents).

Wonder if Jock was influenced by those images? ;-)

Kabe: That’s certainly possible, but I’ve spoken to Francavilla enough that I know he’s very deliberate about many of the choices he makes. I could be wrong in this regard, but I think it’s very plausible.

Tom: I haven’t seen The Begotten, but I like your point about Se7en. Who knows if Jock was thinking about that when he drew Callie?

You’ll Dance To Anything, won’t you?

Tom: Indeed I will, especially Depeche Commode!

Tom Fitzpatrick

May 5, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Mr. Burgas, just a warning, if you ever do see The Begotten, as I understand there’s almost no dialogue at all. It’s all visual. I think you’d have to read wikipedia to get the storyline. I know I did. ;-)

Mike Loughlin

May 6, 2013 at 9:02 am

I saw the Dead Milkmen on Record Store Day a few weeks ago. They put on a show at Newbury Comics (a Boston area music/ dvd/ video game/ comic book/ t-shirt/ pop culture knick-knacks chain), and it was a lot of fun. I didn’t get there for the start so I don’t know if they played “You’ll Dance to Anything,” but the frontman was funny throughout.

Off to read the actual post now…

Mike Loughlin

May 6, 2013 at 10:37 am

… and I’m back. A few thoughts:

– Inking: I tend to think of an inker’s style as falling on a continuum of smooth to scratchy. Mark Farmer to Bill Sienkiewicz, basically. There’s an intersecting axis of fine line inking to spot blacks (most inkers employ a good deal of both, but Mike Mignola makes everything as dark as he can while Terry Austin likes lots of detail lines). One of my favorite things about comics is seeing how pencillers’ art looks with different inkers. When the great penciller/ inker teams click (Kirby & Sinnott, Colan & Palmer, Adams & Giordano, Davis & Farmer), it’s amazing.

– The fact that most comics have to fit on a screen is discouraging artists from experimenting. I miss the days when comics looked more distinct from each other. Francavilla, Williams III, & Manapul deserve all the credit in the world for bucking the trends.

– The artist that kills in stark black & white is Charles Burns. Black Hole is a stunning visual achievement, and should be required reading for anyone learning the craft. Likewise, Craig Thompson’s b&w art contains tons of innovative layouts, transitions, symbolism, etc. Los Bros Hernandez have an astounding command of the artform, especially in black & white. I know God, Science, & the Ti-Girls didn’t work for you, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the classic Love & Rockets.

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