SPIDER-MANDATE: The Lowe-down on "Secret Wars," Tie-Ins and Stacey Lee
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Francesco Francavilla, and the issue is Left on Mission #5, which was published by Boom! and is cover dated November 2007. Enjoy!
In 2006-2007, Francavilla drew an issue of Fear Agent for Rick Remender (the final Image one, in fact), this series, and the Image series Sorrow, also with Remender. He hadn’t quite been snapped up by the Big Two, but he was getting more and more recognized for his work. I wanted to check this series out briefly because it shows some of his experimentation with page layouts nicely. Fear Agent #11 doesn’t really feature any interesting layouts, so I skipped that. I haven’t made up my mind about Sorrow yet – I might show it tomorrow, but by the time you read this, I’ll have already decided! Man, typing these out a month in advance (which is where I am right now; I’m hoping to get back to a slightly bigger cushion than that) makes it weird. Oh well.
Left on Mission is a pretty good espionage comic written by Chip Mosher, colored by Martin Thomas and Digikore Studios, and lettered by Marshall Dillon and Terri Delgado. You don’t really need to know too much about the story to check out these pages – Eric, the dude, is called in by the top-secret spy agency he used to work for (I guess it’s the CIA, but I don’t think it’s ever stated in the story) to find Emma, a woman who also worked for the agency and with whom Eric was romantically involved. She’s trying to sell major secrets the Russian mob, and of course the American government wants to stop her. Eric, naturally, wants to find her and save her life, because the other Americans would rather just put a bullet in her head. So that’s where we are at the beginning of the final issue, when, well, Eric and Emma … reconnect. Of course they do!
Emma basically seduces Eric (who’s married with a small child, by the way), and Francavilla gives us a fairly standard “sexy-without-nudity” page – I’m not sure if this is a mandate from Boom! even though they’re under no Comics Code restrictions or if Mosher/Francavilla simply didn’t want to show female nipples. So we see a hint of Emma’s ass in Panel 1 and the shadow of Eric’s arm obscuring her nipple in Panel 3. This isn’t a bad layout by any means, but the avoidance of nudity, especially in Panel 3, is a bit glaring. It’s okay, though.
Francavilla is inking himself, as he’ll do (I think) for the rest of his career. Notice how much more spare he is than Colwell was on The Black Coat, and I think Francavilla learned a lesson from his inking on Fear Agent #11, which features far more hatching than we’ll see from him from this time forward. If I do show Sorrow (and this is one of the reasons I might), we’ll see that the inking is much heavier on that, even though they were published at almost the exact same time and therefore Francavilla was probably working on them at about the same time as well. Perhaps it has something to do with that series being in black and white. But here, he uses heavy lines sparingly, especially when light is shining on the two characters. At the bottom of the page, the lines become a bit thicker and Francavilla uses more spot blacks, and notice how he hatches Eric’s and Emma’s faces in Panel 5, when they’re about to kiss. The lines and the shadows obscure their face even further than simple darkening their faces with shadows, and it also implies the tough times both characters have lived through. Francavilla does a nice job with the scratchy lines throughout the page, giving this a rougher texture.
As Francavilla moved on in his career, he not only inked himself, he colored his work too (with one more exception, as far as I can tell), but here it’s Martin Thomas coloring him, and it’s not the greatest job. It’s not terrible, but he uses a bit too much of that computerized sheen, which clashes with Francavilla’s decidedly old-school pencil work (Digikore did the color flats, which is why I listed them above). Emma’s tattoo is lightly colored and lined in Panel 1, which makes me wonder if Francavilla didn’t ink it and just sent it off to be colored. Tattoo lines tend to be rather heavy, so it looks a bit off. It’s a bit better on the rest of the page, as we’re more close up and Francavilla draws the lines with more authority. Thomas adds those shiny spots to the color that gives it the sheen – the bright spots on Emma’s butt in Panel 1, the softness on Eric’s face in Panel 2, Eric’s back in Panel 6. He does this to imply a soft light in a dark room, which is supposed to add to the nostalgic atmosphere that carries the two of them away, but it doesn’t work completely with Francavilla’s pencils. Francavilla’s somewhat abstract style works best with heavier lines, and the soft colors don’t help it very much here. The overall coloring on the book isn’t awful and in some places is actually quite nice, but here it doesn’t help.
This sequence shows Emma going out in public to play the flute (well, not technically a flute, but close enough – she mentions early on in the series that she loved playing the flute when she was young, and she wants to bring her life full circle) while Eric races to save her from the people who want to kill her and Agent Painter sets up to actually kill her. The chase culminates in a double-page spread that, of course, I can’t show in all its glory because my scanner is too small, but you can click both sides to see it more closely. Sorry!
Francavilla does a nice job with the speed of the action on the first two pages. He makes the panels a bit thinner, which increases the speed with which we read them, and the fact that there’s no dialogue also speeds us up. Like any good action movie, he cuts back and forth between the three principals, with the first page giving us Emma-Painter-Eric-Emma-Painter-Eric in quick succession, as they all move into position. On the second page, the three characters begin to converge a little – Emma becomes the focus, as Painter finds her in the square and Eric hears the music she’s playing. Francavilla uses the music score to separate the panels, which is a nice touch.
Then we get to the double-page spread that shows how well Francavilla can lay out a page. Emma remains the focus, as she’s in the crosshairs, but Francavilla puts her on the right side of the page and draws everything closer to her, making her the eye of the hurricane, so to speak. When we turn the page, we immediately see Painter and his gun, but we revolve around to take in his adjustment of the scope, the dervishes, and Eric racing to the square as we’re drawn toward Emma and her flute. On the far side of the center circle, Painter sights through the scope and puts his finger on the trigger. Francavilla does a marvelous job drawing us closer and closer to Emma while still keeping our distance, which is the way a sniper has to feel – close but detached. Everything converges on the young lady playing her flute.
Thomas colors these pages better than the first example, although there’s still a bit of the sheen on the page that clashes a bit with Francavilla’s rough pencils. The brightness of the red on the dervishes, signifying blood, and the cool blue in which Emma finds herself, symbolizing the distance she’s already put between her and Eric and the coolness with which Painter regards her, is a good touch. The blue is the only unrealistic color in this sequence, which helps it stand out nicely. I’m not sure if the purple dress she’s wearing is supposed to be a combination of the blood-red and the cool-blue, but I’m going to assume it is. Even if it’s not, it’s a happy coincidence.
Francavilla had plenty of confidence in his pencil work from the very beginning, and he obviously thought a bit about laying out a page in interesting ways, and he was experimenting more as he went forward. We’ll see more of that over the next few days! Will I feature Sorrow, or jump forward a few years to the next big comic he drew? Come back tomorrow and find out! And never forget that the archives are there for your viewing pleasure!
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