Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
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 The Black Beetle: No Way Out #1, which was published by Dark Horse and is cover dated January 2013. Enjoy!
For the final day of Francavilla, I wanted to focus on some of his interesting layouts. The Black Beetle still shows his skills with coloring, but I’m not going to write about that too much – I’ll just note it here and there. Today, it’s all about layouts!
Here’s another of Francavilla’s gorgeous double-page spreads (or, if you’re stuck with my small scanner, an annoying double-page spread). These are Pages 2 and 3 of the first issue, so our hero, the Black Beetle, wants to get us caught up on the whole crime scene in Colt City. Look at how much information Francavilla packs onto this page. In the upper left corner, we see our hero with his microphone – he’s perched on a building across the street from a big meeting of criminals. Francavilla leads us left to the neon sign and the first caption box, and then we circle down through the page. He gives us Pasquale Galazzo and the Roxy Club, framing the neon sign with the two caption boxes but also leading us to the newspaper clipping of Galazzo. Galazzo’s face is lined with wrinkles, and Francavilla’s use of thick blacks makes him look older than he probably is – the years weigh on him. He’s clean-shaven, but Francavilla uses hatching on the lower part of his face to add more weight to the heavy blacks around his eyes. Below that is just blocks of solid black and white for his tuxedo. The second and third caption box frames the gangsters and their car while continuing to move our eyes in a circle. The paper clip below the third caption box points us to the fourth caption box, which is the one covering up the newspaper text. That overlays the photograph of the shot-up car and leads us to the next caption box, which tells us about his son, Jimmy, getting killed. Francavilla links the two cars on the page – we’re not sure if one of those two men is Jimmy, but it’s just a way to show that the gangsters weren’t exactly hiding themselves, so Jimmy’s murder was perhaps easier than we would expect. Finally, at the bottom of the page, we get the last caption box over the panel showing Galazzo taking care of his problems.
We go back to the top of the page and circle around in a similar manner – the two pages are mirrors of each other to a degree, after all. The caption box telling us about Joe Fierro holds us for a moment at the two men and three women at the top of the page, and then we slide easily over to the Coco Club, which mirrors Galazzo’s Roxy. It’s interesting to note that the cars in front of the Coco Club are different than those that Galazzo’s goons drive. It’s kind of cool. The second caption box, like those on the first page, both frames the Coco Club and points us toward the photo of Fierro. He’s younger than Galazzo, so Francavilla gives him fewer wrinkles, and he’s more dashing than his competitor, so he’s smiling. Even his clothing is slightly different – Galazzo’s solid black and white looks funereal, while Fierro’s tuxedo has a bit more definition and looks more festive. The second and third caption boxes also surround the big red pin in the map marking Colt City, and Francavilla even helpfully provides a dotted line for our eyes as we move across the illicit materials Fierro is smuggling into the country and the plane he uses. The plane is mirrored by the shot-up car, which is pretty neat. The plane leads us back to our hero, who is still listening with his microphone, ready to lead us to the next page. It’s a very well-designed double-page spread, with a bunch of information, both visual and written, and Francavilla links it all with a red-and-tan (with some blue) color scheme, which sets it apart from the first page, where the Black Beetle crouched in a blue and dark purple cityscape. The blue accents keep it within the color realm that Francavilla established on the first page, while the red-and-tan makes it clear it’s happening during a different time period.
The Black Beetle gets ready for action in another nicely designed page. Francavilla puts him in the upper center of the page and rotates the preparation around him, with his head acting as a keystone for the top arch and his guns pointing down to the lower arch, which shows what he does with the guns a second later. We can look at each individual panel and get a moment-by-moment account of what he’s doing, or we can take it the entire tableau and get a more impressionistic view of the his movements. The firing guns lead us to the bottom panel, where we see the darts flying through the air. Notice how the middle panel in the top row also features darts, and that also forms the top of a triangle with the foundation – the bottom row – also featuring the darts. The guns form a smaller triangle within the bigger one, so we get a wonderful design the focuses our eyes on the character in the center but also keeps us moving through the page.
I asked Francavilla about this page last year, because I figured he did this on purpose, and he confirmed that he indeed designed this page to look like a beetle opening its wings and that he drew the Black Beetle in the bottom panel to look like a beetle. This is just one of the things that makes Francavilla such an interesting artist – he thinks about page layouts a lot more than many artists working in mainstream comics. The curved panels at the top of the page look like wings expanding from a body, which is in the upper left. We begin there and work our way around, with the Beetle firing his grappling hook to the building across the street. So we circle down and back to the left, and then we move down to the bottom panel, where the Beetle swings across. His cloak billows behind him, but unlike a regular hero’s cape, it’s sectioned to resemble the wings of an insect. Of course, Francavilla already gave him the giant bug eyes, so the allusion (or illusion, even) is complete. Francavilla certainly didn’t need to lay out the page like this, and I submit that many artists wouldn’t think of it, but it helps link the Beetle to beetles and, I think, helps create the pulpy feel Francavilla wants for the book – he usually does this in the book through the clothing the characters wear and the coloring, but unusual layouts are akin to unusual camera angles, and a lot of pulp movies use those, too.
Francavilla uses the prison wall as a panel border very nicely here. The Beetle clings to the exterior of the prison, looking in at Constantino, who’s in the cell. The layout leads us through the bars to the first panel inside the cell and then downward, as the panels expand slightly and Constantino becomes bigger, allowing us to see his panic more clearly. Francavilla uses the noir cliché of striped shadows over Constantino’s face (they’re not Venetian blinds, though, so points for him there), but it certainly works well in the final panel, as the black falls right across his eye and open mouth, implying the darkness within him. Francavilla really does nice work with the chunky blacks and baleful yellow on this page. It’s unclear whether that’s an actual light shining on Constantino (it would seem not, because where’s the source?) or if it’s just the Beetle’s intense stare, but it’s a good look. It’s better that it’s not red, which is what we might expect, because it could be the moon (even though the Beetle is blocking the window), but also because the yellow helps highlight the panic in Constantino’s face and, also, is the color of cowardice. Always thinking, is Francavilla!
Francavilla still does a lot of interesting stuff with the colors in this comic, and you can see the nice use of blacks he employs, but I’ve gone over that already, so I felt like sticking to the page layouts. All of these elements make Francavilla an excellent artist, and anything he draws will at least be interesting to look at and analyze as well as entertaining. Plus, Francavilla and his wife are really nice people – if you’re ever at a convention and they’re there, go over and say hello.
Tomorrow we’ll begin a new month and a new artist! This young lady hasn’t been working in the industry too long, but she’s already made some very interesting strides as an artist. Come back tomorrow to see who it is, and remember to skim through the archives in case you need to get caught up!
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.