Axel-In-Charge: Waid & Samnee on "Black Widow" and the Dawn of the All-New, All-Different Era
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jill Thompson, and the book is Magic Trixie Sleeps Over, which was published by HarperCollins and is cover dated 2008. Enjoy!
Thompson’s most famous kids’ comic is probably Scary Godmother, and among purely comic book readers, it’s probably the Li’l Endless stuff she does. But Magic Trixie is neat, too, and so I’m going to show some of the pages from her second book to show how Thompson began illustrating stuff in the more recent stages of her career. ‘K?
Yesterday we saw a shift to a more cartoony style in Thompson’s work, and here she embraces it even more. Trixie appears to have no bones, which is unusual but not too strange in the context of the book. Her head is overly large, which is kind of a staple of cartoon characters, especially kids. Her parents and other characters in the comic are proportionate, but Trixie is slightly disproportionate, which tends to make her the focal point. She’s making her clothing dance, and Thompson makes the clothing as loopy as she is, which is kind of neat. Once again, Thompson gives the main character red, frizzy hair, as Thompson herself has, and she adds some pinks to the orange hue of her ‘do. Very often in this book, Trixie has pink hair exclusively, but here Thompson mixes the two. Trixie’s mother is far more “normal” – she has a regular body type and all her parts are in proportion to each other. Thompson draws a wonderfully frazzled look on her face as she puffs upward – Trixie is supposed to be in the bath, but she’s too busy orchestrating her clothes (the “puff” looks much more in place here than it did in yesterday’s comic, you might notice). Thompson colors this with watercolors, something she’s doing more of these days, and I’ll write more about the paints as we go along.
This is an utterly gorgeous page, mostly because of Thompson’s paint job. In Panel 1, she adds some stars and whirls to indicate magic occurring, and she does it with just paint, so that the images look somehow apart from reality, represented by the solid bricks of the building off of which Trixie’s dad is leaping. Panel 2 shows the beautifully colored sky, a mix of pale blue, gauzy pink, and Easter yellow. It’s getting on to sunset, so Thompson paints the buildings a slightly deeper purple, which shows that the light from the sky isn’t as strong as it would be earlier in the day. Panel 3 is stunning. Once again we get the amazing sky, watercolors mixing wonderfully to indicate sunset. The contrast between the bright yellow of the buildings that are still in sun and the purples of the buildings that are in shadow is tremendous – yellow and purple are complementary, so when they’re combined, they pop, even though Thompson doesn’t use bright yellows and purples. She uses soft lines on the landscape to show that it’s being lit by a dying sun, while Trixie and her father are drawn with slightly stronger line. Using paints allows Thompson to use streakier motion lines, so that the figures actually look blurry rather than static with lines streaming behind them. Their black clothing lined with white is an inversion of the usual light clothing with darker folds, but it works because they’re flying toward the sun, so of course that side of them would be lit. Thompson also remembers to have Trixie clinging to her hat, which is a nice detail.
Thompson gives us an amazing panel here, as Trixie hangs out with her mummy friend, Nefi. In this panel, Trixie’s hair is completely orange, and I wonder why Thompson changes the color so cavalierly. I’ve never read the comics, so I’m not sure if it’s explained, but the orange goes well with the browns of the Egyptian desert, while the pink would stand out more, so maybe that’s the reason. Note that Trixie’s face, unlike the servant’s and unlike most of the other characters, is much more abstract. Her face is wide and trustworthy, her eyes are larger than they should be (but because her face is so wide, they don’t look too out of place), and her nose and mouth are tiny. This means her face looks bigger than everyone else’s and that her eyes become the focal point of her face, which creates empathy between her and the reader. Thompson does this deliberately, as kids’ comics are more obvious about this kind of thing, even though comics for adults still use the trick. The servant’s face is much more “realistic,” from the proportions to the size of the head, so she becomes an “adult,” separated from Trixie and, by association, the reader. I love that Thompson shows the smells coming from the vessels as flowers and plants, which makes the scents much more palpable. Part of this, I think, has to be because this is a kids’ comic, so Thompson makes it more concrete and also, perhaps, trains kids in metaphor, but this isn’t a bad trick to use in more “adult” comics, because it’s a fascinating way to show something that comics cannot convey easily. We also get the wonderful detailing on the containers of the fragrances, which once again comes from Thompson’s mastery of the watercolors. She draws some of the lines, but most of them look like they’re simply painted. It’s very neat.
Trixie also hangs out with the vampire twins (the premise of the story is that Trixie hates her bedtime routine, so she sleeps over at every one of her friends’ houses, only to discover, naturally, that their routines are pretty wacky), and we get this nice page where she’s in the cemetery. Thompson uses grays, whites, and blacks to make the nighttime not exactly terrifying, but a bit spooky. Once again we see that when she just uses different hues, she can add a lot of nice details to the backgrounds without using thick lines, like the gravestones in Panel 1 or the bushes in Panel 2. The vampire twins, like Trixie, have unusual faces. Theirs aren’t as wide, and their long noses and pointy chins make them much more sinister-looking – not too much, as they’re still friendly kids’ comics characters, but far more than the other monsters Trixie hangs out with (Trixie, of course, has a pointy chin, too, but because her face is wider, her chin isn’t quite as severe as the twins’ are). I don’t know why the longer face is more evil than a wider, flatter face, but casting directors and comics artists have known this for years, and Thompson is conscious of it, too. Thompson’s beautiful brushwork in Panel 3 gives the inside of the crypt a slightly creepy tone – the plants look almost ethereal, and the statues in the lower right look hauntingly over the scene. The twins’ black robes and Trixie’s long shadow add some gloomy blacks to the delicate grays, which makes the crypt a bit less inviting. On this page, like throughout the book, Thompson uses shadows and light very well – here it’s a bit more obvious because there’s a lack of colors, but it’s neat how she uses bright whites in some areas, which makes it stand out more and also makes the blacks darker. It’s a good contrast.
Thompson wasn’t done with painting her comics, and tomorrow we’ll see her use those skills on a decidedly different kind of comic. Come back and see what the story is, and spend some time in the archives is you feel the need!
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.