Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Norm Breyfogle, and the issue is Whisper #10, which was published by First Comics and is cover dated December 1987. Enjoy!
Breyfogle’s first ongoing was drawing Steven Grant’s Whisper, which he did for nine issues (#3-11) in 1986-1987. Whisper shipped bi-monthly, so Breyfogle drew his first issue of Detective Comics (#579) in between issues #9 and 10. In November 1987, his first issue of ‘Tec as regular artist shipped, and a legend was born! Whisper #10, therefore, which came out in August 1987, is a good place to check out his art before he hit the big time. He was getting more and more confident, and I also wanted to check out the coloring by Janice Cohen on this issue, because it’s a bit different than what we saw earlier in his career.
One thing I don’t think Breyfogle gets enough credit for his the way his characters interact with each other. He has a somewhat simple, cartoony line, and he doesn’t overemphasize facial muscles or wrinkles, so I think readers don’t notice how good he is at facial expressions and body language. This is a nice example of it, though. The blond dude – Parker – approaches Diane, our heroine, and asks if he can sit down in the panel above this one. They’re in a club, so she can’t hear him. Breyfogle lettered this, and it’s one of those times where the presence of bold letters makes sense – they are speaking more loudly than usual, because there’s music playing in the background. Breyfogle does a really nice job with the interaction between Parker and Diane. She looks up skeptically in Panel 1, with her eyebrow slightly raised. He leans in because he can’t hear her in Panel 2, and she responds by closing her eyes, turning away from him, and drinking. When she says her friend Cody has a big mouth, Breyfogle draws Parker as surprised – he can’t believe someone wouldn’t be interested in a hunk like him (although, as it turns out, he wants to offer Diane a job, not a night of wild sex). Breyfogle does a nice job of showing how annoyed she is – he cocks her eyebrows just a bit, turns her to her left so that he can shade her eye slightly, and opens her mouth in a small sneer. The way he draws her left hand pushing against the table shows her annoyance, too – she’s propelling herself away from this douchebag. He’s a bit bemused in Panel 4, and Breyfogle gives him a half-hearted smile and has him scratch his puzzler a little. Diane is drawn in full storm-off mode, as Breyfogle draws her hair waving and her hips swaying, drawing a whistle from the dude at the table (he’s lucky that, considering her pain-inducing talents, she ignores him). Breyfogle draws a nice Cody and dance partner in Panel 5, as they’re moving to the music, while his dour-looking Diane is perfect for the mood she’s in. Breyfogle inks this page really well, too. Parker’s hair is thick and lush, which fits the Los Angeles aesthetic of the book in this issue, and while Diane’s hair style is … unfortunate (well, it was 1987, what are you going to do?), it’s inked well! Breyfogle uses thick blacks on Parker’s suit to make the fabric appear more expensive, and Diane’s dress is very trendy for the time, showing that Breyfogle knew a bit about fashion. The inking lines on Cody’s dance partner are nice, too, as Breyfogle uses a bit of a looser line, which helps show her “motion” a bit better. And the fact that full-body leopard-print catsuits aren’t back in style these days is just sad. Come on, fashionistas!
Parker convinces Diane to accept a ride from him, and we get this nice exchange. Breyfogle would do this kind of page a lot in his Batman work, with thin panels stacked on top of each other, but they usually showed a fight sequence, even though it works perfectly fine in this situation. Breyfogle got better at drawing cars, as you can see, and he enjoyed drawing sports cars, so we get Parker’s fancy automobile, which could easily be the Batmobile that Breyfogle would soon redesign. In the middle panels, we get the interaction between Diane and Parker, which Breyfogle gets really well. Diane looks out the window, amused that Parker would offer her a job even though he doesn’t know her. Breyfogle raises her eyebrows a bit in the classic “perplexed/amused” vein and he gives her a half-smile. Parker, meanwhile remains deadly serious (and keeps his eyes on the road!). Breyfogle gives them both high cheekbones, but rounds Diane’s chin a bit more while Parker looks a bit more severe, especially in Panel 3. When he speaks in Panel 4, he’s a little more relaxed, as he’s showing off a bit. She has turned toward him, and Breyfogle moves her eyes so that she’s now looking at him, while he raises Parker’s eyebrows just a little and adds a quirk to his mouth, making him grin raffishly. This fits well with the fact that he guesses she’s from New York, which in Panel 5 makes her freak out a little, as she leans toward him and her face contorts angrily while he has now lightened up all the way – he tilts his head, his mouth is loose, and we can almost catch the twinkle in his eye. By stacking the panels this way, Breyfogle is able to show “motion” well – Diane begins by looking out the window, but as Parker baits her, she turns and faces him, while Parker begins in a very serious mode but then gradually shows that he enjoys toying with Diane. It’s very nicely done. It’s also nice that Breyfogle skipped a fourth panel in this fashion and showed the outside of the car – he didn’t want to push it too far, and he also uses the final panel to move our eyes off the page to the next one.
Diane gets into her “Whisper” outfit and confronts the bad guys, who are CIA operatives and Contras (it’s a complicated plot and the wee-est bit silly, so let’s skip over it). Breyfogle does a few nice things on this page. The way he draws Whisper standing in front of the car lights is well done. In Panel 1, we’re farther away, so Breyfogle draws a simple outline and then fills it with lines. The headlights hover in the void, with radiating lines coming from them as we get away from their center. Cohen, presumably, colored the area around the lights white, while using dark purple on Whisper. Then, in Panel 3, we’re a bit closer to our heroine, and Breyfogle gives us slightly more detail. He doesn’t use hatching on her right side, as that side is being illuminated harshly by the lights, but the inking lines become darker and darker as he angles away from the lights. He doesn’t use an outline – the hatching just ends, and Cohen colors up to the end of the lines with purple, which is a nice touch on both their parts. In the background, it appears Cohen uses blue and white airbrushing to achieve that luminescence, which is pretty neat. In the final panel, Breyfogle once again shows how good he has become at action, as Whisper leaps backward away from the bullets. The panel is “backward,” in that she begins on the right side and flips toward the left, so that her momentum goes against our reading grain, but it’s still well done. Breyfogle shows all her movements, and he gives Diane a wonderful body type – she’s very lean and not too muscular, and Breyfogle doesn’t make her very large in the chest area. We can believe that this woman is able to flip and zip around like she does.
More nice storytelling by Breyfogle, as Whisper infiltrates one of the bad dudes’ house. He shows everything we need to see, from Whisper grabbing the balcony to ducking when the dude hears something. Breyfogle loved motion lines at this point in his career, and he liked using them for emphasis, as we see in Panel 2, where Whisper’s hand grabbing the balcony is highlighted by a burst of hatching emanating from it. I wanted to point out the coloring, as I noted above. I don’t know how Cohen colored this, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t digital, as that technology wasn’t available – I don’t think – in 1987. But she is using more than just flat colors, which we saw yesterday. She shades the balcony, for instance, in Panel 4, when we’re looking down at the dudes and Whisper. She uses shading throughout this book, and it adds some texture to Breyfogle’s artwork. Breyfogle is a very “flat” artist, meaning he doesn’t use inking to add texture to his work that often (he can, but he doesn’t that often, at least not at this stage of his career), and while adding nuance through coloring can be disastrous (as I’ve noted often during this year and which we might see more examples of coming down the line), when it’s done with care, as it is here, it can be helpful. Cohen probably did this by hand, which might have made her more careful, and she’s able to make wise choices about what to shade. It’s a very nice coloring job, and this page is a pretty good example of it.
Whisper gets some documents and crashes out of the house, but Baddy McEvilson tells his thugs not to shoot her because he has to live in the neighborhood (I guess his neighbors engage in some good kinky sex games because a ninja-esque figure launching herself out of the window doesn’t faze them, apparently). Breyfogle begins the sequence with the window-crash, which he takes his time with, showing precisely inked shards of glass that, naturally, don’t cut our heroine at all. The “chasing down the street” sequence that bridges the two pages is another one of those tropes that Breyfogle would use quite well in the future. Whisper heads from the left toward the right in Panel 4 of the first page, and we see the headlights of the approaching car in the background. Breyfogle, who obviously knows a thing or two about vanishing points, focuses all of our attention on those headlights, because they’re important! On the second page, Baddy McEvilson appears in the same spot as Whisper, and we see that time has passed because the car is much closer. Cody’s voice-over narration is timed well (he’s talking to Diane the next day), as he exhorts her to “go to the police” a moment before we see that the car is actually a police vehicle. Baddy McEvilson’s reach for his gun in Panel 1 of the second page becomes an awkward covering of his mouth in Panel 2, as the car passes him by. Breyfogle’s use of halos and long spikes to show lights is also something we’ll see more of in later years. Then we switch the point of view again, as Baddy McEvilson sees Whisper clinging to the back of the cop car. He draws a surprised expression on Baddy’s face (so surprised, in fact, that his irises disappear!), and once again, we get a burst of hatching around his face to emphasize the surprise. Notice how Breyfogle remembers to draw the passenger cop looking at Baddy in Panel 2 and still checking him out in Panels 3 and 4. There’s just something off about Baddy McEvilson! As Breyfogle slowly rotates the point of view to show the police driving on, he lowers the sightline a bit so we see Baddy’s hand curl into a fist. It’s a well done sequence. Note, again, Breyfogle’s heavier inking on Baddy’s face and hand – it gives him a rough, well-hewn look, as if he’s been through some tough times. Considering he’s a CIA agent who works with the Contras, that’s probably a good guess.
Breyfogle’s work on Whisper presumably got him the job on Detective, even if DC knew who he was from his earliest work. I was really, really tempted to skip his Batman work altogether (I have enough of his work to do it, don’t you think I don’t!), but I will heed the Kinks and Give the People What They Want, so tomorrow, you best prepare yourself for the Dark Knight. You know he’s a-coming! Steel yourself with even more Batman-related posts in the archives!
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.