Year of the Artist, Day 242: Jason Copland, Part 1 – Empty Chamber #1
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jason Copland, and the issue is Empty Chamber #1, which was published by Silent Devil and is cover dated October 2006. Enjoy!
After several years in the business, Jason Copland is beginning to get higher-profile works, and since the first issue of his latest comic came out this week, I thought I’d take a look at some of the steps he made along the way. That’s just how I roll! I first saw Copland’s work in Empty Chamber, a two-issue series that I bought because the description sounded neat – it’s basically an espionage book, and you know how I love espionage books! – and A. David Lewis wrote it, and Lewis is one of those really good writers who hasn’t done much in comics because he can’t make any money at it so he went off and taught about comics and religion and mythology and all that good stuff. When I bought it, however, I saw Copland’s art, and since then, I’ve been a fan. So let’s give it a look, okay?
Copland does some nice things on this page, as the protagonist – Matt – is approached by Samantha, who has been sent by the government to protect him from those dudes who are killing the security guard. This comic is pretty dense, and Copland, as we’ll see, does nice work with the page layouts. Here he stacks the scenes of the guard’s murder and the killers moving on, but he uses a longer horizontal panel to create an “L” and encircle the panel where Samantha meets Matt. It’s a nice touch, as the killers are moving in on Matt, trapping him, and Samantha will have to get him out. In the bottom row, we get a bit more of that, as Matt shows up on the video screens behind one of the assassins, creating both a metaphorical cage and a figurative maze for him, keeping him hemmed in. It’s a very neat layout. Copland, you’ll notice, begins with the guard getting killed in “the real world” and then, in the panel below, switches to the video feed, which allows a smooth transition to the panel where the killer is giving the “thumbs-up,” which is in a room with the bank of monitors, which then transitions nicely to the final panel. He does a nice job with the distortion of the screen, too, which is always good to see. We can see, in the monitors that show Matt, that Copland uses a bit of a rougher line than in the rest of the book, which is where his art is heading, as this is much cleaner than we’ll see from him moving forward. He worked on this comic for three years (note the date when this takes place), and perhaps that reflects some of his change in style as he got more confident.
Copland does a nice job with the action here, as he uses an establishing shot in Panel 1 to show Samantha leading Matt away, and then uses the gun to lead us along from the left to the right. Even though it’s Samantha’s gun, the fact that it’s pointing at Matt in Panel 1 is still a good reminder that he’s in danger. Copland uses a panel border to separate the gun from the rest of the action, so that when Samantha gets punched, the safety of the gun feels far away because of the panel border. The motion of the panel is well done, too, as the assassin clocks Samantha, who falls into Matt, knocking him backward and in the direction that our eyes move. Copland remembers to show her hair flying around, which adds to the motion of the panel. She recovers nicely, and in Panel 4, we get a good kick to the chin. Again, Copland makes sure to have Samantha’s hair flying, and he gives her a nice angry face as her boot connects. The assassin’s pose is pretty good, too, as it feels like a pose someone would make after getting kicked in the chin (never having been kicked in the chin, I can’t really say). The dude manages to recover and chuck her to the ground, and Copland gives us a good pain burst around her head and the agony on her face is well done. In the final panel, we get to see through the assassin’s eyes as he struggles to reach the gun. In the background, Copland uses a lot of blacks to shroud Samantha’s face as she tries to get Matt to listen to her. This is a nicely laid-out page, as Copland moves us around well and shows that both Samantha and the dudes trying to kill Matt are not to be trifled with.
Copland gives us another interesting layout, as the edge of the roof is not a panel border, but it might as well be, which is pretty neat. He does some good work with the interaction between the characters, too – Matt is a conspiracy buff who knows a lot of weird things, while Samantha, obviously, is no-nonsense. Copland gives her a nice look on her face when she dismisses Matt in Panel 4 – he lowers her eyebrows so that they darken her eyes, while grayscaler Jenn Rodgers adds a bit of shading underneath the eyes. Her body language is done well, too – she turns away from Matt and jerks a thumb back toward the stairwell, signalling that the conversation is over. Copland and Rodgers do nice work in the final three panels – Copland is using the same drawing, I assume, except in the last panel when the door opens a crack, while Rodgers does a good job lightening the window in the door to show that someone is approaching.
As Copland got more confident in his work, he did more pages like this, using rougher inks to muddy the waters a bit, so to speak. It’s night, so of course it’s going to be dark, and Copland uses silhouettes well on this page – the helicopter hovering in Panel 1 with the tendrils flowing from it looks extremely creepy, even after we realize the “tendrils” are lines that the team rappelled down (can we call it “rappelling” when there are no rocks? what’s the term here?) to reach the office. Copland uses thicker blacks on the team as they approach the door, and when they open it and their shadows stream in, he remembers to make them bulky and a bit broken up by the tile lines in the floor. In Panel 4, we get a lot of black on the dude’s face, which is appropriate as it’s dark in the office but also makes him look more sinister. This is another nice layout – the lines from the helicopter lead us to the next row of panels, the team moves from the left front and points the flashlight back to the door in Panel 2, the shadows move us from left to right, and then we get a wide-screen panel of the bad guys entering the office, with the lights providing a nice arc across the page. Copland, as I noted, has a lot to get into this comic, and he does a nice job with it.
Copland gets to draw a lot of people scowling in this issue (it’s serious, damn it!!!!), but this exchange, where Samantha and Matt go to her safe house and find Kelly Alexander, is pretty nicely done, because Kelly knows he’s a good guy. Samantha, who’s a tough-as-nails professional, doesn’t move throughout the entire exchange, but Kelly and Matt do, and Copland does a pretty good job with them. In Panel 1, Matt looks very tentative as he comes up behind Samantha, while in Panel 2 he manages to level the gun at Kelly. It’s difficult for Copland to indicate that Kelly looks from Samantha to Matt in Panel 2 because the depth of the panel is minimal, but he does what he can, even if Kelly looks more like he’s turning to the reader. Copland, however, gives him a nice, devil-may-care look on his face as he offers Matt the can of beer. Matt, because he’s an idiot, takes it, and Copland gives us another good face as Matt sets his mouth grimly and tries to look tough, even though he doesn’t. Kelly, meanwhile, has become more serious as he tries to convince Samantha that he’s a good guy. It’s only a few panels, but Copland gets a lot of personality into each character.
Empty Chamber didn’t launch Copland to superstardom, obviously, but it was a cool comic. We can see that he began to draw a bit more roughly, and we’ll see more of that tomorrow. Before you get to tomorrow, though, you can spend today in the archives!