Monday, December 8, 2014

The Function of Colour in the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

The story of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and her past is told and illustrated by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack. The creepy reveal sets an eerie tone to the comic, setting the mood for what is to come. Creatively, there is a cut out box on the front cover that allows the illustration on the reveal to be seen. This plays with the idea that when it comes to magic, what you see is not necessarily what you get. Importantly, this reveal perfectly matches the last page in the issue that illustrates the Deamoness of Desire with her disgusting skull face who is in search of a new face for herself. Putting Sabrina’s face inside the skull poses the question of whether Sabrina will be whom she seeks.

This book of magic is appropriately coloured with black, orange and yellow tones that fit with the story that begins on October 31, 1951. The trademark colours of Halloween overtake this piece and are extremely effective in conveying how truly unpredictable magic really is. Tones of black and orange mingle to create brown hues, perfect for creating shadows on the page and in the illustrations, allowing for an ominous feel on the panel borders.

There are only few exceptions of colours that stray from the Halloween palate: red hues and blues. To me, the colour red in this issue signifies the growth of Sabrina: swaddled in a blanket with her mother, in a red hat with her father, fashioned in a red dress when she lives with her aunts, and a red cardigan when she is ready to start high school.

The colour blue on the other hand, to me, is always associated with magic. For example, her aunt wears a blue dress or hat with a blue ribbon, Sabrina's aunts, her cat and Sabrina herself have blue eyes, there is a scene where she plucks a blue jar from a cupboard using magic, there are two Riverdale cheerleaders who wear blue sweaters when trying to summon the Deamoness, and then finally the Deamoness herself takes refuge in a pale blue lake.

The colour red is important too because it can signify evil. It does play a part in Sabrina’s wardrobe in the comic, but it is also a colour of deception: the blanket Sabrina is swaddled in as a baby is actually used as a way to conceal a fake baby, therefore making Sabrina’s mother think she is holding her child, but in reality she is holding a voodoo doll. Her aunts wear red shoes which can pick up on the fact that they tricked Sabrina's mom and stole Sabrina from her with help of her father. There is also a scene where Sabrina is having a tantrum and the whites of her eyes are replaced with a dark red colour and black lines are emanating from her face, like she is a cracked doll from a scary movie. It is images like this that make this comic seem like it should not be read by children… the images are scary. Also, the young girl that makes Sabrina upset wears a red jumper, and her cousin Ambrose (who seems to be a fishy character alongside his two King Cobra snakes) also wears red pants.

The use of red in the piece fits with the palate because red and yellow mix to make orange, so in terms of the physical creation of the comic, it is understandable that the colours be mixed in order to work together. The colour blue is what stands out on the page. It has a calming effect and lets the eye rest; sometimes a thick blue colour takes the place of a detailed background. It provides a contrast, especially on pages where the panels look washed out and are predominantly light orange and pale grey. The effect is that the eye is drawn there almost instantly, and most often it brings the reader to a place of magic, conflict, or a combination of the two. Using blue in select places makes it like a game for readers to wonder why exactly the creator put it there. For me, it points to magic, but like real magic, I may never find the real answer behind it.

This issue was extremely fun to read and gave me an interesting background of Sabrina the Teenage Witch that I did no know before. It is a series that can stand alone because it does not require readers to have knowledge about Archie comics before picking it up. Overall a great read… I will definitely pick it back up around Halloween next year!

- Daniela Palombo

Friday, December 5, 2014

Use of Page and Panel Layout in "Daytripper"

I chose to look at chapter 7 in the work, “Daytripper”, especially at the point where Bras find Jorge after receiving the letter from Jorge, asking to find him.  On pg 175 and 176 is the point where Bras find Jorge, alone in a shack off the coast of the beach. He is deranged and not acting like he usually does and this led me to believe that Bras would save his friend and return safely. I chose this page because I feel it captured a lot of emotion in both the page and the reader. Our expectation of Jorge in the chapters previous to this would never lead us to believe that this character is capable of this. Fabio and Gabriel did an amazing job in capturing the perfect setting for this, with the dark color scheme of the background and the red setting sun that is representing the mood and the foreshowing of bloodshed.

To further deepen the setting and to play on the reader’s feelings, the scene flips back to a memory of the two friends on vacation, enjoying life and trying to understand life. In the memory are caught up with everyday worries like work, money and being successful and then flips back to him murdering Bras. This puts the two in perspective showing how we fill our lives with worries and things we need to do, instead of just enjoying life and understanding how short, fragile and unpredictable it can be. Another interesting element of these two pages is the fact that what is happening in actual time takes up the whole page with not border and the memory is in panels and contained over top of the events currently happening. On page 175, the first thing the reader sees is a shot of trees blowing in the wind and the sound “TK” to portray Bras getting stabbed off page. Flipping through and integrating the surreal memory of their vacation with the gothic and violent genre, opens up this contrast to the reader. It gives us perspective of their relationship attaching us emotionally to them, while Jorge murders his best friend. This pulls on two contrasting feelings, immersing the reader in the text, and making them hear and see the act and feel with the characters.

The depth of feeling and portrayal of the contrast of events really took me by surprise and engaged me into the comic even more. These contrasting feelings made me read the page over and over, trying to comprehend the actions of Jorge against his best friend. The creators do an great job with the color scheme, borderless page and memory panels to get not only to portray the event, but to immerse.

Use of Text, Colour and Page Layout in "Quimby The Mouse"

Chris Wares, “Quimby the Mouse” one page spread uses both the text and images simultaneously to convey the story and meaning to the reader.  He does not stick to the conventional panels and borders that contain his work, but instead makes the text a part of the Diagetic world that Quimby interacts with.  For example, when you first look at the page, there is no title that is separate or emphasized outside of the Diagetic world of the comic. Instead, Chris Ware portrays Quimby the mouse painting the “I” in “I Hate You”, which could be seen as standing in place for the title.  We also see him climbing down the letter A to get to the next tier of the comic, moving from the top to the bottom, guiding the reader through the work.  It is not constructed in usual comic book format because there is that absence of the border that contains the whole work, making bleed off the page and giving it the borderless uncontained feel to it. The panels that would collect and neatly organize the events occurring in the work vary across the page, both in shape and size, allowing the readers eye to move freely across the page and take the work as a whole. 

Quimby The Mouse 
            Chris Ware does not only play with the conventions of panels and borders, but also includes a variety of textual styles and colors. The letters in this work function as both images and text that guides the reader through the work as well. We see this also in the case of the letter A that guides the reader’s eye down to the next level, like walking down the stairs.  As Quimby moves down the page, he interacts with not only the letters, but with the actual panels, falling off panels and moving backward and forward across the page.

Chris Ware also does a great job in incorporating color and varying font throughout his work. A lot of emphasis is put on color with certain words. For example the word “I”, “Sure”, “Ever”, “Mystery” and “Do” are in red. These words could be explaining how Quimby actually feels toward his companion and connecting the color red to these words that connect to Quimby’s actions and thoughts. There is also the example of the use of the color blue with text to show transitions or connections. For example, the words “and”, You”, “this time”, “N Fact”, “Besides”, “Now”, and so on, are all connect by the color blue, allowing us consciously or subconsciously group these words together. Another interesting use of colour that I noticed was the colors red and yellow, in the words “I”, Hate, and “Sure”, where repeated in the middle bottom panel where the two finally meet.  These colors could be representing red as the color for love and yellow for the color of comfort. Chris ware doesn’t use these colors anywhere else for the landscape and limits it to those certain words and the one panel, drawing the reader to make a connection to this and find out what they are trying to tell us about his feelings about the relationship.

1Chris Ware does a good job incorporating color, text and image together to move out of the convention form of comics. He makes it visually appealing and engages the reader in the work, making them following along and pay specific attention to the varying texts and panels to understand what is happening to Quimby

Growing up Silver

            As an introduction to my monthly comics “pick,” I wanted to offer a few observations on my recent foray into the world of mainstream comics, the concept of the monthly or “floppy,” and the way the business of comics is conducted. I find it all, in a word, bewildering.
            I started acquiring and appreciating comic books at the tail end of the so-called “Silver Age” (because I’m old, okay?!). The Silver Age is considered to have run from 1956 to around 1970. If that’s the case, then I guess I was active for the last four or five years of that era, and then on into the 1970s up until about ’74/’75 when I entered high school and fell away from the comic book scene.
            I had a lot of comics. I mean we’re talking hundreds. Some kids had bigger collections, to be sure, but mine was still pretty decent by neighbourhood standards. Especially since the whole thing was put together with almost no money. My collection was amassed through the judicious use of my meager allowance, some savvy trading with other kids, and a whole lot of wheedling and begging my mom and grandparents.
             We were too young to access the nascent “underground” scene, so our comics world was dominated by superhero stuff. I probably had every Batman, Detective, Superman, and Fantastic Four for the period from about 1965 to 1973. I was also interested in some less mainstream things like Dr. Strange, The Phantom, and some “western” and “war” titles. There was some pretty cool and rare stuff in there.

            But comics weren’t seen as something to keep. They were considered a disposable item – ephemeral, pulp. A few people held on to things, but for the most part those books got read, reread (and reread again), traded, lost, thrown out, taken into tents for backyard “campouts,” stuffed in school desks, etc., etc. I’ll tell you what I did with mine (and this will drive the collectors crazy). One summer (’72? ’73?), under heavy parental pressure (“these things are taking up too much room!”), I decided to divest myself of my comics treasure trove. I set myself up at the edge of Ontario Street with a comics and lemonade stand. I had enough stock to do this once or twice a week for the better part of the summer. Ontario Street wasn’t a busy street by any measure, but there was some traffic, and besides, word got around. Lemonade sales were okay, but the comics business was off the charts. I was amazed at the number of adult customers. I’ll never forget that weird guy on the bike who totally cleaned me out of Tarzan and Turok, Son of Stone. I probably let a lot of classic stuff go for next-to-nothing prices, but there wasn’t any precious “collector” mentality like what seems to be prevalent nowadays. I just saw it as an opportunity to finance the purchase of large quantities of candy and, yup you guessed it, more comics.
            Which brings me to my monthly comics “pick.” I had a hell of a time finding it. I am completely lost in this new comics world. I don’t understand the distribution model. It seems focused on this “collectability” aspect, everything wrapped in plastic, everybody being careful not to get anything wrinkled. I’m not naïve. I know it’s all about the money, yet this still seems like conspicuously cynical marketing. The other aspect of the mainstream comics market is that so much of it seems to be crap. Everything is couched in terms of “classic” and “collectable,” every launch is touted as an “event,” but it’s obvious most of the stuff won’t accrue any sort of “value,” and in a few years won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on.
            The graphic novels section of the Leddy Library, which has been so expertly curated by Dr. Jacobs and his colleagues, is like a comics wonderland, a highlight-filled survey of comics history. The comics store of today? Not so much. When I was a kid, comics were everywhere. There were at least four places where you could buy comics within a ten-block radius of my house – variety stores, drugstores, grocery stores, etc. I think there was even a dusty rack over at Jack Harkin’s Esso Station. Now, you have to go to the “comics store” and search through reams of dreck to find something decent. And what about out in the hinterlands? I was up in the Goderich/Bayfield/Grand Bend area in the summer – no comics stores around there. Where do those people get comics? I think I would be more inclined to read them if they were ubiquitous, like regular magazines. Isn’t the comics industry shooting itself in the foot with this bizarre distribution model? And why is there such a huge disconnect between the type of stuff we studied in class, and the mainstream market? At the comics store, where is the Chris Ware stuff? Where is the Daniel Clowes department?
            My first visit to a local shop was disheartening, to say the least. I had many questions, but the guy on duty was more interested in his nachos, and the comic he was reading. For the life of me, I couldn’t get him to come out from behind the counter and explain some stuff to me. At the next stop, the guy was marginally more helpful, but he had a bewilderingly huge selection. I don’t do well with “too many options.” It’s hard to find what you’re looking for when you don’t know what that is, and you’re trying to choose from  . . . well, everything ever. The third time was the charm. I found my mentor in Scott St. Amour over at Paper Heroes on Howard Avenue. He patiently answered every one of my stupid questions, and showed me the lay of the land as far as how comics retailing works today.
            I chose several titles, based mostly on artwork and paratextual elements, to take home and consider writing about. The first one was a retro “noir” crime thriller called The Fadeout (Image Comics; Ed Brubaker, story; Sean Phillips, art; Elizabeth Breitweiser, colours).
The hype for this book was huge and it sold out quickly. I had to wait a month and a half for it to go to a second printing. (Again, from a distribution standpoint, this makes no sense to me. If you’re printing many thousands of something, it’s fairly inexpensive to print a few thousand more.) The artwork in this book was fantastic, but I thought the story left a lot to be desired ­– clichéd from start to finish. It was also crammed with narration boxes. There is a lot of “telling,” and the “showing” seems superfluous. In other words, this didn’t work for me as a comic in the way I understand comics are supposed to work. Making this (weak) story into a comic didn’t materially add to my ability to create meaning.  This is the problem I am running into again and again with mainstream comics. There is a lot of fantastic, accomplished artwork out there, but the narratives are sorely lacking.
            The next title was The Shaolin Cowboy (Dark Horse Comics; Geof Darrow, story and art; Dave Stewart, colours).
Again, awesome art, great colour, poor story. This four-book series featured a fight scene which began on page twenty-five of Issue #1 and ran all the way through to page 26 of Issue #4.
The same scene (Shaolin Cowboy fighting zombies) from every conceivable angle! No dialogue! Apparently, this caused quite a scandal out in comics land. People took it as some sort of personal insult by the artist. I have to admit I thought it was sort of a weird, lame move, but I’m not going to be writing any letters or anything. It's too bad, because the paratextual elements of this book were funny, well-executed, and held out much promise for the series.
            Then things went from bad to worse. I delved into a new eight book story arc of a crime series that had apparently been wildly popular in the 1990s: Stray Bullets (Image Comics; David Lapham, story and art).
Frankly, this thing disgusted me. It seems to be a perfect reflection of the current zeitgeist in the United States: all crazy gun culture and gratuitous ultra-violence. The story is a complete mish-mosh, with characters popping in and out for no apparent reason, and then it just . . .  ends, with all sorts of unresolved questions. Maybe it’s because of everything that’s been going on lately (I think I’ve seen that poor soul in New York get killed by those cops about thirty times), but this seemed especially vile and lacking in any sort of . . . well, anything. Oh, and as an added bonus? No colour on the inside pages. That’s right, just very unfinished-looking black and white line art. This can’t have been an economic decision, because Image throws colour ink around like there’s no tomorrow. It has to be an aesthetic decision (which fails miserably). This title also pointed up the frustration I have with the whole serialization/"floppy" model. I read all eight of these things in just over half an hour. If I hadn't had them all there at once, I never would have gone on to Issue #2. In a lot of cases there's just not enough in thirty pages to make me want to continue on with the series.
            On my fourth try, I finally had better luck with a science fiction title called Roche Limit (Image Comics; Michael Moreci, story; Vic Malhotra, art).
The (refreshing) difference with this book is that it actually has a compelling story, and it contains some thought-provoking ideas. There is enough content there, and it is skillfully arranged in a way that makes me want to find out what is going on, and what is going to happen. I’m going to deal with some of the details of this book in my next post, but in general I think this comic “works” in the sense that it uses the medium to express something which couldn’t be expressed in words alone.