Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Dream Vs. Death in Sandman

In the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, the character designs for Morpheus and Death are similar enough to show the sibling relationship between the two, however the Lord of Dreams is the more relatable of the two characters despite his less human character design. This could potentially go back to Scott McCloud's ideas regarding identification through simplification. Personally, I enjoy the slight humor behind Death being the more human of the two characters.

Lets take this one step deeper though. Morpheus' character design actually shifts depending on where he is and the other characters present in the scene. For example, when in the human world with his sister Death he appears slightly more solid and less ephemeral as shown below. Also shown is a scene where he threatens one of the characters and his design has changed to be more intimidating. The main changes are things like his eyes turning red and his clothing shifting as well. The dark shadows around his eyes create a more harsh contrast and create a stark visage for the character, as though he were the bogeyman from a child's nightmare.

In my opinion, this ephemerality of Dream is what makes him a much more relatable character than Death, despite her appearing more human. He can change to represent the situation and the feelings he wishes to evoke in other characters and the feelings the creators want to evoke in the readers. That being said, this ability to change designs slightly allows Dream to become a physical representation of the feelings a reader experiences throughout the plot of Sandman. It becomes easier overall to feel angry when we can see the rage in how his character is designed as a whole, as opposed to strictly a facial expression. Likewise, it is easier to feel compassion for Morpheus when the reader can see his whole face during an emotional conversation. The ultimate result of his changeability is, therefore, what allows him to be such a relatable character, however, we relate more on a base emotional level since his design begins to represent different emotions the reader feels.

All in all, it is a brilliant effect achieved through very simple means, while still keeping the character consistent with certain features like his hair, skin tone and the sharp planes used to design Dream's face.

A Splash of Power- The Suicide Risk Reveal

    Superpowers are awesome, we all agree. And the main way they gained acclaim is through comic books. Recently I read Suicide Risk, a comic centred around a world in which the heroes are loosing to the villains, and the cops are being caught in the crossfire. The story itself centres around Leo Winters, a police officer whose partner is wounded in a battle against the villains. He later finds the designer drug that is giving so many people powers, and decides to take it himself to get revenge for his partner.
    So, the premise of the story is revenge with superpowers. I won’t say anymore on it because I don’t want to spoil the story itself. However, the picture below is unavoidable (SPOILER ALERT!). It is the splash page used when Leo first gains his powers, and it becomes a pivot point of the first issue. Firstly, it is the second of a two-page spread, so the reveal happens before we even read the first page of the two. That, on its own, can cause a bit of the surprise to wear off before a reader has experienced the narrative happening on the previous page. 

    But the splash redeems itself because it isn’t the reveal that’s important in this particular moment, rather the resolution of tension set up in the previous panels is what the narrative was working towards. While only the splash page is shown below, the preceding pages show a very tense situation between Leo and the drug dealers, resulting in a gunpoint drug deal and everyone being curious as to what powers he would receive. And then suddenly his body lights up with electricity.

    I realize I promised I wouldn’t spoil the story, so I won’t anymore. The context of the splash panel was necessary to understand that it isn’t a usual splash reveal since there isn’t actually a page flip included. It draws the eye before the other panels in the 2 page spread, and that is both a strength and a weakness. Its a strength in that it resolves the tension of the narrative situation first, but it falls flat in letting the revelation of his power be a surprise. 

All in all, splash panels have been used to reveal superpowers in multiple comics, and in Suicide Risk it happens with a bit of trepidation on the part of the reader, until they dive deeper into the story and find out that the single splash of power was just the tip of the iceberg for Leo Winters!

Reinventing Old Stories in The Wicked and The Divine

    The Wicked and The Divine is a unique ongoing comic in that it uses the comic book form to reinvent characters from myth. While this idea has been done in multiple mediums, The Wicked and The Divine takes it in an interesting direction by turning its incarnate gods into pop stars. The premise itself is interesting, however the artist has had probably the most difficult job in redesigning characters that have literally been around for thousands of years. Easily the most interesting choice was the creation of Luci, the comic’s representation of Lucifer. The biggest change about the character is the gender swap, since Lucifer is traditionally represented as a man within different works like Paradise Lost. 
    Why is any of this important? Because it shows that comics have the unique opportunity to alter and adapt five millennia of stories or more for the modern reader. By redesigning such a well known figure as Lucifer, the artist has given the story a pedigree steeped in the history associated with the character. At the same time, having Lucifer wear a pristine white suit that never even ruffles (no matter how gory and chaotic the story can get) sets her up as fashionable and current. In essence, The Wicked and The Divine has taken these old figures from myths and legends and given them a relevant equivalent to today’s readers. After all, these characters were in a way the pop stars of their time, and so that transition is more accurate than readers may initially believe. This entire premise is unique to comics in a way, since it allows both the visual and literary freedoms to alter these well known-characters, and make them more accessible to a modern audience.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Plutona - A New Reader's Comments

            Plutona by Jeff Lemire, Emi Lenox, and Jordan Bellaire is a new web-comic series by Image. Volume One of the comic follows the lives of four teenagers as they embark on a search for a young boy leads them to a superhero. Being that this is the first comic series I have ever purchased, a large portion of my expectations came from novels. If there were any visual aesthetics, they were more of a supplementary element for the texts. In my Comics Theory Class with Professor Dale Jacobs, we spoke about there being a tension between sequence and surface. As a new reader, it is easy to focus on the words for sequence since there are a lot of speech bubbles in this comic. I needed to engage the text at a higher conscious in order to focus on the layout and the other multimodal aspects. After reading the comic through with a focus on the literacy, I went back and paid attention to the surface of the comic. My eyes automatically drew to the unconventional use of the two-page spreads instead of the conventional rectangular panes. Me, as the reader felt more involved in this spread because I was in control of the direction of my eyes. The use of a clock to connect two panels brought a sense of realism to the tiers. I was aware of time within the medium, similar to that in film. The use of thick black lines for the characters allowed me to project myself into the character more. By the fifth page, I was emotionally invested in the development of the characters. Outlining the individuals are a part of the cartooning technique. In Understanding Comics by Scott Mccloud, he states, “cartooning provides us {the reader} the ability to not just observe, but to become it.” Mccloud attributes my submersion into the character due to the cartooning style. It is interesting that after I started looking at the drawing style, Mccloud’s theory seemed accurate. The character’s faces are very simplistic with only facial shading for expression and hairlines. Not only was I able to place real individuals at my high school to the characters, but also myself. Since the drawing lacked realism, it was able to slide into my fantasy; in my fantasy anything is possible. There are a lot more to say about the style and technique within this comic, but I will save those for the next draft. In the same way the authors are making me wait the next volume, I will also make you anticipate my next analysis of Plutona.

Plutona - Through the Looking Glass

          As I started thinking about the composition of Plutona, I wondered how paneling played a role in the larger picture. At face value, the page layout is a background. It is a form of structure that is subtle. In Understanding Comics by Scott Mccloud, I learned that panel layout could be a powerful tool used to reiterate the message in the comic. Generally, comics are set up in the grid format with white gutters to highlight each panel and guide my eyes from left to right. An artist uses panels as a tool to not only guide, but to control. So, I wondered, what were the creators adamant about controlling within these two pages?
            In Plutona, the panels vary from rectangular to square. Unlike other comic strips, Plutona uses large panels, and sometimes no panels within a tier. One of the things that sound out is the fluidity of the tiers with no panel break. This speeds up the scene, making it a moment-to-moment action, rather than a direction shift. On the first page, there is minimal moment, with the tiers being used to display the room from different angles. I see Ray’s face (the young boy). I notice the bags under his eyes, which stick out in contrast to his light green eyes. I am then guided to the second tier with Ray’s father sleeping on the coach. Starting at the left, I am aware of Ray’s slouched body language; subtly evoking disappointment or contempt. I notice the cigarettes and empty beer bottles on the table, and lastly see Ray’s father. His clothing is minimal, with a great deal of dirt and ruffles on it. With no words, I am forced to grab information from the image. I start formulating ideas about Ray’s family dynamic with his family, and their living condition. I assume Ray’s father doesn’t have a serious job because he is still sleeping, instead of leaving, as Ray gets ready for school. The large panels are blow-ups into the life of Ray. It is character depth without any words. Words and sounds are used in the last panel, but they are very minimal. The first panel on the third tier is when movement really begins. The angle of Ray’s hand seems invasive to me as the reader. The cigarettes fill the page, making me feel angry that a young boy is smoking cigarettes. This tension is used by the creators to emotionally charge the panels. Nicely done.  
            The next page is full of speech bubbles and colour. Mie’s (the young girl) life appears very fast pace and family-oriented. She is seated at the dining table with her family for breakfast. The background gradates from dark to light orange. It is evident that the important on this page is narrative, rather than characterization development. I am not as engaged with Mie’s character in comparison to Ray. I assume this was done intentionally since he appears to be the “bad child” in the story. Mie’s page follows the same panel structure as Ray’s, yet the use of dialogue changes the tone completely. Although both individuals are irritated with their parents, they seem to be living different lives. This plays into the larger theme of the comic about four children, different in lifestyle being unified by something special.   

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Welcome Back - Comics Theory Students Take Over the Blog

This fall I am once again teaching Comics Theory and, once again, students from that class will be guest authors for the semester. In their posts, students will be connecting the theory we are reading with the practice of current monthly comics, as well as graphic novels from the UW library collection. I'm looking forward to reading their submissions and I hope you will be as well.