Sunday, September 23, 2007

Enemies from Between the Panels!

As you can see from Mike's new thumbnails for p. 5 of the Elfworld story, we've been talking about having Arntham's mystery assailant come from a space between the panels of the comic, at least metaphorically. (For a while it sounded we were going to have them live literally between the panels, which seemed to sort of mess up the tone of the piece. I like the tone that Mike's setting up now, though, for sure.)

Anyway, this got me thinking about a couple of manipulations of the two-dimensional comics page that aren't really relevant to our story, but are still pretty interesting. People tend to talk about this sort of manipulation of conventions as "breaking the fourth wall," borrowing a term from theater, though there are ways in which that metaphor doesn't transpose to comics very neatly.

The best known recent instance of this in mainstream comics is probably a moment in the fourth issue of Grant Morrison's Zatanna series, which is collected in the third volume of his Seven Soldiers of Victorycollection: after defeating a scary-powerful bearded evil magician named Zor, Zatanna briefly gains a sense of a world beyond the "scaffolding" and "machinery" of her own world. She holds her hand out to us as we read, and the visible pressure on her fingertips seems to literalize that "fourth wall" metaphor for a moment. (Her hand appears at just about life size, so it's tempting to match your fingertips up to hers while you hold the book.)

It turns out that she's reaching out to the "Seven Unknown Men," who (from what I've read about the series) are supposed to be the writers at DC Comics, or maybe more like their extrusions into the fictional world they write about. There they are, all looking bald and sunglassed, a little like Grant Morrison I guess, with a few typewriter parts in the visual space between them and Zatanna's hand. (What are those things in a typewriter called, that strike the ribbon and the paper? I don't know.)

(These images were drawn by Ryan Sook with Mick Gray.)

But this isn't the sequence that motivated me to make a post on ye olde blogge.

When Mike and I were talking about the enemies coming from the panel gutters, I was reminded of a story in Alan Moore's 1963 series (the issue called Tales of the Uncanny) that features a hero called the Hypernaut fighting a monstrostiy from four-dimensional space. It's a pretty entertaining sequence, and I'm going to post it here, partly just because I know Mike doesn't have a copy of this comic. You can, as usual, click on these images to make them legible.

I think the moment between panels three and four, when the 4-D monster folds a panel to make the Hypernaut shoot himself in the back, is pretty clever, even if it's a little difficult to read. (I think it's the position of the first speech balloon in panel 4 that causes the problem.)

This sequence, with the 4-D monster reaching around the "blueprint" of the locked door, takes advantage of conventional two-dimensional techniques of representation pretty nicely.

(We're not surprised, in panel two, to see the insides of the wall, because that's the easiest way to show that it separates the Hypernaut from the 4-D monster; in panel three, the monster not only reaches around this representation, but bursts slightly out of the right-hand panel border.)

A little bit of trivia: if you're looking at those Hypernaut pages and thinking, "There's something sort of funny about that inking -- it doesn't look like superhero inking," then you've got good intuition. These pages were drawn by "Sturdy Steve Bissette," one of Moore's collaborators from Swamp Thing, but they were inked by none other than "Charmin' Chester Brown." Yes, this Chester Brown: the excellent cartoonist behind Louis Riel, The Playboy, and I Never Liked You.

Moore's 1963 series is full of interesting little surprises like that. And no post about 1963 could really be complete without reproducing one of the hilarious mock advertisements that Moore has in each of these comics. I could do a whole post on those, but here's my favorite:

Ah, yes. From the back cover of Tales from Beyond, it's the wonderful world of amazing live SOIL-MONKEYS. Never let it be said that Alan Moore isn't funny. It's sort of surprising that this series hasn't been collected up in some format.


Mike said...

Very cool stuff, Kaiser! I remember reading at least one issue of 1963 inked by Chester Brown; and if there was only the one, then I guess I read this once upon a time. It is too bad that it hasn't been collected; I remain in awe of what I remember as a tour-de-force bit of alliteration on the letter V in one of Moore's imitations of Stan's Soapbox.

Hutch said...

Mike's use of the "gutter villian" (I've just coined it, thanks) is quite nice. Bravo!