Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The One-Panel Critics: Lots Going On in Mister Miracle

So a week or so ago, Ed Piskor put together an interesting collection of comics panels in which "cause" and "effect" both appear in the same image. (I first heard about Piskor's collection a few days back from noted trendspotter Mike Sterling. By now, though, even that old fogey Scott McCloud has jumped on the bandwagon, so I'm probably about two days from being tragically unhip here.)

I think what Piskor has in mind is that the originator of an action and its results seem to exist in slightly different time-frames in the same panel: for example, Andy is at the end of the follow-through of a throw, and the thing he's thrown is already shattering a faraway window.

To be precise, this isn't just a matter of causes being visible alongside their effects, but being visible in different temporal frames of reference within the same panel. It's as if the motion line were a sort of time-distortion device, guiding the reader from a slightly-past "present" to a somewhat-more-present "present," all within the panel.

In order to add my own two cents to the discussion, here's my favorite example of this weird feature of the way comics represent time:

Go on and click to enlarge it. Take the time to read it. That's a splash panel from Mister Miracle #15 (Sept. 1973), written and drawn by Jack Kirby.

What's going on in that panel? I detect at least three, and maybe four, temporal frames of reference swirling around each other there.

Okay, some stuff happens before the panel actually begins. This includes everything leading up to ...

(A.) the tossing of a grenade.

Shilo (B1.) sees the grenade, (B2.) calls out a warning, and (maybe not simultaneously—so B3? or C?) trips Mr. Miracle.

(C? D?) Mr. Miracle falls to the ground.

Of course it's weird that all these different causes and effects are visible simultaneously. I think it's extra-weird that they don't simply "read" from right to left, but follow the actions around the page counter-clockwise from twelve o'clock, like so.

I can't tell whether this panel is a muddled mess or a masterpiece of compression and efficiency. I've looked at this comic so many times since I was a tot that I can't imagine what it would be like to read it without already having read it.

What do you think? Does this panel work to convey its complicated chain of cause-and-effect clearly, or is it confusing?

Monday, July 5, 2010

The One-Panel Critics: the Vanity of Swamp Thing

It's been nearly a month since my last measly post, and I don't think I'm going to break any postyness records for July, either. But here's a little something I noticed recently.

I've been re-reading my old Swamp Thing paperbacks, thinking about the storytelling as well as the story there, and I noticed a couple of panels from the slow build at the end of Saga of the Swamp Thing #30 ("A Halo of Flies") that I hadn't paid attention to before. Probably I had skipped past these quickly because they're pantomime (there's no text to read), which is a shame, because they build up to an awfully strong final-page reveal—one that anticipates the rug-jerking surprise at the end of the eleventh issue of Watchmen, in its small way.

Here are those panels I mentioned.

Maybe you're already seeing what I saw.

Even if you're not an avid Swamp Thingophile, you may be familiar with Bernie Wrightson's cover to House of Secrets #92, which included the first Swamp Thing story:

(This image borrowed from the Grand Comics Database, like the next image.)

This story was later reprinted, with a new framing tale around it, in Saga of the Swamp Thing #33, with John Totleben providing a cover swipe or homage from Wrightson's original—with the post-Alec-Holland Swamp Thing's sweetheart, Abby Cable, in the place of Linda Olsen.

By now you've probably figured out what I've noticed: the elaborate vanity setup that the silent swamp monster stalks past on his way to Abby's curtained four-poster bed.

My hunch is that this is an earlier homage to House of Secrets 92. Maybe Steve Bissette will correct me if I'm wrong about this, but I think it's deliberate.

As he looms through the house, Swamp Thing is framed to look like a monster, even though he's the hero of the tale, and the "cinematics" of the scene help to build a really nice sense of foreboding that the chapter's conclusion pays out in spades. It's a nice touch—and a subtle thing to notice more than two decades after the comic was originally published.