There are a lot of new comics hitting the shelves every week. Even if you ignore Marvel’s insistence on renumbering every other month, the sheer amount of new number 1’s every month is staggering and making the right impact from the beginning is paramount.
There are a number of different ways to grab the reader’s attention; striking covers; intriguing design; big named creator. But in the end the one thing that will make a reader come back for issue two is an engaging narrative.
This week Image Comics releases issue 1 of Analog. It is set in the near future where tech-free Jack McGinnis works as a secure messenger for hire. In this world the world wide web was busted wide open and everything changed, people had to make a choice: embrace technology and lose all rights to privacy or go off the grid, go analogue.
Analog #1 has a pleasant cover; it invokes the cold war era thriller on which some of the story is based. It has some recognisable names working on it: Gerry Duggan, David O’Sullivan and Jordie Bellaire. But the most outstanding aspect of this first issue is the opening scene of the comic itself. It introduces the protagonist in such a way that by the time the reader gets to the ‘title page’ they are already committed to the comic and the narrative. This is even before the creators set up the world in which the story unfolds.
The opening of Analog reads like a scene from any number of spy thrillers you can think of. The writer, Gerry Duggan, uses this familiar setting to introduce the reader to the central character of the comic, Jack McGinnis. Despite the obvious immediate threat to the character, the situation is recognisable and as such comforting for the reader; it makes the reader feel at home enough for them to spend time on the smaller details of the scene. If this had started with the big picture, the mixed up near futuristic world that the story is set in, there would have been too much going on to focus on Jack, who Duggan obviously wants the reader to connect with. Any heart or character would have been lost and the narrative would be fighting an uphill battle to bring the reader back to the core of the story.
The opening panel sets the scene and the tone for the entire sequence. The caption box infers that violence is just around the corner and the cold, snowy weather creates an inhospitable location. The reader is then introduced to Jack, sat in a pool of blood with other signs of violence around him; a bloody hand print; shadowy men, one with a gun. The next two panels portray the physical Jack, beat up but still smiling, and the personality of Jack, sure of himself in the face of danger. Everything you need to know about Jack is here on the first page.
The beauty of Duggan’s plotting is that he immediately creates a bond between the central character and the reader so that he can lead us through the rest of the story. The over powering charm of Jack on that first page makes him a heroic character and by extension trustworthy. This is important because later on his actions might not seem to follow suit but Duggan want’s the reader to be on Jacks side. He imprints the character on the reader at the start so that all that follows seems justified and also creates tension when the character is threatened.
This opening scene is magnificent on a number of levels, the character being just one. The pacing is wonderful with slow beats at first then the action builds up and suddenly the characters are moving much faster; it feels as though everything happens at once. The first three pages are slow with Jack giving the others a chance to escape. The next two pages are violent and the action skips through the panels to finally end on a final page consisting of two massive panels spread across a double page.
David O’sullivan changes the point of view in each panel, jumping back and forth, sometimes in close up and sometimes in extreme long shot. This is to distract the reader in the same way that Jack is distracting his assailants. Jack gives the impression he is not alone so reader and assailant alike are looking for the backup. But a focus on Jack’s flask or a view from beneath Jack’s legs are just guiding the reader’s attention away. The smirks on Jack’s face tell us as much about his confidence under pressure as the voice over captions. And the nervous stances of the three men facing Jack are just as telling. Throughout this entire encounter the reader is told that Jack is in charge, despite bleeding from a wound in his chest.
Add to all of this the colour work by Jordie Bellaire and the scene is complete. The cold colouring keeps the clandestine atmosphere but the thick dark red of Jacks blood is a constant reminder that this isn’t a game, there is real danger here. And when the violence kicks off Bellaire adds in the flashes of white and yellow to highlight the gunshots, making them stand out on the coldness of the scene. Each shot can be seen, heard and subconsciously felt because the reader’s attention is drawn straight to it and the damage it causes. The final panel before the two-page spread stands out because of it's unique colouring. The panel again highlights Jack’s character, his smugness and confidence but it also illustrates his reliance on another character, the out of shot Oona. Oona only features in one panel in this issue but her importance, like that of Jack’s, is cemented in the opening sequence and in that one, sickly green panel where Jack speaks Oona's name. It stands out and remains with the reader.
The opening of Analog doesn’t give the reader much information about the world in which the comic is set, in fact there is nothing in the opening that suggests it’s set in any particular time period. But the purpose of the opening is not about setting but character. Duggan wants the reader to identify with the protagonist from the beginning so that you are eager to follow his exploits to the end of this issue and beyond. Analog’s opening does just this and does it with style. Jack McGinnis is set firmly at the centre of the action, not only on the panels and pages of the comic but also emotionally. Throughout the reader’s attention is drawn to Jack and then asked to consider him on a number of levels.
Within 7 pages the reader has bought into Jack’s life and is with him for the rest of the ride.
Analog #1 is out now and is published by Image comics
Written by Gerry Duggan
Artist David O’Sullivan
Colourist: Jordie Bellaire
Life long comic book reader, collector, and reviewer.