Mountainhead is a disturbing story about a young boy whose life is thrown into turmoil when he finds out his life has been a lie. He returns to his real parents only to become embroiled in mysterious and unsettling incidents plaguing a small mountainside town.
Ryan Lee has an expressive art style and he uses heavy black lines that create caricatures and grotesque people and places. There is an element of early Frank Quitely about the work, especially with the over saturation of detail within each panel. The characters are a part of the scenery with each creating drama and narrative on the page.
One of the artistic techniques that Lee employs in the pages of Mountainhead is the use of cutaway panels. Sometimes the link to the narrative is fairly obvious but at other times the connection is abstract. This creates a mysterious element to the comic and heightens the threat level, constantly keeping the reader on their toes.
There are some great scene setting panels such as a single falling leaf in the first issue (see above). It helps to establish setting, the tree in which the character is climbing, but it is also an abstract analogy for the events taking place. Abraham is a young boy, breaking into a house with his father but his life is about to unravel, he is about to be separated from his father and forced to leave.
A single leaf, falling from the tree.
Later in the same issue, Lee uses a stack of small panels to depict a place where Abraham and his father are staying. The three panels give the reader all of the information they need to establish location without directly relating to a particular moment within the narrative or the characters themselves. There is a full ashtray, rubbish on the floor, and a Do Not Disturb sign on the door handle. The three simple images signify the cheap motel that the scene is set in. The uncleanliness is obvious, so is the careless attitude of the occupants and the secrecy surrounding them.
Like the leaf, these panels tell a larger story than the images that they represent.
One of the best examples of Lee’s abstract panels comes in issue 2 of Mountainhead. A series of events have led some reporters to discuss the mountains that overlook the town of Braeriach. Something untoward and potentially violent is happening out beyond the boundaries of the town. As the two reporters leave a hospital they stare into the distance commenting on a distant storm.
This transitions into the following panel:
Lee produces an image that at first glance looks as though it has been inverted, with a red sky behind black mountains. As you adjust to the image, however, you realise that the blackness is the storm, filling the sky and blacking out the light. The mountains are soaked in a red, the colour of blood, a reflection of the violence that has been hinted at but also a warning of what is to come.
The panel is a combination of the two examples I’ve mentioned above. It both sets the scene with the storm and the mountainous landscape but also is a premonition of things to come. It acts as both scene setter and metaphorical storytelling. The style of the image creates an uncomfortable end to the page which leaves the reader full of apprehension for the page turn.
This single panel does so much. It stands out on the page and within the narrative but also reinforces elements of both. Combined with the other cutaway panels, Ryan Lee demonstrates the importance of abstract images within storytelling. Not everything needs to be linear and instantly recognisable in context. Occasionally it is worth throwing in a curve ball or indulging in a moment of abstract visuals. Not only does it give the page a fresh, exciting look but it also enhances mood and tone within a narrative,and engages the reader on a different level.
Ryan Lee pushes his visual style and design in an attempt to engage and enhance this storytelling and Mountainhead is more interesting because of it.
Mountainhead #2 is released this week from IDW Publishing
Life long comic book reader, collector, and reviewer.