Boom! Studios is currently invested in sports centric comics. They have a number of titles covering a wide range of fringe sports. Each title has a different creative team, obviously passionate about the sport featured in their narratives, and each title appeals to a slightly different audience: some younger readers, some teens, some more mature wrestling fans. The one aspect that links all of them, however, is the emphasis on the characters; these are comics about personal experiences and surviving in the world, the sport is a way of relaying the character’s struggles via metaphor, allegory or a bit of both.
That’s not to say the depicted sport is insubstantial, quite the contrary. The chosen sport is representative of the greater narrative. Each sport has been chosen as it best defines the characters within the story, or perhaps it’s the other way around; the sport dictates the types of characters that fuel the narrative. Either way, the sport is integral to the characters. Think of Rocky, the narrative would have been quite different if the film was about Lacrosse.
In both Dodge City and Fence, the central characters are underdogs who have something to prove through their chosen sports and as such are determined, strong willed characters. How the creators deal with this is surprisingly similar despite the very different sports; one being a team game with a lot of movement and the other involving individuals in a super-fast technical sport.
To highlight the similarities between the two I’ve chosen to compare an action sequence from last month’s Dodge City (issue 4 is out this week) and another from last week’s Fence #7.
Side by side you can instantly see that they have been drawn with different styles but also that these two scenes look very similar. The choices that the artists have made in layout have the same function. The panels are all irregular shapes drawing your eye in different directions across the pages. Dodge City has a more erratic layout representing the more chaotic sport depicted inside the panels. Fence uses the shape of the panels as well as the fencing swords to lead the reader from one point to another. In other examples, Dodge City does something similar with the ball and movement lines.
Each layout reflects the style of the sport. Fence is ordered, subtler, and has a finesse about it. Despite being a very fast sport, fencing has a pin point precision to it which is illustrated here. Dodgeball has more players, more to follow across the playing field and Cara McGee fills the panels deliberately making part of the game hard to follow. However, these two pages serve the same function within their respective comics. These two action packed pages are not actually about the sports they depict but about the character featured in them.
Each page is about one specific character within the comic. In Dodge City it is Elsie and her determination to stay in the completion. The entire page is centred around her and her reactions to the game. The drama is created by Elsie acting within each panel. She is shown to be impatient and angry; the colouring on her face in panel two and then the lettering on panel three where Elsie’s “Raarh!” exclamation is larger than the “wait for…!” behind her. It’s as if she is drowning out the other players, lost in the moment.
Of course this nearly backfires towards the end of the page where the panel opens up with a long shot passed Elsie to a full figure of an opposing team member and the blurred ball between them. The shape of the ball and the directional lines indicate how fast the ball is travelling and it all seems over for Elsie.
One of the things that Cara McGee and Brittany Peer do to focus the reader on Elsie is to make her the most prominent figure in most of the panels and push the other characters into the background. The panels also have no background detail, just vivid colours that reflect the thought process of Elsie: a strong green when she is determined in the first, third and seventh panels but the colour changes when she is unsure of what to do or she is in danger of being knocked out.
Johanna The Mad and Joana Lafuente do something very similar in Fence however their approach is starker, cleaner, to better represent the refined image of the sport. On this page Nicholas is as determined to beat his opponent but this determination is shown in the captions. Nicholas is almost distracted by his obsession to beat Seji but somehow his natural instinct takes over.
Johanna The Mad keeps Nicholas the central figure in each panel, in the same way McGee did in Dodge City, but very little emotion is given away by the character visually. It’s like a stoic determination, straight faced and poised.
For an exterior perspective Nicholas is simply going through the motions of Fencing. However, the final panel of the page belies this and gives the reader an insight into Nicholas’ emotional state. By changing the background colour from off white to crimson the panel radiates a much stronger emotional hit. The entire panel is an exclamation mark for the page, with the captions and movements all leading to this point. The positioning of Nicholas and his Epee, bent down towards the bottom of the page, emphasises his thought process and draws the reader to the rivalry between Nicholas and Seji. All Nicholas can think about is beating Seji, even during a match with someone else. No matter what, he can make each situation about his obsession with Seji.
These two pages look quite different at a quick glance, Dodge City is colourful and chaotic whereas Fence is orderly and clean but the narrative on each page is the same. Each focuses on a single character and, through the sporting actions depicted, they emphasis the emotional state of that character. The determination and obsession is illustrated in a slightly different way but it is very clear on the page what drives each of them.
Fence #7 Out now
Written by C.S. Pacat
Illustrated by Johanna the Mad
Coloured by Joana Lafuente
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Dodge City #4 Out on 27 June 2018
(images used from issue 3)
Written by Josh Trujillo
Illustrated by Cara McGee
Coloured by Brittany Peer
Lettered by Aubrey Aiese