Welcome to my first, weekly (hopefully) comic book round up.
This will mostly consist of links to reviews I have written, with the occasional link to other comic book news I have found interesting. I may even comment on the links. Let you know what I think about what's at the other end.
This week has been a fairly quite week from a personal review point of view.
The last issue of the first arc of Descendent came out from AfterShock comics. I have enjoyed this comic overall. Some of the artwork was a little underwhelming at first but Evgeniy Bornyakov had found his stride by this last issue. And Stephanie Phillips has written an intriguing story. Anyway, check out my review for issue five here I promise no spoilers!
This week also saw the return of the mega-team of creators, Kelly Sue Deconnick, Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowles, with the start of the this Pretty Deadly volume. Issue one of The Rat is an exceptionally beautiful comic. I say a lot more on my review (here) but to sum it up: it's awesome. I can't recommend it enough.
I also recommend House of X issue 4. The whole House of X/Powers of X story has been amazing (if a little costly but they are definitely worth the money) and I can't get enough Jonathan Hickman in my reading. The world that Hickman is building with the X-Men is outstanding and the most recent issue is jaw droppingly shocking, which is difficult to do in mainstream superhero comics. It is a testament to Hickman and Larraz's talent's that they can make such an all encompassing comic feel very personal: the stakes are high for every single character. Issue four of House of X is reviewed here (but not by me so I can't be held responsible for any spoilers).
If you've not got a copy yet, try to pick up Tommy Gun Wizards. It's not the best comic out this year but it's damned near close.
Finally for this week, a none review related link. A small group of comic critics/editors have launched a new publishing house called Fieldmouse press. Their intention is to focus on comics, critique, community, and collaboration and their first venture will be a web site, due to be launched early next year.
The Secretary and Treasurer Alex Hoffman had this to say (from the official press release):
“Our goal is to provide a space for readers, artists, and the general public to explore the comic arts in the many forms they come in. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, our goal is to serve this community that we love and do something we think hasn’t been possible before now. And as a nonprofit organization, we can take chances that other publishers haven’t.”
It definitely sounds interesting and I am going to be keeping my eye on it.
The full press release can be found on their website here .
I will finish this week with the stunning cover to Pretty Deadly The Rat issue 1. Be sure to pick it up. This is what it looks like:
The key to a good drama is great characters. Without the later you can’t really have the former. To demonstrate this in the simplest of terms compare the Bumblebee movie to the previous Transformers movies.
One has engaging, rounded personalities who grow as characters from the first act to the last. Their many facets shape the narrative and move the plot forward. Without their distinct reactions and individual takes on the situations presented to them the movie would have plodded, emotionless from scene to scene.
The other has explosions and two dimensional characters inhabiting a plot that moves emotionless from scene to scene.
The point is that for an audience to care about the drama, whatever form that it may take, they have to be invested in the lives of the characters. The Walking Dead comic became the success it is not by rehashing endless violent zombie attacks but by making the reader fall in love with, or incessantly hate, the characters struggling to survive the harsh world Robert Kirkman had created.
In much the same way, Ted Anderson and Nuno Plati have concentrated the focus of their creation, Orphan Age published by AfterShock Comics, around the characters and not the world they inhabit. Over the first five issues the creators have slowly introduced the readers to the central three characters and built up a rapport between reader and cast.
One of the ways that they have managed this is to use isolating character panels to highlight reactions or illustrate thought processes. In issue five the story revolves around a siege of Albany, a peaceful township which the protagonists have been heading for since issue 1. As soon as the siege begins all eyes turn to Lindy, as Mayor of the town, to offer guidance and leadership. Issue 5 is about Lindy’s character; who she is and her purpose in the new world.
Throughout the issue Plati keeps the characters very isolated in their space, even in town meetings and crowd scenes. He achieves this by framing single characters in the panels for the majority of the page. There is an establishing shot of the crowd to open the scene and then, as the conversations start, each character inhabits their own panel, with the background removed and replaced with dark shades of blue/grey.
In some instances, Plati even breaks up the character close ups with an additional gutter. This creates an emphasis on the moment and gives the reader the impression that the character is in deep thought. The moment is unnaturally stretched indicating a longer period of time.
See, for example, the end of page two (Fig 1) where Lindy is informed that The Church must have been planning their attack “for a while.” She does not speak and Plati has chosen a close up of her face staring down. The image is split in half by a white gutter, extending the moment of contemplation as if the words that have just been spoken are sinking in. The reader is given the instant despondent reaction from Lindy, however the break line indicates that she is taking time to consider the implications of what she has heard. Plati has created a significant pause at the end of the page, left the concept lingering in Lindy and the reader’s minds.
As the issue progresses, Anderson and Plati focus their attention on Major Lindy. She becomes the central figure and a keystone for the themes playing out in the comic. Her acceptance of the situation is a reflection on the township as a whole and the choices she makes represent the nature of the people she leads.
In one scene Lindy discusses the difference between Albany and The Church with Daniel (Fig 2). The conversation happens so that Anderson can show the reader Lindy’s thought process and how she is working through the problem at hand. Plati helps to illustrate this fact by isolating her within the panels, as before, and this time zooming right into her face. The image in the final panel on page seven is split in half with Lindys facial features taking up half of the space. The word balloon hovers in the blank space beside her face. The speech itself is a thought process where Lindy seems to be talking herself into defeat. The image reflects the forced imprisonment of the Mayor and by extension the town of Albany.
This metaphor is continued later in the issue with Lindy again being a representation of the town. After speaking with Princess about what they expect out of life, Princess makes Lindy realise her role in the town. There is a single cut away panel, where Plati leaves the confines of the building and shows the reader an image of Lindy from the outside, looking through a window (Fig 3).
Firstly, this image reinforces the notion that the characters are trapped within the town. There are several frames around Lindy starting with the white gutters followed by a bleached plaster wall and finally on to window frame. Lindy, like Albany, is trapped in her present location and also, following on from the conversation in the previous panels, trapped within her destiny. She will stay and defend the town, it is all she can do.
There is also an element of hope in this single panel. Whereas all the other panels on the page, and across a large proportion of the comic, are shrouded in shadows and surrounded by dark backgrounds, this panel of Lindy has a strong light shining across the wall. The wooden slats and plaster wall are bright in comparison to the room beyond the window. The creators are emphasising Lindy’s moment of realisation, like a light bulb flashing above her head. But it also represents hope for her, and the town. They are currently in a dark place but it is possible to reach the light.
There are several more moments like this in this issue and even more spread across the series as a whole. In issue five, Anderson, Plati, colorist Joao Lemos and letterer Marshall Dillon are able to illustrate a situation involving a town of people using the experiences of just a few. By concentrating on building up the character of Lindy, the wider implications of the siege and the effects on the people around her are examined without the need for a large cast and sweeping scenes of panic, anger or fear. Lindy becomes a voice for the town both literally as the Mayor and figuratively as a representation of the people on mass.
By concentrating on the characters Anderson and Co hook the reader in, make them attached to the comic on an emotional level but are also able to tell a much larger story through personal experiences. In essence they give their story a ‘face’, a journalistic method of getting people interested in a news story. Without characters like Lindy, or Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead and Hazel in Saga, the comic would lose focus and as a result the readers interest. There are only so many explosions or mindless zombie attacks you can throw at people before they become disinterested in them.
Volume One of Orphan Age Published by AfterShock Comics is due for release early next year.
A new look with some new posts and even a new part of the blog.
All of this is on the way. In fact the new part of the Blog is already here.
Select Conceptual Comic from the top row and get an insight into the visual art that I have been working on, all comic book influenced of course.
I have some new posts lined up for the next few weeks and, of course, you can still read all of my reviews over on Monkeysfigthingrobots.co
Keep popping back if you're interested in anything that I'm doing.
Thanks for reading!!
I've been on an unplanned hiatus with this blog. There's no real reason for it except, life, the universe and, well, everything.
I've been busy, busy busy.
There's plenty of reviews over on Monkeys Fighting Robots if you want to catch up with what I've been reading and what I've though of it.
Also, the shelves are loaded with tonnes of comics worth picking up. Tomorrow, for example, is the start of the next Arc of BOOM! Studios' Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Jordie Bellaire has been knocking this series out of the park and this is a must for all Buffy fans.
There is also issue 4 of Stronghold from AfterShock Comics, which is easily one of the best comics to be released this year.
Recently there has been some good Dick Tracy comics from IDW Publishing (not rubbish ones like the one's I won't mention again). Killer Groove from AfterShock Comics, Little Bird from Image and , of course, the outstandingly beautiful Faithless from BOOM! Studios.
If you want to pick one recommendation, pick Faithless. I love it!
I will be back on here properly soon, dishing out my thoughts on comics, after all there's some amazing stuff due out this year: A new Deaths Head title from Marvel; the finale of East Of West from Image; New X-Men titles from the superb Jonathan Hickman; and from one of the best writers working in the business today, Warren Ellis, the continuation of Trees!!
All good stuff.
And, speaking of 'good stuff' here's some awesome comics you may have missed over the last couple of months:
Have you seen Captain Marvel?
No. I have not, thus adding to my ongoing tradition of not seeing the big ‘comic book’ (i.e. superhero) movies at the cinema. I think Antman and the Wasp was the only one I’ve seen on the big screen recently. This is not a comment on the quality of the film, more a reflection of my general disinterest in superhero movies.
I have, however, just finished watching The Umbrella Academy on Netflix and thought that was a brilliantly quirky series with a strong concept and some great characters.
And I’ve made some headway into series 3 of Supergirl; a bit superficial but fun none the less. It is a series I watch with my eldest son and he enjoys it.
I’ve also started, finally, to watch Legion.
So it would appear that it’s only superhero movies I have little interest in and not the genre as a whole.
However, it’s New Comic Book Day so a quick round up of what I’ve been reading in the last 3 weeks…
At the end of February there was Star Trek: The Q Conflict which is plodding along after the initial intriguing start. I’m hoping this picks up but I have my doubts based on previous Star Trek crossover events I’ve read. Review of the second issue here.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer continues to improve, which is difficult considering how well it started, but Jordie Bellaire and Dan Mora are hitting each issue out of the park. Two issues have come out in the last three weeks, reviews are here (issue 2) and here (issue 3).
I also got an advanced look at Little Bird from Image comics. I really enjoyed it and the visuals are stunning. Guess what you’ll find by following this link?
Onto the start of March and we had a few AfterShock comics I’ve been reading. Oberon #2 and A Walk Through Hell #8. I was surprised to discover I enjoyed Oberon more than AWTH, but it seemed much freasher and new. I found Garth Ennis’s script for AWTH clichéd and uninspired but this is possibly just a blip in the title and it will pick back up again next month. Compare the comics via my reviews, Oberon vs AWTH.
The Girl In The Bay issue 2 came out and was somehow stranger than issue 1. It has an engaging story with a mystery that just keeps getting deeper. Worth looking out for, especially for Corin Howell’s art work. I’m loving this comic. (another link… no wonder I’m behind on posting on here)
Boom! Studios also had Ronin Island out which is enjoyable, especially if you like that samurai sort of thing.
And Marvel put out the questionable Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History (or some such ridiculous title). This comic was terrible and best avoiding for a number of reasons. My biggest problem with it is that the character bared no resemblance to Frank Castle (who is currently wearing the Ghost Rider mantle). If it hadn’t told me at the start it was ‘the Punisher’ there is no way anyone would know. And that, I find, poor writing.
But what about today? What treats do the comic book shops have for you today? For me there was the exceptional Buffy The Vampire Slayer issue 3 (mentioned previously).
The unnerving and creepy Boom! Studios title The Empty Man issue 5 (review link).
Star Trek Discovery: Captain Saru, which is the best ST Discovery comic that’s been released so far but still does not do the series justice.
Murder Falcon #6; a comic that continues to impress with its mix of outlandish fantasy and heart-breaking drama. This is a comic that pushes the boundaries of the narrative and does it with style. Daniel Warren Johnson is proving his talent with Murder Falcon and I would recommend having a look at what he is doing.
Finally, this week, I was transported back to my childhood and the start of my comic reading obsession by the release of a brand new Transformers comic. The original Transformers comic got me hooked into comics and this new title from IDW Publishing is brand spankingly new. It’s a slow introduction to the new universe of giant robots but it looks stunning and the story slowly builds towards the impending violence that will lead to the Civil War. It bowled me over and I was excited by the possibilities of the future narrative. I think this is shipping every other week so it will quickly develop and it promises to be spectacular.
And, of course, a link to my review..
It’s been awhile. How’ve you been?
Reading comics, I hope.
A quick recap on what we missed last week:
Murder Falcon #5. This is an outstanding achievement in storytelling. Blending outlandish, demon fighting with a touching emotional story. You will sail through your feelings, like riding a wild roller-coaster of emotion. Check out my full review via this link.
Writer/Artist: Daniel Warren Johnson
Colours: Mike Spicer
Letters: Rus Wooton
Also posted to Monkeys Fighting Robots last week was my advanced review of Stronghold #1 from AfterShock Comics. This is a brilliant comic. It has a tightly written story and Art work that leads the reader from page to page. It isn’t just a simple Alien trapped on Earth story either, it questions the very genre in a similar way to Watchmen. What if Superman didn’t know about his powers and was been watched by a religious order? That is the essence of Stronghold.
Stronghold is actually out this week, so pick it up while you’re in store.
Writer: Phil Hester
Artist: Ryan Kelly
Colours: Dee Cunniffe
Letters: Simon Bowland
While you’re there why not pick up another AfterShock Comic, Relay #4. This is a harder sell as it mixes theology and hard Sci-Fi together to explore the notion of creation. If you’ve not read the previous 3 issues, don’t worry, everything you need to know is in this issue. That is one of its selling points, the writer is very inclusive and doesn’t want to leave any reader out of the loop. The Art work creates a believable world and draws on as many inspirations as the script. For example, the outlanders on the First World, Zalis, are clearly the Fremen from Frank Herbert’s Dune. They look exactly as I image them to look, minus the blue eyes of course.
Full review here.
Writer: Zac Thompson
Artist: Dalibor Talajic
Colours: Jose Villarrubia
Letters: Charles Pritchett
Anyway, back to last week.
Issue 4 of Image Comics The Warning was released. I gave it the once over and was captivated. The story basically introduces a number of people in different places and then proceeds to eliminate them with a strange electronic field. It’s like the arrival of the Terminator but more destructive. The art work by Edward Laroche is very emotional and dynamic; there is a sense of urgency in a number of the scenes which really grips the reader. It’s worth checking out if you can, although I have not read the first 3 issues and do feel as though I missed out on something.
Writer/Artist: Edward Laroche
Colours: Brad Simpson
Letters: Jaymes Reed
And finally for last week, there was the final issue of Dick Tracy Dead or Alive. To be honest I’m glad it’s finished. I have not been a fan of this series at all and it failed to improve for me over the four issue run. In fact, the problems of the first issue just became more and more pronounced with each issue. I’m going to assume that it sold fairly well because IDW have announced another Dick Tracy mini-series which I am already looking forward to.
At the weekend I picked up three issues of Blackthorne Publishing’s Dick Tracy Monthly comics from the 1986 which reprinted the earlier newspaper strips. I got issue 1, 7 and 14. Each is better than Dead or Alive.
Writer: Lee & Michael Allred
Artist: Rich Tommaso & Michael Allred
Colours: Laura Allred & Han Allred
Letters: Shawn Lee
However, Dick Tracy isn’t the worst comic I’ve read this month. That’s still to come.
On to this week. There are a couple of really good comics out this week. There is the afore mentioned Relay #4 from AfterShock and then from Image, East of West #41.
East of West has been one of my favourite comics for a long time. The cinematic scope of the art work and the clever plotting make it a must read. It has also been announced that this series will finish this year so expect the pace to be ramped up. I can’t wait and this issue is a wonderful start to the final leg of the story.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Dragotta
Colours: Frank Martin
Letters: Rus Wooton
Also from Image this week is the second volume of Days of Hate. If you’re read any of my previous posts, you’ll know I’m a massive fan of Days of Hate. I adore the smart storytelling which the creators have used throughout the entire run. If you haven’t read Days of Hate, check it out, buy volume 1 and 2 for the complete story. You will not be disappointed.
Writer: Ales Kot
Artist: Danijel Zezelj
Colours: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
New from Marvel Comics is The Amazing Nightcrawler, which I was excited about because I’m a fan of the character. Unfortunately, I have no idea what is going on with the Age of X-Man story line that seems to have infected all of the X-Men comics and that’s partially why I didn’t get on with Nightcrawler as well as I’d hoped. Along with that barrier, I had trouble recognising the central character. It didn’t seem like the Nightcrawler I knew. I don’t think that writer Seanan McGuire captured the X-Man’s voice very well, or at least not the one that I enjoy reading about. It’s worth noting that it’s been a few years since I read any X-Men comics so a lot has changed.
There’s also Go-Bots issue 4 but it’s awful. I’m not sure if there is a big Go-Bot following, it’s not as if you hear people talk about Go-Bots with fond memories. I would say that only Tom Scioli fans would like this comic, and then probably not all of them. That makes it a very niche market indeed.
Welcome to a new New Comic Book Day.
There’s a host of comic book goodies waiting for you at your local comic book shop.
This week I’m going to have a quick look at three different comics, each of which I have some strong opinions about. But before that here is a few worthy mentions:
The Avant-Guards from BOOM! Studios. Carly Usdin and Noah Hayes bring you an enjoyable Teen Sports drama in the vain of Fence and SLAM!. It’s a fun and surprisingly clever little comic, thanks in part to the colour work by Rebecca Nalty and the lettering by Ed Dukshire who each help create the emotional atmosphere. My review is here if you want to know more.
There is also the final issue of Low Road West from BOOM! Studios and Oliver, a retelling of Charlies Dicken’s Oliver Twist with a…twist..(sorry) from Image comics.
The best comic I’ve read this week is a reboot of a much loved T.V. classic: Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Jordie Bellaire (colourist extraordinaire and writing/creator of Redlands) hits the ground running and delivers a wonderful script which shows so much respect for the source material while being an exciting new read.
Dan Mora’s art work is also a perfect fit for this re-imaging. His figure work and rendering of the central characters is outstanding. Sunnydale feels so familiar but at the same time full of new mysteries.
New fan or old, you will love this comic and be glad to be back in the Buffy-verse.
Full review here where I mention everyone involved with the comic.
I tried, I really did. I’ve read all three issues out so far and hoped I would find something in it that I liked. But I just can’t.
Go-Bots from IDW is an awful comic. Trying to accept the flaws as charming didn’t work and by this third issue it’s reached a point where it’s almost unreadable.
The characters lack any individual voice and it’s hard to tell who is talking on some of the pages. Not that it really matters because the dialogue is cringe worthy and tired. The story softly mocks one classic sci-fi movie while out right stealing the plot from another.
As in previous issues the art work is simplistic. Whether you like this style or not is irrelevant because the layout of the panels and pages make it difficult to enjoy the art on any level. The panels are so crammed in that there is no breathing room on any of the pages. It creates an unwanted claustrophobic feeling that has no place in the comic.
It’s difficult to tell what the tone of the comic should be as it swings from the menacing AI threat to daft Exploration of a new world and back again without any smooth flow in the narrative. Some of the Robotic character reveals are laughable but I’m not sure this was the intention.
I’m sure there is a fan base out there for Go-Bots but I think they are being let down by Tom Scioli. This is not a very well-constructed comic as each element fails to help the storytelling process The narrative ends up disappearing beneath ill-conceived layouts, over simplistic art work, faulty lettering and, above all, a script that would make Ed Wood cringe.
Crypt of Shadows from Marvel (Yes, Marvel!) is an old school horror comic reminiscent of EC’s Tales from The Crypt.
Written by Al Ewing, the comic comprises three stories with the central character from the first acting as a narrator for the other two. Framed by the safety of a therapist’s office, the patient tries to explain his fear of dogs by telling two creepy stories each with a horrific ending. Ewing spins a wonderful web of terror and each chapter is eerily drawn by a separate artist: Garry Brown, Stephen Green, and Djibril Morissette-Pham.
The narrative progression throughout this stand-alone story is wonderful. As the story unfolds and all the links click into place the whole proves to be better than the sum of its parts. Like any old school horror there are tense moments, humorous moments, and outright scary moments.
My personal favourite section is the framing story involving the central character in therapy but this is because I love Garry Brown’s art work. He has an expressive style with occasionally heavy handed inking which intensifies the more disturbing panels.
This year has started on a high and I’ve been busy, from a comic point of view. So without a further ado let’s have a quick summary.
Last week saw a number of worthwhile comics hit the shelves. A new Captain Marvel from Marvel was out, written by Kelly Thompson. It was an ‘okay’ start to a series. Not mind blowing and was clearly just a set up for what is to come but it set the tone and direction that Thompson will be going in: namely witty dialogue and fast paced action. (I know, a Marvel title. I thought it was time to dip my toe back into some Big 2 books. How will that work out? Well, just read on)
There was also a new Criminal from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Published by Image Comics, this new series is going to be a collection of one-shots with a couple of two parters, if I remember correctly from Brubakers newsletter. I love a bit of Brubaker/Phillips and this oversized first issue was a good way to get back into the series. Although I did think it lacked direction and relied to much on knowing previous story lines; which was a shame. But worth the read, and the monthly has all of those extras that the trade won’t have so buy it now so you don’t miss out.
(If you have missed out, don’t worry, they have announced a second printing!)
In other news I had three reviews published over on Monkeys Fighting Robots. Two for comics I enjoyed and one for MURDER FALCON which is an excellent comic. Excellent, I tells thee!!
Follow the links for the reviews of:
Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor #3
Spider King: Frostbite
Murder Falcon #4
This week was a bit more of a mixed bag. I managed to get an early preview of Aliens: Resistance from Dark Horse Comics. Written by Brian Wood and drawn by Robert Carey. It’s atmospheric and a slow build but it is what you would expect from a first issue of an Aliens story. My full review is here.
One result of reading the comic is that I bought myself Alien: Isolation for our X-Box. I’ve so far spent 2 ½ hours wandering down dark corridors picking up scrap. I’m not a gamer so it may take me a while before I see an actual Alien but I shall persevere.
The final part of Days of Hate came out which didn’t end with quite the explosion I was expecting but it definitely had a fitting end for the type of comic it has been. I loved it and it was easily one of my favourite comics from last year. It you didn’t read it I seriously recommend picking up the trade collections. It has some of the best sequential art I have seen in a long time.
There was also Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive #3. See previous posts about my problems with this comic. It hasn’t got any better and any review I would write would probably boil down to ‘massive disappointment’ or ‘actually dreadful’. I regret having read it.
Black Widow #1 was better (see review here) but was not as 'grindhouse' as I was expecting from The Soska Sisters but it has a good set up and 4 more issues to go. Yes, another Marvel title! This is going well isn’t it…
Unfortunately, not. I also read Invaders #1 believing it would be a good way to get back into Marvel. I enjoyed the old series and was always partial to a Namor story. This comic was, however, another disappointment. There is a poignant war story desperate to get out but any credibility is ruined in the opening sequence by out of place, clichéd ‘comic’ sound effects. The lettering stands out so much from the artwork it’s as if it is making a mockery of the narrative. This spoilt the rest of the comic for me. I also (possibly as a result) couldn’t get behind the framing narrative of the comic and ended up not being convinced to re-enter the world of Superheroes. Maybe I shall try again. Maybe not.
As a side note, I picked up Supergirl: Being Super in its collected form and have been greatly impressed by what I’ve read. Mariko Tamaki’s script is brilliant, capturing the essence of a teenage Kara Danvers while the art work by Joelle Jones is superb. The comic has energy and the power to surprise. I was blown away by it.
Aside from the reviews, I have also written another long-ish essay about an aspect comic book layout/design. This one came about because I couldn’t think of any recent examples of an artist using a two-page spread to great effect. This led me to dragging out a whole host of comics from my collection and writing about 3000 words, basically, about how wrong that initial thought was.
If you have some time and fancy a read it’s the post before this one so fairly easy to find.
I have been reading through The System of Comics by Thierry Groensteen and when I reached the section where he talks about the ‘double page spread’ it made me think about the modern American comics I read and the fact that they don’t appear to take advantage of the full, two page vista very often.
I could think of a couple of examples from older comics but could not put my finger on any recent reads which had struck me, except for one which I will get to later.
In light of this I went looking for a reason why this might be the case but what I found is a surprising number of perfect examples of comics using the two adjacent pages as a visual tool to aid the storytelling of the comic.
It is not a technique which is used often, even from issue to issue let alone from page to page, and there are potentially a number of reasons for this. However, it is not a tool that has been forgotten entirely and is still used to great effect.
The concept of the Double Page Spread is simple: when you read a comic and open it up, the very first thing that you see is a two-page spread of panels, each containing an image. Then you focus on the left hand page and finally on to the top left panel where you begin to read. Subconsciously you have already digested the visual layout of both pages and made a mental note of anything out of the ordinary.
A clever creator can manipulate the readers view of the pages before they have even started reading simply by the design and overall aesthetic of the two pages. For example, if each page contained the same number of panels in exactly the same layout but one of the panels on the second page had a distinctly different colouring, the readers eye would be drawn to it before reading either page. On one level the reader would acknowledge the stand out panel, maybe even engage with it, which in turn will influence the way the narrative is taken in.
A perfect example of this is in Daredevil #228 by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. In the story Matt Murdock confronts the Kingpin at the bottom of the seventeenth comic page. As you turn the page you are greeted with two pages of conflict (Fig. 1). The most noticeable panel out of all 14 panels is the final one at the bottom of the right hand page. It is a page wide panel coloured entirely in red. The panel above is similar but with jagged black lines detracting from the pure block of colour. Compared to the rest of the panels, which contain figures fighting and very little else, the last panel is visually striking. Having acknowledged the final panel of the last page the reader knows that a fight sequences is to follow and in conjunction with this blood red imagery on the right hand page, the reader is lead to a certain conclusion about the fight; you instinctively know that it isn’t going to end well for one of the characters. This heightens the suspense of the scene because it is no longer just another superhero fisticuffs, there are going to be serious consequences, there is going to be blood.
These two pages are designed in a way to tease the reader with an ending that in turn enhances the narrative across all the panels. This type of layout design, to create an involuntary response, is similar to the use of dramatic music in a movie. The creator is gently nudging the viewer towards a particular mind set, to expect a certain outcome, and therefore readying them for the scare or violence or whatever is to come.
The same thing can be accomplished on a single page in a comic or even throughout an entire issue but the double page spread is a rarity. One of the reasons for this might be down to the lack of editorial control that the writers and artists have, especially in the Big Two publishers. A superhero comic may get commissioned with a set number of pages but the layout of the final published comic may be out of the control of the creators. Unless a double page spread is submitted which actually contains panels or images that cross the centre of the page, as seen below in Fiona Staples’s beautiful splash page from Saga #6 (Fig. 2), then there is no guarantee that the pages will end up side by side. Mainstream monthly comics tend to have adverts inserted throughout which breaks up the momentum of the page turning narrative, especially if the page transitions are not fluid. Trying to match one page against another is hard enough, and when you factor in reprinted collections or digital reading, the position of the pages often does not remain reflect an artist’s intention.
In DC’s New 52 Supergirl comic which started in 2011, the side by side page layout in the monthlies did not always match the soft cover collections. In most cases this did not affect the narrative but if you look at a particular sequence from issue 4 (Fig. 3) you can see how moving the page can affect the storytelling.
In the initial printing of issue 4, comic pages 7 and 8 sit next to each other as a double page spread. The panels, all the width of the page, depict Kara breaking out of her incarceration and fighting through armed guards to escape. At one point Mr Tycho, the villain of the piece, requests that a particular artefact is kept safe. This page contains an element of mystery and there is a determination in Kara, the purpose of which is yet to be discovered by the reader. Turn the page and the answer to both of these mini-mysteries is revealed as Kara is reunited with her Supergirl costume. As narratives go it is not the biggest, most suspenseful of story elements but it does set a pace for that part of the comic and for a number of pages. It is a sequence that makes the reader question the motivations of the characters and therefore helps with the development of said characters.
In the soft cover collection Supergirl: Last Daughter of Krypton published in 2012, the way the pages fall is slightly different. Pages 8 and 9 are the ones that share the double page spread. When you look at these two pages together at a glance, the first thing that you notice, before starting to read, is Kara in her Supergirl costume. This is because it takes up half a page and the bright colouring is contrasted against the dull browns of the space ship and its crew. As a result, the preceding page is taken in a different light, the reader now knows what Mr Tycho is trying to protect and where Kara is heading.
The overall narrative is not changed but the pacing of the moment has. It could be argued that from a visual perspective, pages 8 and 9 work better side by side because panels 3 and 4 depict Kara flying directly towards the final panel of the right hand page. Her destination is evident and the intended outcome obvious. The three panels are linked by the narrative element and, in the collection at least, by the panels positioning; they work together in the overall page layout. The top half of each page features the villains fighting against Supergirl, whereas the bottom of each pages features Kara’s progression back to Supergirl.
Whichever layout works better, the fact that the short term narrative is altered poses a problem for creators when producing the original work. If the book layouts can potentially alter the narrative and pacing it would surely be in the best interests to limit this, the easiest approach of which would be to concentrate on single page layouts instead of a double page layout.
The relationship between left and right page, and the transition from one to the other, does not have to contain any narrative importance. The link may purely be for emphasis of a moment in time or even just an easy way to get the reader from one panel to the next without breaking the flow of the story. A recent example of this is in The Amazing Spider-Man #1 (legacy numbering 802) published in 2018. Comic Page 10 ends with Spider-Man, cast half in shadow, looking up towards the top panel on the right hand page. He has just crashed a party and received a surprise from the Kingpin which has left him shocked. At this moment Spider-Man is the underdog, caught unawares and unprepared for the situation he has just dropped in on. The upper hand is with the Kingpin who stands tall in the centre of the top panel on page 11. The final panel on the left leads, via Spider-man’s desperate glare, directly up to the Kingpin at the top of the following page (Fig. 4).
Through this page transition the reader is shown both the vulnerability of Spider-Man and the majesty of the Kingpin. It’s an important moment for both characters and the story but it could still easily work with a page turn. You would still move from the bottom of one page with Spider-Man looking up at you to the Kingpin looking down. The emotional impact is still there either way however, in this particular moment, the page transition makes the moment more fluid and is a nice touch to the page layout.
A more exciting use of a page transition can be seen in issue 40 of East of West. Image Comics provides an advantage for its creators, like Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta, over the Big Two publishers because it gives them greater control over their comics. This works in Hickman and Dragotta’s favour because they design each issue of East of West from cover to cover, choosing the layout and content for every page.
The transition from page 14 to page 15 (Fig. 5) is especially interesting because, not only does it lead the reader from one page to another, it breaks the usual conventions of reading an American Comic book page. Page 14 reads like most of the other pages in the comic, starting with a widescreen panel and stepping down in a usual Z-path reading pattern but when you get to the bottom of the page, where the character Death ignites the engine blast, your vision is drawn uncontrollably directly to the right and then up, across the large panel on page 15 to the top of the page where you read the first panel on the page out of the usual order.
Dragotta and Martins image in that large panel is a direct line from the bottom right of the left page to the top right of the right page. The simple, arrow like image forces the reader to buck convention and read the page in reverse. The dialogue at the top of the right page links directly with the dialogue at the top of the left page and the entire double page spread acts like a circle leading the reader from the top of the left page, down and round back to the top. It is an extremely clever piece of art work and also has narrative merit as it portrays the strength of Death’s character. By manipulating the reader physically and subconsciously the creators are expressing Death’s strength of character and influence on the world around him.
A double page spread can be used for a number of different reasons, in a number of different ways. The East of West example above demonstrates that two pages of well-designed layout can speak a lot to a particular character. When used wisely creators can use the two pages to reflect upon and even compare specific characters within their narrative.
In the 1990’s Grant Morrison story Gothic for Legends of the Dark Knight published by DC. The story pitted Batman against a supernatural villain called Mr Whisper. With Klaus Janson on art duties, they use the traditional ‘destroy Gotham’ plot line to highlight Batman’s modern sensibilities by comparing him to a villain stuck in the past. The costumes that the character’s wear are a good example of this comparison as they couldn’t be much more different: one dressed in an outlandishly designed bat outfit and the other looking like a University lecturer from the 1970’s.
In part 2, issue 7 of Legends of the Dark Knight, there are two pages that, next to each other, highlights the differences between the two characters brilliantly (Fig. 6). On pages 22 and 23 the hero and villain are in the middle of a high rise struggle resulting in each of them in turn taking a tumble towards the ground. On page 22 the reader is shown how Batman fights against the fall, struggling to save his life and even sacrificing elements of himself, as represented by his clock, to survive. On the opposite page the reader gets to witness Mr Whisper’s fall and his reaction, which is to do nothing.
The pages are layered out in a similar style with a series of long panels on the first half of the page followed by a single page-wide panel and then two panels in the final row. Each page starts with a character facing the long drop to the street below, followed by their actual decent and ends with a panel illustrating their survival. The character contrast is in the images depicted in each of those panels but the reader is drawn to examine this contrast because of the design and layout of the two opposite pages. Instinctively the reader notices the similarity in page layout from an initial glace at the double page spread and then, when reading the pages, compares what is happening in each sequences.
In the first row you compare the desperation of Batman to the arrogance of Mr Whisper. In the second, single panel, row the comparison is between heroic, Batman, and the maniacal, Mr Whisper. And in the final row, the survival panels show us the resilience and determination of the hero against the flippancy and disregard of the villain.
The colouring of these panels by Steve Buccellato, helps to guide the reader through the comparison process by making each row have a similar colour pattern: lighter colours for the first row, blue wash for the second row and dark shadows for the final row. Together the two pages are designed to be viewed as a single page of work and leads the reader as much as possible to compare the characters.
There are some comics that take the ideas and possibilities of the double page spread and apply them to an entire issue, the most notable example of this is Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons where in issue 5, Fearful Symmetry, the design work, layout and narrative all revolve around the central two pages making for a lot of flipping backwards and forwards through the comic.
Another wonderful example is Days of Hate issue 5 from Image Comics. In this issue each page is broken down into three rows, each with a single page-wide panel. Each row features one character’s story so that over a page the reader is passed from one location to another. The design of the comic means that you could, in theory, read only one of the rows throughout the entire comic without taking into account the other rows and their story lines. Each row can be taken in in isolation so on each double page spread you have two panels from each story reading across the page (Fig. 7).
But just like the Watchmen example, the narrative structure of the entire issue all links together and the misdirection of the creators in the way they layer the rows leads the reader to believe that each of the stories is happening at the same time. You could reorganise the panels so that each page features just one character’s story, or even split the comic into three sections telling one story after the other but you would lose the narrative punch. The drama of the story and the brilliance of the structure would be lost by re-editing it. The entire narrative structure relies on the layout of each page and the interpretation the creators force upon the reader.
On each double page spread in issue 5 of Days of Hate, the readers absorb each panel individually, then each row across the page and then the entire two-page spread all as one narrative, not as separate stories told on the same page.
There are many ways to deal with a double page spread within a comic. A brief overlook of the current American Comics published each month may suggest that the creators are moving away from utilising the potential the layout has to offer but if you look closely it is surprising how many different ways that the pages are being used. For simple aesthetics, to character development, or narrative structure, the writers and artists embrace the possibilities afforded to them by two pages of canvass that all readers initially take in as a single whole before starting to read.
Some of the more modern developments in comic book reading, such as trade collections and digital downloads, may have impacted some of the work being produced but it appears that enough creators working for the monthly market concentrate on the single issue layout of the physical product which gives the reader some beautiful double page spreads.
Index of comics
Published on August 2012 by Image Comics
Writer: Brian K Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Published on March 1986 by Marvel Comics
Writer/Artist: Frank Miller and David Mazzzucchelli
Published on February 2012 by DC Comics
Writers: Michael Green/Mike Johnson
Artist Mahmud Asrar
Supergirl Vol1: Last Daughter of Krypton
Published in 2012 by DC Comics
For creators see above
The Amazing Spider-Man #1
Published on September 2018 by Marvel Comics
Writer Nick Spencer
Pencils: Ryan Ottley
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #7
Published on May 1990 by DC Comics
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Klaus Janson
Days of Hate #5
Published on May 2018 by Image comics
Writer: Ales Kot
Artist: Danijel Zezelj
Colour: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
East of West #40
Published on November 2018 by Image Comics
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist Nick Dragotte
Colours: Frank Martin
Letters: Rus Wooton
It’s been a bit of a quiet this week. Apart from the whole it being CHRISTMAS thing.
There have been a few comics out, Bone Parish from Boom Studios!, Man Eaters from Image Comics and a new Superior Spider-Man from Marvel.
But I have only read one new comic this week; Go-Bots #2 published by IDW Publishing and written, drawn, coloured, lettered by Tom Scioli.
For a full review of Go-Bots pop over to Monkeys Fighting Robots where I give an over view of what works and what doesn’t (plug, plug!). In my opinion, there is a lot that doesn’t work. I was fairly restrained in my review because that’s my job; it’s not about ranting and spewing forth hatred, like some ‘reviewers’ I could mention (but don’t wish to filthy my blog with). A review should let the potential readers know what to expect and, to some degree, whether it works or not.
Go-Bots has some wonderful moments, Scioli loves to play with his packed layouts and occasionally uses the constraints of the comic book medium to his advantage.
Unfortunately, I believe that his dense pages and over scripted narrative hampers the storytelling and diminishes the characters to such a point that we, as readers, know nothing about them. There is a deliberate two dimensionality to the art work that is also, unfortunately, reflected in the characters.
Plus, the massive text filled speech balloons drown the panels and almost obliterate the images entirely. Take, for example, the following page:
The top half of the page is packed with speech, most of which is exposition outlining two plot points; the difference between the two fractions of Go-Bots and the destination that the characters will be heading. That is a lot of text to establish only two worthwhile narrative points. The speech doesn’t tell us anything about the characters because it’s all so matter of fact, so monotone; there is no distinctive character voices. What the speech does do successfully is take over the panels. The cast’s faces are squashed to the bottom of the panels and any establishing shot of their location is totally lost. In panel 12 the view point switches and gives you the impression that they are stood up high. This impression is shattered four panels later when the chase sequence starts and the police cars/Go-Bots are suddenly on the same level as A.J. and Hunter.
If you take away the text you can see just how much of the page the speech takes up. Some of the panels on the first two rows are virtually empty.
Now, I understand that in some circumstances there is a need for a lot of exposition to move a story forward however the way that it is incorporated into a page layout can make the difference between a well-paced, engaging story and a text heavy chore.
To compare, look at this page from Tales from the Crypt #33, a story called Lower Berth.
As was the tradition with Tales from the Crypt stories, they were often text heavy with a continuous narrator explaining what was happening from panel to panel. This resulted in caption boxes on most panels along with additional character speech. In this example the caption boxes are mostly large, panel long boxes with several sentences per panel.
If you take away the lettering you are left with some obvious spaces, but unlike the Go-Bots example above, the panels are still rich with information and excitement. Even without the text you have establishing backgrounds and character moments. You can still follow the story from panel to panel and learn something about the characters and narrative. The top half of the Go-Bots example is devoid of narrative or substance without the speech.
If you compare the two pages’ side by side, with and without the lettering you can easily see the difference; one of these pages is a success at storytelling, the other is not.
If you are that kind of person who would like to compare the actual word count per row; Go-Bots has 68 words in the first row, 74 in the second and 31 in the third. It then has two rows with virtually no speech. Tales from the Crypt only has three rows but manages to cram in 97 words in row one, 79 in row two and 48 in row three. Over all Go-Bots has 175 words on the page, Tales from the Crypt has 224.
The point I’m making is that there is nothing wrong with heavy text pages as long as the text serves the narrative and works with art work to move the story on. The main problem with Go-Bots is that it suffocates the images within the panels and reduces the environments so that they are almost none existent.
Go-Bots #2 has some highlights and if you remember owning the Go-Bot toys back in the 80’s than by all means pick up a copy of this, you may enjoy it. However, I found the storytelling to be lacking and the absence of any real characters made this a comic I could easily pass on.
Life long comic book reader, collector, and reviewer.