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.
Life long comic book reader, collector, and reviewer.