Hello friends and family! Welcome back to Comic Boulevard Monthly where we deconstruct the inner, hidden mechanisms of a comic. Last issue I was not entirely sure how I would put together these articles but I’ve since decided that each category will get one or two best examples from a comic. This will save us time and space and allow for you to still be surprised by a comic when you go to enjoy them. More importantly, I don’t want to bore your eyes with text (or brittle my knuckles with typing), so these will be crisp and focused deconstructions.
Over the past month I had the opportunity to seek out and explore a variety of new comics to put through the fine comb of my eye. For the November Edition I found two great comics that best exemplify the categories I look for in a work. They are Squirrel Girl: Volume 1 by Ryan North and Erica Henderson, and The Spire #1 by Simon Spurrier and Jeff Stokely. For this Edition, Squirrel Girl will cover the categories Visual and Craftwork and The Spire will take Narrative.
Again, Deconstructing Comics is not a review so please do not assume I will deem a value to the comics positive or negative. Deconstructing comics is about taking apart the pieces of the whole and appreciating them.
Let’s conduct a thought exercise.
So you’re new to comic books and you’re exploring the genres and characters of the medium. Let’s say your mood is light and you are looking for something humourous and personable rather than the serious tones of a show like Game of Thrones (which you binged on the weekend). You find yourself in the comic shop holding the graphic novel Squirrel Girl: Vol. 1. She appeals to you and you are aware that Marvel puts out quality material. You buy it. Now, being new to comics, you feel a bit nervous entering into the multiverse. You are intimidated by the lore and background required to enter in to the medium which is partly why you want to start with vol.1 and partly why you want to start with Squirrel Girl (she does not have a massive library behind her character). To facilitate your journey into the Marvel Comic Universe, North and Henderson devised a brilliant way to introduce you to Marvel villains:
Technically, this method can be considered craftwork in the medium because of its function for the new audience, but I am going to assign it to visual narrative because of its form. Remember, comics are a collaborative effort – all of the categories will blend together to strengthen the product.
There are many ways to go about introducing a villain to the audience. The flash cards are an internal mechanism to brief and summarize the villain’s attributes and personality for Squirrel Girl and the audience. At some point in Squirrel Girl’s career Deadpool gave her a stack of cards detailing the baddies of the world. She references these to gain insight and knowledge of her foes. The cards are a visual aid to help her journey into the Marvel Universe, doubling as a guide to the neophyte comic reader. In one quick panel, they’ve established who and what Kraven the Hunter is (in this example).Later in the issue, information gained here provides a way for Squirrel Girl to defeat Kraven: a way that the new audience can understand based on the cliff notes found in the flash cards. The audience does not need to know Kraven’s past or all of his weaknesses because the bio was summarized in one defining visual.
One of the craftiest things I’ve ever seen in a comic book is found right at the bottom of most pages in Squirrel Girl. I cannot say for sure that this is the first comic book to use footnotes, but the way it is used by Ryan North in this book is tremendous. Here’s an example of what it looks like on the page:
These footnotes are used in a variety of ways throughout the comic. They can be from the point of view of the main character, a side character, the villain, or even the author. You can learn the point of view of the footnote via reference to the page it denotes, which in itself is a fun exercise! They can highlight the action of a panel or they can be used as an aside to the audience. Sometimes it is a leap over the fourth wall not unlike the character Deadpool, other times it is used to add flavour to a scene or to embellish the emotion of a character by adding another voice or another dimension to their thoughts.
I wonder if in the future of this book the footnote will become a character all its own? Like a narrator, but a commentator (if this idea intrigues you then I encourage you to enjoy Comic Boulevard’s webcomic Kid with a Cape).
The use of footnotes to add a voice to a page is an ingenious example of the craft of comic books.
If you haven’t already, take some time to read Boom Studio’s The Spire. I’ll stick to issue one for this deconstruction so that nothing additional is revealed or spoiled.
I found The Spire to be an excellent example of Narrative storytelling in the way its dialogue reveals aspects of the world the characters inhabit and the world that the plot must take place in. Comic books have the advantage of using visuals as world building but visuals lose out on some of the finer details of a world; such as its level of social stratification and community cohesion. You can see that The Spire takes place in a post-apocalyptic environment but you cannot see how the humans and the non-humans regard one another (unless there is violence or oppression etc. but I’m talking about the subtleties of society). That’s where narrative comes in.
Shå’s dialogue with the various characters, whether with the guards or even the Baroness, reveals a great deal about how the different caste’s view each other. More so, it reveals Shå’s position on the topic of the treatment of the non-humans. In The Spire, there are two categories of people, the humans and what’s called “the Sculpted,” or pejoratively, the “Skews.” The use of this language reveals a separation between the two people. I was going to use the word race but I’m not sure what exactly the Sculpted are (maybe they’re aliens, maybe they’re mutants, maybe they’re something else?) Though the genre is sci-fi mystery, there are undertones of racism and prejudice. These things are revealed through the narrative language. The upper hierarchy of humans enforces and suppresses the Sculpted by keeping them in the lower tiers of the spire. We can assume that there is resentment from the lower tiers toward the upper despite one character’s benign attitude (Mr. Wud). We can also assume that there are clashes between the two people, whether violent or petty. The racism and separation may not be the sole focal point of the work, but expressing it in the way of language adds to the world of The Spire.
Shå’s position in this hierarchy is also revealed by how she sticks up for the Sculpted – even by correcting the Baroness herself. This reveals two things. The first thing is about her character, that she is conscious of the racism and takes an active role in defending the Sculpted people (her own people, because she belongs to that category as well). Second, that although there is tension between the humans and non-humans, it has not developed to the point of persecution. If Shå can correct the language of the Baronness it shows that there is no hatred or antipathy toward the non-humans. Either Shå would have ignored the racial slur (to hide her true feelings on the racism against Sculpted), or, the Baroness would have arrested Shå for being a sympathizer (even for being a Sculpted). This exchange may also reveal the relationship between Shå and the Baroness. Maybe they are close enough as friends or colleagues for Shå to correct her language?
Language is a major part of expressing a story. Using language as narrative storytelling can contribute a great deal to the audience’s immersion in a work and comprehension of its faculties. In the case of The Spire, it reveals subtle aspects of the world that these characters live and must work in.