Kid With a Cape Episode 1, Strips 1 and 2

Friends! You’re in for a Holiday treat 🙂 Before the year is out Comic Boulevard is relaunching the hit webcomic Kid with a Cape, starring your beloved punk hero, Super Tony!

Kid with a Cape originally aired online way back in July of 2012 and ran until June of 2013. It starred Super Tony, a lazy but powerful superhero, JT Narrator, the narrator box who was Tony’s sidekick (although Tony would never agree to that), and a whole other cast of wacky absurd (and abstract) characters! I fully intend on bringing this show back in the near future. For now, enjoy episode one, strips one and two:

More to follow in the New Year!

#RememberWhenParade


Deconstructing Comics #3 – All Star Superman Edition (December 2015)

Next in line on the Remember When Parade is one of my favourite deconstructions: All Star Superman! Also, starting in the New Year (when my schedule quiets up a bit) I will rerelease Kid With a Cape simultaneously with The Magnificent Marauders! Yaay! That was always a good show. I miss it.

Anywho, friends, enjoy this week’s rerelease.

#RememberWhenParade

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Welcome back to our show. This month’s topic is “My favourite visual story ever!”

As I say frequently, the comic book medium has the ability to tell multiple stories simultaneously. In the way of visuals, majority of the time they serve as illustration to the main plot or to emphasis the dialogue/narration. The visuals tell a story complimentary to the plot. Not often, they tell a story independently. In the case of this month’s edition, I am going to showcase my favourite example of when the visuals told a story separate from the plot/dialogue occurring on the page.

So here’s my favourite visual storytelling scene ever: the second last page in All Star Superman #1:

All Star Superman #1, Morrison, Quitely & Grant – DC Comics 11-2005

There are two stories being told on this page. Story one carries the plot and expresses the dialogue. It is a follow-up to the arrest of Lex Luthor on the page before (this is what Lois is speaking about in panel one) and it is a moment for Superman (in Clark Kent disguise) to field his emotions about death – particularly his own death. Story two is the visual story. It establishes, develops and concludes in the background of panels one to four. This is the story the December Edition celebrates.

The visual story is, while Lois and Clark are strolling home from work a man’s life is rescued by Superman while in disguise as Clark Kent.

All Star Superman is filled with moments like this that occur simultaneously while other action goes on, but I enjoy this one the most because it is a really incredible scene and a masterful show of skill by the team behind the work.

Since this series is called “Deconstructing Comics,” let’s deconstruct this page!

Panel One establishes all of the pieces of the visual story. Here we see the integral character, the man walking his dog, and the root cause of the danger, the monorail. At this point, as far as the audience knows, this is a simple scene with Lois and Clark chatting and walking home.

Panel Two begins the action. Here Clark bumbles into the man walking his dog. First we assume that Clark is just being his regular old clumsy self, as this is the way Superman reinforces his disguise. However, this panel is unassuming until we see the next panel. We do not realize what happened (that Clark knocked over the man on purpose) because as far as we can tell it was just Superman performing Clark Kent. But then –

Doesn’t a huge piece of metal (at least what looks like an exhaust pipe and a catalytic converter?) fall out of the sky and crash right on the crosswalk. The man is upset, Lois is mouthing back and Clark shies his way out of confrontation. No one is the wiser. This panel causes the audience to ask the question, “where did that piece of metal come from?” Yet we still do not get the full effect until the final piece of the puzzle, the conclusion to the visual story.

Finally we see the monorail zip by overhead and some pieces hanging out, indicating that the debris from panel three detached from the train.

Though the page progresses forward in plot and dialogue the visual story progresses backwards. Panel four answers the question, “where did that debris come from?” which is asked in panel three. Panel three answers the question, “why did Clark knock that guy over?” which is asked in panel two. All of it derives from the scene set up in panel one.

This page an excellent way to show us that even while disguised as Clark Kent Superman is still an active hero. He just has to use more subtle and sly methods to accomplish his goals. Superman in his Kryptonian costume is the overt way of his heroism, but covertly as Clark Kent he can perform clumsy actions that result in saving a man’s life. Not unlike a skilled drunken master, who performs martial arts in a manner imitating inebriation but is actually a very fluid and powerful martial artist.

I love this scene most of all because of the fact that nothing about it embellishes or screams out that Clark just saved that man’s life. If we did not slow down to piece the visual story together we would have missed it entirely.

Not every artist and creator installs scenes like into their work. Whatever we are reading we have to be sure to slow down and “read the visuals” just as carefully as we follow the plot and hear the dialogue. It is the same for hunting for visual clues. So much can be revealed quietly in the background if you are paying attention and so much can be missed if you rush through it.

This page is part of the reason why I started to deconstruct comics in the first place. It taught me to carefully read the visuals to see if they reveal or add anything to the plot or, like in the case of All Star Superman, tell a story all their own.


The Magnificent Marauders #4 – “Masks Off #1”

This issue is a pivot from the intro story arc to the greater series thread. It introduces the Department lead, Dr. Pine, a new hero (the T.A. of the group), Sulla, and an unmasked Captain Marauder. For fans of punchy punchy kicky kicky this may be considered a lame episode, BUT, for those who approve of thinky thinky, this one seeds the rest of the year.

AND DON’T FORGET!:

#RememberWhenParade




Deconstructing Comics #2 – Squirrel Girl + The Spire Edition (November 2015)

The Remember When Parade continues with our second deconstruction! Enjoy 🙂

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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.

Visual

Squirrel Girl Volume 1: North & Henderson, Marvel Comics 08-2015
Squirrel Girl Volume 1: North & Henderson, Marvel Comics 08-2015

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.

Craftwork

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.

Narrative

The Spire #1, Spurrier & Stokely Boom Studios 07-2015
The Spire #1, Spurrier & Stokely Boom Studios 07-2015

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.



Deconstructing Comics #1 – Dr. Strange Edition (October 2015)

Ha! Just when you thought the next float in the Remember When Parade was going to be Mech-Eng #1 you were wrong!! Haha!! Instead, considering the recent movie release, I figured it would be timely to rerelease the first article in the Deconstructing Comics series. So, without further misdirection, from way back in October 20th, 2015, here it is, folks!

#RememberWhenParade
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Dr. Strange #1, Aaron & Bachalo, Marvel Comics 10-2015
Dr. Strange #1, Aaron & Bachalo, Marvel Comics 10-2015

There are two reasons why I feel that it is fitting to use Dr. Strange as the premiere comic for deconstruction. Reason one, Dr. Strange is one of my favourite characters and so doing a deconstructive read allowed me to spend a lot of time with this book. Reason two, just as this article is the launch of my new project, so is Dr. Strange #1 the launch of his new series! We march forth into the weird together.

Before we continue, I assume that you have read Dr. Strange #1. It is likely that through the deconstruction process much of the story will be spoiled.
If you read the article preceding this one (the Preface Edition) then you will be familiar with the categories of visual, narrative and craftwork that I will be sifting out of Dr. Strange #1.
I was going to move through the book in sequence with you but I think that that might be troublesome so I am going to instead do it categorically. Also, I will try to be brief rather than thorough (as I originally intended) because it would both ruin the experience of discovery for you and also turn this article into a novel. I haven’t decided one-hundred percent how far in depth I’ll go yet, though, so let’s start with this amount and see if we like it.
Let’s start with a reader’s first pull to comics, the visuals!

Visual

The best aspect of visuals to start with is exposition. This means the way in which the visuals tell a story. I will present two of the book’s best uses of visual exposition before moving on to the next aspect.

The first you will encounter is throughout the prologue. Dr. Strange is in the thick of combat against the Free Rovers and we note the heavy presence of teddy bears and sunflowers in the mix. At first glance these images are background, incidental and maybe even scenic clutter. It isn’t until we see the establishing shot of the boy’s room that we make the connection. Looking back at the action scenes we see how they detail that a) the teddy bears and sunflowers indicate the location of the astral battle, that of within the boy’s soul and b) that the teddy bears and sunflowers are fighting with Dr. Strange against the ghouls, indicating that the boy is as much a participant in the fight as Dr. Strange is. Without using a single piece of text, these visuals express a great deal of the action. They are a second story amidst the prologue’s narrative.

The second piece of visual exposition is after the prologue where Dr. Strange activates his third eye. The panels become black and white except for new characters only seen by him. Two stories are being told here. First, the change in colour reveals to us a glimpse of the other world. It is not a major change in environment, but it does not need to be because the combination of the third eye on his forehead and the black and white background tells us that we are no longer looking at our ordinary plane of life. The colour and third eye are visual signals that we’ve changed locations. Second, the manner of the new creatures also expresses this new world. Narratively they speak of microbes and bacteria while visually they resemble ocean life. Resembling fish and coral is a way to say that we do not notice the other world just in the same way that fish do not notice they live underwater. It is a visual analogy using comparable organisms – the spirits as fish.
Style can mean many things and stylistic choices can be used for different reasons. Without writing eight-hundred words on style alone, I’m going to quickly point to an easy example of this aspect and then get to further things. Although I used colour palette earlier as a visual exposition, it also counts for style. Additional to black and white as the means to express another world, the colours used in the Bar with No Doors evokes an eerie supernatural environment. It is a stylistic choice to use purple and green and tawny to describe this location. Colour is a language of style. It breeds atmosphere and mood (which are visual and narrative elements).

Narrative

The second major draw to comics (maybe third), next to art, is the characters. Characterization is a major form of comic storytelling, if not the central drive (depending on the publisher?). Visually we are told that this is a modern Dr. Strange by his fashion (soul patch moustache combo, Cloak of Levitation turns into a scarf) but more importantly we can learn who he is through his internal monologue and through dialogue.

Characteristically, we learn he has traits such as confidence, courage and sincerity (he saves the child from possession without accepting any payment or compensation, he accepts the challenge to help Zelma) but also undertones of self-doubt (trembling hands comment, his hard-boiled egg speech to Monako) and vulnerability (socializing with wizards “who will still talk to him”). There is also a tinge of sexuality to this version of Dr. Strange in the way he flirts with the Lady Soul Eater. As the first issue of this new launch we cannot know how the traits will inhibit or propel Dr. Strange forward, but we can begin to count their threads and follow along.

If we were to grab a spoon and stir this soup around, we would see some bits of tone spinning about. There are many exhibits of tone in Dr. Strange #1, primarily humour and pathos, with a bit of impending conflict. The character of Dr. Strange quips and plays with the other characters (his foes, his friends and Zelma). We are supposed to find emotional sympathy with the child in the prologue, the old man in Act One and Zelma in Act Three who are all innocent and defenseless characters (another reveal of Dr. Strange’s courageousness) and also with Dr. Strange himself, who is the sole stalwart against the forces of the other worlds. I say impending conflict because they dropped ever so subtle lines and hooks, but really gave nothing else until the final five pages. If it was not for the epilogue we would only have caught a whiff of the conflict to come in the series. But the hints of conflict shape the tone of the work. We know there is some kind of doom coming (repeat: “the coming slaughter”) and so we cannot take this book to be all laughs and tears.

Craftwork

Let’s split the book apart to find key craftwork examples. The plot is carried visually, narratively and mechanically. The mechanical aspect is craftwork. Each portion of the structure contains action and questions that lead to the next part until the book’s end. One way craft is operating is how the phrase “the coming slaughter” is used as a thread throughout the book. It is quoted in the prologue by Lady Soul Eater, it is teased in the activities of Dr. Strange and it is the final hook of the series opener in the epilogue called “The Coming Slaughter.” It is used like a crumb trail from the forest to the lodge. It sets up the next story in addition to being the initial lure for this one.

Two more aspects of craftwork we see employed are pace and layout. I put them together to save time and because they work together to service the story. Pace simply means the speed at which the story is told. Contrasting the pages of the prologue with the remainder of the book, the prologue moves fast and exciting with visual elements such as a spread and the full and half page panels, also using slanted frames (or no frames at all) to remark frantic movement. Visually, the action and the layout denote the pace. Having some images larger than others, some characters in certain positions and using the layout (frame and panels) to show pace are craftwork choices. The motion of the plot is felt by the use of craft.

My favourite craft piece in this book occurs in the first two pages. Page one triples as the origin story of Dr. Strange, a harkening back to the heritage of the character (the background), as well as a spring board to launch the character into a modern tale of his own (the following spread page). Being the first issue of a new series, this single moment lands a very strong concrete block for all issues to come. The craftwork here uses visuals (the background) and narrative (captions) to evoke the feeling of the new launch of Dr. Strange. The audience is clearly aware of it because of these pages. That’s some pure craftwork going on right there!

It is easier to find strong examples of each of these categories in a premiere issue because the book is responsible for initiating a series as well as captivating the audience for the contained story. We find both long term arcs operating interwoven with the small arcs. It is exciting to determine which are which and where the story can progress from here!
If you have any recommendations for a book to deconstruct by all means share it with me. I look forward to doing this again next month!

Until then,