#RememberWhenParade continues this month with an article published one year ago! This is almost like time-travel…except not at all.
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Happy New Year! I hope that you had a marvelous holiday and you are ready to get back to comic-booking. Let’s continue our examination of the deconstruction categories with this next topic, “Comic Craftwork.” This month, I chose Silver Surfer #11 by Dan Slott and the Allreds, Michael and Laura.
The focus of this month’s issue is on comic book craftwork. I believe this issue of Silver Surfer is one of the best demonstrations of high skill craftwork in contemporary comics. It not only presents a wildly new and exciting way of manipulating the medium, but it tells a wonderful story at the same time.
In the previous article I wrote about the visual storytelling of All Star Superman. Comparing the focus of that article with the image below and you will see why I am arguing a difference. Comic books routinely use illustrations as story components (as we learned in the December Edition). Here, in Silver Surfer #11, the team employed the entire book to move the plot and to convey its themes, emotional and dramatic. I don’t want to reveal too many images of the comic and spoil the effect so I will briefly describe what is happening here and how they are using it.
In the story, Silver Surfer and the alien refugees are trapped in a time loop. The comic book is split in half horizontally and then vertically in the middle. At the beginning, the top stream begins the story and explains the predicament the travellers find themselves. As you follow along when you get to the middle split (the vertical trap) you will rotate the book and follow the bottom stream which has now become the top stream. The direction sends you back to the beginning page of the comic. If you are not careful, this will continuously loop you through the first half of the comic (which is deliberate). Eventually you make the leap and “turn the page” to find the right path. This then breaks out to the conclusion of the comic in ordinary page by page.
The reoccurring argument of my ‘Deconstructing Comics’ series is why one thing is considered visual and the other considered craftwork? SS#11 proves the difference. The above image is an example of why I categorize this as craft over visual. In All Star Superman we saw how the illustrations of a panel tell a second story amidst the main plot of a work. Craftwork, if wielded with skill and forethought, can tell a “third story.”
Just as the characters are trapped in a worm hole time loop, by designing the comic book in this way the team is trapping the audience in with the characters. It is a way to make the reader feel what it is like to be stuck repeating actions and conversations indefinitely and, ultimately, to feel what it is like to liberate oneself from the repetition. The design of the book is embedded with clues and direction for the audience to follow so that the solution is not entirely impossible to find. If you notice, each panel is designed like a signpost to direct traffic along the page. There are subtle arrows drawn into the panel ends so the audience’s eye follows along seamlessly. Be wary of betrayal because the arrows manipulate you into the warp loop. Should the reader not take a moment to solve the problem they would probably miss the ending stream of the book and feel frustrated or cheated. That is the exact same feeling Silver Surfer expresses as he senses the motions of the loop. Just as the audience is trapped in figuring out how to puzzle their way out of the rotation, so is Silver Surfer. The mechanics of this comic demand the participation and interaction of the reader to solve the puzzle. This creates empathy with the characters as they too are stuck in the loop and trying to find their way out. The craft of this book conjoins those two emotions perfectly. It expresses the story of Silver Surfer and his friends struggling to find a sanctuary while at the same time expressing the story of the helpless reader trying to solve the puzzle of reading this comic book.
It can be difficult and risky to attempt something like this in the medium which is why we see it infrequently. It takes practice and planning to use the medium itself (rather than just its narrative and visual elements) to express a story for the audience. That extra element elevates the work and enhances its effect. This effort is something that can only be done by using the craft of the medium in addition to the visual and narrative aspects.
In All Star Superman we saw how the illustrations told a story of their own additional to the narrative. In Silver Surfer #11 we see how the page of the work tells its own story in addition to the illustrations and in addition to the narrative. Craftwork is a third and very integral element to comic books.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.