Deconstructing Comics #4 – Silver Surfer Edition (January 2016)

#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.

Silver Surfer #11, Slott and the Allreds, Marvel Comics 04-2014

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.




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.