Wow! Two posts in one day?! Madness.
Maybe not madness. But given how little I've updated this site in the last four months or so, it may seem like madness.
It's New Comic Book Day and as per my used-to-be-usual, I want to tell you a little bit about my pulls this week. Lately I've been focused on the craft of comic creation. As such, the books I've singled out to talk about are ones whose craft caught my eye (for good and bad reasons). But first, my pulls: ORIGINAL SIN #8 (Aaron, Deodato, Martin), HAWKEYE VS DEADPOOL (Duggan, Lolli, Peter), LEGENDARY STAR-LORD #3 (Humphries, Medina, Vlasco, Curiel), ROCKET RACCOON #3 (Young, Beaulieu). The two I want to talk about are BLACK WIDOW #10 (Edmondson, Noto) and LUMBERJANES #5 (Stevenson, Ellis, Watters, Allen).
There's a lot of reasons to love the current Black Widow series. Number one, it's Black Widow. 'Nuff said. Number two, Phil Noto. 'Nuff said again. But really what makes this book stand out for me is the teamwork between Edmondson and Noto. Unfortunately, critical writing about comics so often focuses on what the writer is doing. Comics is a visual medium and to talk about comic narrative without discussing the art is silly, and perhaps downright negligent. This particular issue demonstrates Edmondson's ability to get out of the way and just let Noto tell the story. Black Widow is a strong, silent character. It makes sense that some of her most poignant pages should be silent as well. No (cornball) dialogue to muck up the action. Very rarely are there even SFX. The overall effect is a dramatic slowing down for the reader. For better or for worse our eyes jump from speech bubble to speech bubble. When there's nothing to read, the creators are telling us to slow down our pace and let the scene unfold. This makes for especially dramatic action sequences, akin to the way time seems to slow down or stop in the middle of action in real life (or slow-mo in the movies. I'm looking at you Keanu). But here I am talking and talking instead of showing, so here's some of my favorite sequences.
[Pardon the quality. My scanner is acting up, so you get hastily cropped cellphone pics instead].
After that comes probably my favorite pages from the book.
I think this is the strongest page artistically. You have six horizontal panels equally dividing up the page. However, each is really part of both a composite third and a composite half. There's two of the car, two of Clint, and two of Natasha. Combine the two panels for each subject and you get your thirds, each nested within the other. The page is also broken up into two halves where each subject is used in one half, and then again in the second half. Really exceptional design choices. The fact that Clint and Natasha are opposed in mirror image really solidifies the juxtaposition of images on the page. Loved it. If you're not reading this book already, you really should be.
My other review for this week is Lumberjanes. I can't praise this book enough. The all-female, ethnically diverse cast is a huge relief when staring at shelves of blonde white dudes in spandex. Lumberjanes is all ages and very reader friendly. Have I talked about it before? If I haven't shame on me.
As much as I love this book, there were some things that bothered me about it from a craft perspective. These are problems I've noticed in the past and now I've got some concrete examples to show what I mean. The biggest issue this team seems to have is reader-eye-jumps, by which I mean times where the expected narrative flow is interrupted because of the design of the page. This can occur in a number of ways, but there are two I noticed today.
One offender is where something visually exciting is going on further down the page, causing the reader to skip intermediary panels to get to the big shiny thing. You might argue that this may just be a discipline issue on the part of the reader. In an all-ages book, however, you would expect that things be conveyed in the most easily followable way, ensuring younger readers who aren't as versed in comic syntax don't get lost. Here's an example of what I mean:
Ripley's struggle with the friendship bracelet is the visual centerpiece of the page. The full-bleed artwork around the upper and lower panels demonstrates its importance and draws the eye to it. Jen's line, "NOTHING WEIRD IS HAPPENING ON MY WATCH" is the perfect segue into Ripley's entanglement. Unfortunately, that's not what the panel layout intends. When I read it, I skipped right from that panel to the focal point, skipping over the joke about jackalopes. In retrospect, I wonder if the dialogue in that panel is even necessary. The panel clearly is; the symmetry of the artwork demands it. I almost wish you could some how flip the dialogue in panels 2 and 3, although read in that order it wouldn't make sense at all.
The other tricky spot is an issue with speech bubble placement. In one place in this particular issue (and I feel like I've noticed it in the past as well), the speech bubble placement actually breaks up the reading flow in such a way that the eye skips over panels.
Notice here how the speech bubble in the last panel is directly below the one in the third panel. Further more, it is the closest bubble to the third panel bubble and actually crosses the panel border to rest partially in that third panel. All of this would suggest that it should be read BEFORE the bubble in the lower left hand corner. This is a simply page design flaw and easily remedied by the reader by simply following the panel layout. But poor bubble placement can really derail a scene when you have two or more people talking. The importance of placement shouldn't be overlooked.
Now I've been especially picky about these craft things in this month's Lumberjanes, but that's mostly because I really love it and want to see it succeed. I don't want these criticisms to make it seem like I didn't like the book. The truth couldn't be more opposite. In particular, this issue made a number of classic film references that made reading it a particular joy.
You can't have a comic with dinosaurs in it without making a Jurassic Park reference. Otherwise, what's the point? One panel recalls the classic kitchen scene from the first installment in the series.
Then there's Ripley's sweet acrobatic raptor kick. I can't say for certain it was a reference to the gymnastics scene from Jurassic Park: The Lost World, but I want to believe.
As a final note, they even snuck in what I'm 90% sure is a Terminator reference. Classic.
That about wraps it for me today. See you Monday for the premier of Season 3 of 5 x 3 and again next Wednesday for more comic reviews!
E. Ross Ura is a writer, letterer, artist, composer, and blogger active in the Metro Detroit Area.