Last post, I wrote about some of the pages I passed out to students in my Literature and Composition Graphic Memoirs’ class. I distributed the pages and had students examine them based on Scott McCloud’s discussion of transitions and gutters in Understanding Comics. Today, I want to continue by looking at some more of the pages that I had students examine. Unlike the pages I discussed last post, these pages do not have clear borders for the panels.
One of my favorite comics that I have read recently has to be Kaare Andrews’ Iron Fist: The Living Weapon. Initially, I didn’t think I would like the series, but Andrews’ story, and especially his artwork, caught my attention. Throughout the series, Andrews does use clearly defined panels; however, there are other moments where heeschews panels. These moments, combined with his use of color and texture add to the movement within the series.
For the assignment, I had students look at a two page spread from issue #7 of the series. These pages take place in the past, in K’un-Lun. Andrews’ dds creased lines and aging to the pages, creating the sense that what we, as readers, are actually looking at are something akin to historical documents. There is yellowing, and the creases make it look like a piece of paper that has been folded multiple times, put away in a drawer, then years later removed and spread out on the table for us to gaze upon.
Along with the aging aspect, Andrews presents a young Danny Rand and Sparrow racing around K’un-Lun on the pages I passed out to the students. On the first page, Danny and Sparrow are in mid-air above the buildings. They are in the foreground. The movement takes us from the center of the page to the top left as Danny and Sparrow become silhouettes against the night sky as traverse from building building. We follow the pair from the top left of the page through the center and over to the right hand side of the page where they descend into the ventilation system of a building.
At the bottom of the page, Andrews presents more defined panels. The top row depicts the interior of the the ceiling and the bottom depicts a vent opening into a hallway. In the bottom row, a guard stands in front of the vent for the first two panels. The third panel only shows the vent. In the fourth, Danny drops down from the ceiling, and Sparrow is in the top panel. The final panel shows the pair moving into the vent.
This construction shows movement from moment to moment, and the two rows work together to depict space. What I like about these panels is that they highlight the characters interacting with the environment, moving through it. This movement, for me, occurs because my eye traces them over the course of the page. I move with Danny and Sparrow as they traverse the skyline and as the move from the ceiling to the vent.
The next page continues this same movement. At the top, Danny and Sparrow crawl through the vent. There are no borders, but we see six pairs of figures moving into the vent, crawling left to right, crawling right to left, then dropping into the “technological heart of K’un-Lun.” Here, we do not have gutters where our minds work to fill in the movement. Instead, we see the movement as the characters go through the vent and encounter obstacles. We read the movement. When the pair descend into the larger room, the panel opens up and the machinery stretches to the ceiling, becoming part of the ventilation system that Danny and Sparrow just exited.
What I enjoy about these pages, and Andrews’ work in general, is the feeling of movement. While panel to panel transitions can depict movement, there is something different looking at multiple pairs of the same characters as they move through the environment. It reads, to me, like a film, drawing my eye along the way as I watch Danny and Sparrow make their way into the heart of K’un-Lun.
While Andrews’ work depicts movement, Nate Powell’s work in Two Dead uses the lack of clearly defined borders for panels to create atmosphere. The pages I passed out for Powell depict Jacob Davis and Gideon Kemp speaking outside of Kemp’s house. I’ve written about these pages before, and you can read that post here. I chose these pages for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I enjoy Powell’s work, and I wanted to introduce students to it. Second, the way that Powell blurs the lines between clearly defined panels and the bleeding over of panels onto the page worthy of looking at.
On the pages that I had students examine, we can see clear panels. There are six on the first page, and we can distinctly see them, but they do not have borders. Instead, the entire page is black, corresponding to the fact that Kemp and Davis are speaking at night. The full black page adds to the tone of the pages and the setting. This bleeding of black onto the whole page means that we do not defined borders for the panels, yet we can tell where one ends and the other begins. As such, we still have the moment-to-moment and action-to-action transitions that McCloud discusses.
While I chose these pages for the above reasons, I also chose them because of the ghost of the private that comes up behind Davis when he starts to recall what the private told him during the war. The panel where the private’s ghost wraps his hands around Davis’ face is powerful, and it highlights the ways that comics can engage the reader in a visceral manner. The white fingers wrapping themselves around Davis’ face, as Davis turns his head away, showcases the ways that the private’s apology for his racist comments only works to constrict Davis.
The final panel of this sequence shows a full page with Davis and Kemp standing side by side outside the house. The top of the page shows the night sky with a crescent moon and stars. Cold air comes from Davis’ and Kemp’s mouths. The border is wispy, at points branches from surrounding trees protrude into the image. The color, positioning, and framing of the image conveys the feelings of the scene. Davis challenges Kemp to figure out where he stands, and on the final page, Kemp looks at Davis while Davis tells him, “How ’bout you figure that out for yourself.”
There are other pages that I passed out to students, and there are more that either adhere or extend McCloud’s discussion. What pages would you have students examine? What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.
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