Thursday, May 28, 2009

Icons, Part 1

(From Ernie Pook's Comeek, credit to Marlys Magazine.)

I'm interested in Marlys as a recognizable character, as an icon. She's consistently drawn; I am confident that I could pick her out of a baroque police line-up. And with Lynda Barry's easy steps, you could draw her too: why, Marlys is nothing but "the egg," "a line," "also a line," and "kind of a sideways B." Marlys lays bare her DNA, divulges the secret to the magic trick of Marlys, and you feel as if you've known Marlys all your life. She's elemental, basic school stuff, not like Betty Boop and her deceitful curves and lashes.

Like the cheeky sound effects from MAD #1, Marlys goes backwards to the page, letting you know that there's an artistic sequence hidden beneath the comic sequence: the drawing of the thing one simple line at a time. This comic is a call for reproduction, for creating again and again from scratch the uniqueness of character. In an interview with Wired magazine, Grant Morrison talks about tackling the seventy-year-old familiarity of Superman:

I’ve done my bit but tomorrow, other writers will be forced to think like Superman, to do and say things only Superman would do and say, even though technically, he is not "real" and his writers allegedly are. Imagine being possessed by a meme that uses writers and artists to sustain its existence before moving into the next host, the next generation!

Marlys is not Superman: she's not as public and she's not kept alive to the same viral extent. She is assembled from familiar eggs and Bs, not transmitted corporately, and her uniqueness depends on Dr. Barry's home experiments and her audience's participation (picking up NOW magazine for instance). You can draw her too, it's "so cinchy," but the point is that you don't need to. Marlys is Marlys at least for now, maybe not forever, though the elements will remain. She's exuberantly mortal.

The chicken is liking this blog! Next up: Seaguy (thanks to my Morrison segue).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sound Effects, Part 3

(From MAD #1, credit to Stopgeek.)

This Western parody by Kurtzman and Severin features a saloon shoot-out away from prying eyes. We see sound over smoke and then sound over yellow paper. The second panel is busier and "louder" than the first, but also more fake and funny: we are reminded that these are not sounds at all, but visual substitutes for sounds. Every sound effect is written down -- gasp! -- and every onomatopoeic urge is humbled by the familiar iconography of block letters and exclamation points. Every sound effect also seeks to split and split from the yellow paper, pretend it doesn't exist.

WHIZZZZY-WHIG! Next up: Lynda Barry.

Friday, May 22, 2009


(From Hayashi's Red Colored Elegy.) No wall. No floor. No horizon. No depth.

In the first panel the bed sits at a 45 degree angle and simulates depth. Ichiro smokes and the smoke curves around his body -- another sign of depth. In the second panel he moves to the bed and lies down on the floor to speak to Sachiko. Or is he hanging from the ceiling to speak to Sachiko? The smoke travels down-panel and is presumably curving upward as smoke is wont to do. It's as if we've effortlessly shifted to a bird's-eye view. The second panel defies delimited space. All it takes is smoke with a mind of it own to stretch the size of the room out of whack.

I'm like Said the Gramophone only with panels!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


(From Smith's RASL #1.) I love these three panels. While Jeff Smith's new series may be slow to arrive and slow to build, this sequence is fast and hot. In the angled light, a grotesque nonchalantly fires two shots at Rasl. I really like the horizontal symmetry outside the gun:
gun report
gun report
The stillness of the second panel gives way to Smith's incredible exploration of space and time in the third panel. Rasl dives into the dark center of the comic itself and his cigar hasn't even hit the ground. Between two very material sounds (the jukebox's metallic PING! and the wall's blunt POW!), Rasl is a soundless mess of foot and canvas, hurriedly retreating from us and held in careful suspension.

Next up: Seiichi Hayashi.

Sound Effects, Part 2

The question to ask from Popeye is, "Which came first, the CRACK or the SOCK?" How does Segar depict time in that panel? I suggested that there's a lag, a cushioning effect, but there's also a muddling of sequence. The sound effects taken as a whole are meant to signify the occurrence of fighting. Playing the fight out punch-by-punch, however, is certainly beyond us. We know that the fight was a doozy and Popeye the winner (from the next panel), but the style of the fight -- Segar's speciality -- is consciously withheld and curtained behind the quiet panel of noisy sound effects. Perhaps there was nothing for Popeye to overcome that he hadn't once before; perhaps style is reserved for matched combat or grand triumphs.

(From Lapham's Young Liars.) David Lapham in a single panel also combines violence, sound effects, and the condensation of time. The garbage truck pretty much takes up the bulk of the panel and the collision becomes the focus of the story (rescued by Sadie!). The VROOOM! signifies the speed of the truck, offstage as much as on, and the KRUNCH! signifies the crash. The KRUNCH!, however, is layered in the middle, and the sound at this moment reflects the convergence of multiple vehicles and multiple sounds. The brakes are signified by the SKREE, while the bullet fire is depicted by two BLAM!s, one muffled by the crash. The great thing about Lapham's BLAM!s is that they have corresponding sound effects for where the bullets land: a KRSH and a PING on the garbage truck. One must read diagonally to understand the goings-on of this panel. Lapham gives us planar time: there's a specific sequence of temporal events, but the order needs to be figured out, which makes us move us here and there across the panel. First plane: garbage truck and car. Second plane: bullets and rebound, enemies and good guys. Third plane: Danny's retrospective narration right in the middle of it all ("Of course she came back"), belying confusion.

Anyone can be a formalist! Next up: Jeff Smith's RASL.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sound Effects, Part 1

(From Segar's Popeye.) The offstage violence is a beautiful touch for Segar's typically overt and visibly deranged violence; Segar prefers speed lines instead of sound effects for his slam-pow panels. It looks as if the dirty deed is taking place in the right gutter, but by reading left-to-right, over the gutter, you will still not get a glimpse of the fight, only the after-fight. These sound effects are the products of real-time action lagging a little behind: the sounds are appropriately cushioned inside word balloons and are floating beside jogging, not shooting, stars. This panel is a fight between immediacy and tranquility.

This is my blog about comic book panels. Come float with the biffs and the bops. Next up: Sound Effects, Part 2 with David Lapham.