Posts Tagged ‘Formalism’

Personal Symbolism


Sunday, April 20, 2008

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This is Kirby’s last issue of Mister Miracle (no.18) and effectively the end of his Fourth World saga. Jack would, of course, complete the tale of Orion and Darkseid in a Baxter paper deluxe mini series for DC in 1984 that reprinted the original run of the New Gods series, but this was the end as it happened, amid struggling sales and a changing audience. It’s a funny issue in many ways but it’s also a gem of formal invention, and a classic example of Kirby’s almost Beat-like stream of consciousness symbolic storytelling. I thought it would be a fun example of very simple grid layouts and how the grid provides a counterpoint to the symbolism and dynamism of the drawings.

(Above)It begins with Mister Miracle, Scott Free (Kirby), in a tank of water, in a grave. When the page is turned the grave becomes a trench in war (Below). Scott Free’s allies are silenced by, what I read as, THE HANDS OF FATE. It’s as though Kirby had no script and simply filled in each panel with what frightens him most.

Mortar Fire. Approaching Armies in the distance (Below) and the appearance of an archetypal German soldier. For anyone versed in Kirby’s personal history in World War II, it is apparent that these are powerful symbols for Jack. And it’s not lost on me that he is employing these images in the last issue of this series with full knowledge that the title was being canceled.

Crisis. Romance. The killer framing of Barda slows the pace down, a violence of it’s own that’s played sweetly against the action which will surely erupt again.

Jack holds the tension of the moment at the beginning of the next page and then another Kirby power symbol, The Voice, is used like some passage in the Bible that Jack references with studied aplomb.

Capture. Notice how Kirby holds the framing of his main character (Below)and doesn’t really alter the angle all that much. But by doing so he’s able to show the weight of the figure sinking in a very “realistic” fashion. Also by using the grid to “hold” the framing sequence in place, he allows the reader to piece the stages of the action together very quickly.

Submission. Here, after Scott Free is captured, Kirby created a chapter break and shows himself submitting to the powers that be. A rare sight in a Kirby comic. The hero limp and submitting to “CANT” –okay, well, a character named “Kanto” who Mister Miracle calls the “master assassin” but you get the idea. When in 40 years was Jack ever bound by “cant”? There’s also a Dante reference here but I’ll pass on turning that rock over in favor of encouraging you, dear reader, to go over to your local comic shop or some corner of the inter-web and track down a 5 dollar copy of this comic. The conclusion is great and I don’t wanna ruin it for you.

It’s a fun comic, a wonderful example of “the blueprint” of Jack’s mind that manifests a lot in his work, especially in the 70s. I think that the grid format that he sticks with “opens up” nicely in certain spots (to a double panel or a full page). It’s also a formal structure that allows Kirby to improvise much like the Kerouac does in his spontaneous prose works. Kirby can make quick decisions and change the direction of the narrative in one panel and not upset the rhythm or flow that he has set in motion from page one. Also like many of the Beats, Kirby’s personal mythology provides the reader with clues to possible hidden or double meanings within genre stories. It’s the scrappy, personal pastiche of those genres that feels whole and unique to him and NOT just because he more or less invented these genres within comics. For a comic to utilize war, romance, adventure and occult imagery so effortlessly and simultaneously is just too much. I guess they had to cancel it.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

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I was going through yet another unmarked box of comics and found two books next to each other. Black Dogs by Ho Che Anderson and the issue 3 of the anthology, Instant Piano. Both are from the early 90s and both have stories in them with lots of dialogue. So I thought I’d compare them and riff on the striking differences between the two.There’s a Kyle Baker story in the Instant Piano about a couple at an outdoor cafe that is pretty great. Baker employs an invisible grid to hang his panels on and puts all the dialogue under the panels and more importantly under the person who is talking. It’s a signature device that Baker really made his own in Why I Hate Saturn and here he uses it effortlessly to great effect. By placing the dialogue below the panels he opens up the drawings themselves to function as film stills and encourages the reader to “read” the expressions, to really take time with them somehow. I’m not as hurried as I would be in other types stories that depict static characters with a lot of dialogue. Case in point would be the above page by Ho Che Anderson from Black Dogs. The opening shot is the first for this scene. On the previous page there is no mention of the couple in the story going to sit somewhere and talk under what appears to be an outdoor picnic area type of place. But there is no “master shot” of the couple talking, just that mustard color jacket under the shelter to give us a hint that they are sitting at a picnic table. Like Baker, Anderson uses close cropped framing to draw out the emotional content of the dialogue, but unlike Baker, Anderson makes it very difficult for the reader to follow the thread, to “read” into the charged conversation (it’s about race). In fact, it’s almost “un-readable”, the cropping of the figures is crowded further by the balloons of text creating a claustrophobic feeling that might in some strange way add tension to the conversation but instead just turns me off as a reader. I lost interest simply because it’s too hard to follow along. And I found it frustrating that such an important passage of the story (on the next page there is a fight) is without any structure to hold it all together, to move the reader through the page.

Anderson uses a grid, essentially, for the page but the way the dialogue overwhelms the page design obscures the flow of the reader. Baker’s “cleaner” approach is more successful and although I don’t think it necessary to put the dialogue under the panels, I do think that composing pages with grids is not as simple as it appears. One still must consider how the page is going to breathe and unfold in time.

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