Thinking Outside the Panel
Reading David Mack’s Kabuki: Circle of Blood was an entirely new experience for me. Back then, I was firmly in my superhero phase, keen on colourful and shiny art by the likes of Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri. Kabuki’s black and white format and Mack’s style was a bit off putting. Thankfully, I liked the story so much that I was quick to pick up the subsequent series, Skin Deep—where everything changed. Mack left the simple black and white lines behind, weaving magic with a paintbrush and colour instead. The art work blew me away—not merely because it was so beautiful, but because of the way Mack used every inch of the page to delve into the psyche of his character. This was the first time I’d seen a comic that didn’t follow the standard panel-panel-panel-splash page-panel-panel format, and it has become the standard by which I judge creativity when it comes to artists.
As Mack says in an interview:
I think the less detail that is in this panel, the quicker it is going to be read. It still says everything it needs to say, but, if you want someone to read that panel quickly to get to the next one, don’t overdo it. If you want them to look at it longer, you put more time into that one. I love that contrast.
When Mack makes the choice to add more detail, he goes all in, using every inch of the page. Even when he chooses to work with white space, it is for a reason, with no choice of colour, material, imagery wasted. I read his works over and over, each time finding something new and fascinating along the way. In these examples, Mack is both writer and artist, but oftentimes with comics, an artist works from a writer’s scripts and concepts in order to bring the writer’s vision to life. Depending on how much freedom the artist has to play, and how willing that artist is to go beyond the usual panel to panel imagery, can result in some very unique and expressive works. Here are a few of my favourites:
Tony Chu is a cibiopath, which means he can sense the psychic residue left behind in anything he eats. In Chew #1, Rob Guillory gives us a taste of what it’s like for Tony to ‘enjoy’ a meal.
As I learned in my interview with Sarah Stone and Mairghread Scott, Scott relies on Stone’s artistic ideas when it comes to defining the Transformers in the new Windblade series. Stone uses space and movement, paying extra special attention to the transformations themselves and how they suit each character.
Captured and turned into weapons of mass destruction in the We3 project, these household pets just want to get home to their owners. And Cat will let nothing stand in her way. I particularly like We3 because it’s one of the few times I have appreciated Grant Morrison‘s writing. I find that Morrison writes too much in his comics, but when Frank Quitely gets involved, Morrison seems content to trust Quitely to express the story through the image, which is really how comics should work, right?
I still appreciate comics in all their forms, even if they are a little more by-the-numbers than these examples. There are many ways to creatively tell sequential stories, but I happen to appreciate the writers and artists who go beyond the standard practices to give us a little something more.