4.12.2011

Grinding It Out


And Then One Day #9: Page 13 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: Ryan has been struggling a tad with his weekly production schedule of late, but with such an ambitious self-imposed deadline, I applaud his determination as he’s rounded the halfway mark and is now headed for the finish line. If, like me, you believe that art takes time and quality vastly supersedes quantity, then this page is well worth the wait. What Ryan holds back in terms of dialogue, he loses all restraint for when it comes to fully realizing his art. It doesn’t seem possible, but the panels just keep getting better and better as the pages progress. There’s more depth in the visual field, more variation in the line weight, more variation to the figure scale, and more fully rendered environments. This panel pulls my eye right to our protagonist duo because of the thick ink lines that surround them. From there, my eye is drawn back to the shrubs on the left, right where the curvy pathway meets the straight walkway (and there’s a squirrel!). It’s almost like this becomes a little Choose Your Own Adventure from that point forward. You can go right or left here; my eye seems to want to first go left along the tree line, and then over to the half figure walking off camera. Let’s talk about that half figure; I don’t believe there’s anything occurring at random here. The choices here would have been a) no figure, b) full figure, or c) the half figure we have. Option A, no figure, would have certainly been an easier artistic decision. Let’s call it what it is, it would have been one less thing to draw when Ryan was already slipping behind. It would have also left the panel unbalanced (notice how this figure is mirrored by the garbage cans which anchor the other side of the panel), and it also would have forced the walkway to stop right there at the panel border. We would have gotten no sense of the world extending beyond what we see. Now, Option B, a full figure, could have balanced the page nicely and it would have even punctuated the panel border I suppose, but it would not have had the same effect that a half figure does. It would have been acceptable, sure, but not artistically clever. Option C, the one Ryan settled on, is absolutely the grandest choice possible. Not only does it balance the page nicely from a graphic design standpoint, and let your eye reconcile the weight and balance of the panel vis-à-vis the garbage cans, but what happens in your mind’s eye is that you compose the rest of that figure. Ryan knows about the concept of “closure,” where sometimes the most important thing that happens is the action in between panels or off in the panel gutters. Example: Panel 1 has a guy throwing a ball at the second guy. Panel 2 is the second guy wincing in pain and clutching his head. We never actually see the ball strike the second guy in the head, but our brain provided the extrapolation from the data present and automatically closed the action to make the sequence work. That’s closure in an interactive medium. So given the three options of lazy, acceptable, and clever, Ryan goes all the way. Back to the page, in the panel gutter to the left we fill in the other half of that character, then we finish his walk on a pathway that doesn’t exist, except in our brain. This action extends the world, and suddenly we’re inhabiting that world now, it pulls us in and surrounds us. Holy crap, that’s only half the panel and I’m still rambling! Yet another part of me wants to take the opposite route and wants to go right on that walkway. It wants to cross the bridge, round the bend, and attend my next class in that far away building tucked in the corner. Folks, this is a brilliant panel in terms of composing a shot and world-building with rich detail and purpose behind every line.

Panel 2: I immediately notice the crosshatching on the underside of the clouds. It provides a real sense of shape and form. It’s almost as if we’re pulled under them, and it becomes a unique, slightly forced, perspective shot. It’s evident with subtle techniques like this that Ryan is deliberately stretching his craft and trying something new, something more intense, not just in every issue, but on every page, and in almost every panel. I think that aficionados of Ryan’s work will be able to one day look back on this as a turning point and mark everything that came before this issue as one period, while marking everything that came after as another distinct period in his evolving style. I’m primarily a story guy, so for me to be so captivated by the art and not notice so much that this is a very quiet time without any of those pesky words really is something. It’s just two people walking around. It’s two people who enjoy talking quite a bit, so it’s a nice respite and provides a sense of the reflective nature of this issue. This leisurely stroll is a moment of contemplation, and calls us back to the fact vs. fiction in autobiography discussion, the selective representation of dialogue, and it’s nice for us to be able to add our own thoughts as we reflect along with the characters.

Panel 3: Ryan changes the camera perspective yet again, reduces the figure scale yet again, and it becomes obvious that he’s always engaging us, and always challenging us as readers to adapt to the artistry on display. Without these variations in camera placement, perspective, and scale, it would all become routine. It would be the typical talking heads sequence that plagues so many comics and would begin to bore us. And once an audience is bored, they get pushed out of a work, something that never happens in this series. I also like those very few stray marks that give the grass texture. It has density, it has life. This shot gives us a sense of the sheer size of the campus. You probably wouldn’t think that a book like this could generate a cliffhanger, but I’m on the edge of my seat over here waiting to see where this goes story, and also where Ryan will let his craft take us next.

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