Grinding It Out
And Then One Day #9: Page 15 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: I feel like there isn’t a whole lot more I can say about the artistic approach here without repeating myself. Visually, this first panel contains examples of most of the techniques I’ve already described. You can run down that list, altered figure scale, unique camera placement, playful perspective, depth of field, variable line weight, detail orientation, world-building, half figures pushing the confines of the panel borders on either side... check, check, and check! It’s scary to think it’s all become rote, that Ryan is getting this good even with “any ol’ panel” we could view at random. So instead of dwelling, here’s something I’ve been slowly noticing, but haven’t really commented on yet. Speech balloons! I’m specifically noticing now Ryan breaks the dialogue into chunks, where he chooses to begin and end one string of words, and what shape and orientation the physical balloons take. For example, “Thanks so much, Dr. Polkinhorn.” Pause. Break in natural speech. End one portion of the attached word balloon, and commence next section... I think that a lesser artist would just not even bother doing all that, they’d just cram it into one big word balloon, and move about their business without giving the breakdown much thought at all. Polkinhorn retorts “Oh, of course.” And the way that balloon is on an overlapping horizontal plane with Ryan’s last statement almost gives you the impression that the good doctor began responding to the first chunk of Ryan’s dialogue before he got a chance to even complete the second chunk, not quite cutting him off. Hopefully you catch my meaning here and it’s not clear as mud. It’s not that he interrupted Ryan, just that his response automatically was initiated the second Ryan said “Thanks so much...” and the way the balloons are even placed in relation to each other carries some meaning. Of course, this all ends with the long pause before his last statement, because he considered it before he said it, and then he finally delivers the cordial afterthought “...and call me Harry.”
Panel 2: Hrmm... for some reason here, I’m noticing that my eye is drawn to the motion lines around Ryan’s hand waving goodbye. I feel like it’s (gasp!) maybe a little off(?). Man, this is really nitpicking, but I’m not sure if the side-to-side motion that he intends is conveyed, or if it actually suggests the hand is moving in more of a circular motion, like a prom queen wave(?). Maybe it’s the fact that Ryan’s upturned hand is facing the audience and not actually facing Dr. Polkinhorn(?). Maybe it would have been more effective without the motion lines and just capturing that static moment in time as the hand hit the top of its swing(?). As you can tell from my many rhetorical questions (???) I haven’t arrived at any conclusion here, I’m simply thinking out loud and noting that my eye went to a specific place and then fixated on one very minute motion for some odd reason. Weird. One other bit I notice in this panel is that the speech balloons overlap, meaning that Ryan’s text is on Dr. Polkinhorn’s side, and vice versa, while the tails of the balloons trail back to their respective owners. I’d be curious if Ryan consciously intended anything with this layout. I’m picturing the balloons more segregated to the sides of their owners and visually that option is a little jarring, really separating the panel into halves, so maybe Ryan was trying to avoid that and go for something warmer. As is, it balances the panel better visually, and you can even read into it that since the balloons are a little more intertwined, perhaps that’s symbolic of the duo being actively engaged in conversation.
Panel 3: I think this is an interesting choice for camera placement, because it suggests that we now momentarily have the POV of Dr. Polkinhorn, who is not the assumable protagonist of the story. I think that’s an interesting conceit, to surrender POV to another person in what is essentially an autobiographical comic. Perhaps this was intended as a bit of self-aware devil’s advocacy since a large portion of the issue, and Ryan’s greater body of work in general, seeks to examine how autobiography functions on a continuum of truth and fiction, and how artistic choices made for presentation purposes can skew our understanding of purportedly real events.
Panel 4: The previous panel had this too, but it really delivers in this final shot. The characters in the foreground walk toward the general direction of the audience in forced perspective shots that really make them pop! This is the kind of panel-piercing vertigo that Jack “King” Kirby made famous. It lends such a sense of motion, of kinetic energy, that characters are bursting forth from the confines of their two dimensional container and getting as close to 3D as they possibly can while remaining dry ink on flat paper. Not only is that happening, but the other dynamic is that Ryan has flattened this panel into a long horizontal widescreen shot, pulled the camera down significantly to his own eye level, and allowed us to take in the expanse beyond him that runs all the way to the vanishing point. It really is beautiful visually, while also giving the impression that the world he’s taken so long to build, is now one that he’s leaving as he walks way. This guy is good.