Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 5 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: The critic in me wants to argue with Ryan’s statement about this being one of his more technically proficient pages, but I’m inclined to agree. There’s a lot happening here that is either extremely well done, or a successful attempt by Ryan to stretch his artistic muscles, or both. First off, all of the panels are wide and flat. I hesitate to use the term “widescreen” because of the superhero connotations it dredges up, but it does indeed apply. There’s something sleek about it visually, but from a world-building standpoint it also gives the illusion that the environment we’re being invited into extends in a 360 degree panorama all around us. This first panel has a lot of depth, trees and figures on the same plane in the foreground, with another tree (to the left) and a building in the “mid-ground,” and yet another layer of shrubbery and students milling around in the background. It’s not often you see artists devote this much time to “throwaway” components in the distance that aren’t considered key to the main story or more closely connected to the protagonists.

Panel 2: Sheesh, it’s hard not to love this panel. If you thought that first panel had depth, then this panel is amazing. The texture and sense of depth literally extend all the way to the vanishing point on the horizon. Ryan has carefully dotted the scene with 4 figures that recede into the background, all at different sizes and point in space. There’s his set of hands, the seated figure to the right, a third figure, and then a fourth figure in the background. Ryan also shifts the camera angle drastically to his point of view to emphasize the point he’s making about what readers might be missing when alternate perspectives are used. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him use this camera angle, so we might be witnessing a first. It’s beautiful. It’s shots like these, illustrating thoughts like these, that have always made me think Ryan is the Scott McCloud of his generation. The ability to use comics in order to explain how comics function as an artistic medium is a rare niche that is fun and important.

Panel 3: Yet again, Ryan matches up the dialogue with the visual in perfect sync. As he pulls the camera angle out to provide a wider and more distant shot, the text suggests that by doing so, it helps the artist with introspection and self-analysis. Seeing the characters, literally and figuratively, in context with the surroundings of their life assists the creator and a prospective audience in understanding more about the person. It’s an attempt at a sort of self-imposed critical objectivity. One other thing I’ve really been noticing with this issue of ATOD is the way Ryan is managing word balloons. This one also has that trick lightning bolt effect, which zig-zags across the page. In addition to just being engaging visually, it gives the sense that the characters are moving from left to right, and pulls your eye from the visual over to the text. It’s a very subtle, but very nice and very effective bit of craftsmanship. You get the sense that every single pencil stroke is rendered with thought and purpose. These are thinking man’s comics.

Panel 4: Honestly, I haven’t been a huge fan of this textured background pattern that Ryan’s been using periodically. At first it seemed pretty simple to my eye and the crystalline texture left me questioning its presence. Despite that initial reaction, I find that I can always figure out a way to “make it work” in my mind when I stop to consider it, and perhaps that’s what Ryan has intended all along. Here, I feel like it’s an empty canvas that is more subscriptive than prescriptive. What I mean is that a prescriptive approach would be Ryan drawing something more specific that told his audience how to feel about this panel. Instead, the patterned texture is subscriptive, in that it allows the reader to bring their own sense of meaning to it. For me, I use that canvas to consider my own “flaws, habits, and what have you.” I populate it with my own meaning in that relatively empty space. It induces thought and creates a more interactive experience.


At 6:31 AM, Anonymous Kathlene said...


I'm really enjoying the critique of Ryan's work. This last page is beautifully drawn and there's so much for the eye to follow. I have to say though that the textured background on the last panel doesn't work as well here as it has on previous pages. I think if Ryan had changed the density of the hatch marks from left to right it would have drawn your eye across the panel, maybe in anticipation of what's to come. In previous panels the hatch pattern provided an effective framing tool for the characters but in this case it feels flat and almost decorative.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the rest of the series and more great work from Ryan.


At 9:52 AM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

Hi Kathlene,

Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate you taking the time to leave some feedback about my page.

I've sort of been lurking in the wings on the subject of that textured background. Justin has commented on it a time or two and I've enjoyed the different interpretations of it. Since you brought it up specifically, I figured I'd quit creepin' and just talk about it.

As you've probably noticed, I tend not to use many spot blacks in my pages. I'm trying to keep a light, open, airy aesthetic to this project. This book in particular has the potential to be so dense with words and theory that I wanted to counterbalance that with the artwork, and the occasional voided panel background is no different. I chose that specific treatment to A) blend with the density of the page, so as not to visually "weigh-down" any one panel, and yet B) still give it a bit of variety in the direction of line so your eye wouldn't become bored. It sounds like maybe that's where it could use some work. :)

I actually like the suggestion of varying the pattern density and might give that a go on future projects. Just for the sake of consistency, you probably won't see it on this story arc, though.

I probably shouldn't mention this, but I feel like I can see a shift in illustration ability from the start of this project (3 years ago) until now. However, I'm doing my best to keep things looking consistent (the aforementioned background being one of those consistent elements) so that when all three issues are collected, it will (hopefully) read as a cohesive whole.

Again, thanks for checking out Justin's review of my work, and many thanks to Justin for the weekly critique.

Take care, guys!

Ryan Claytor
Elephant Eater Comics

At 11:45 AM, Blogger Justin Giampaoli said...

Thanks for the detailed response, Ryan. It's great to get a behind the scenes explanation for that background pattern.


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