Nearly all of my favorite movies, as might be expected, have stellar cinematography. I’d rather be made to watch any Tarkovsky shot of anything underwater for two hours than watch many modern movies. Makes sense — artists love beauty, right? But there was a time not long ago that I’d tell you Milos Forman was one of my favorite directors, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest my favorite film. Not exactly cinematography paradise. The storytelling is just that good.
Well, my rule for comic book artists is that they have to draw, as in make lines, better than I can. To say style is unimportant is ludicrous. Style is craft. It is your character, your mood, your vision. It is also your lighting, your focus, your mise-en-scène…in short, your cinematography.
And John Higgins cannot draw better than I can. His line work is awful. His shadows are clunky. At no point does any of it congeal into a vision of our world. The space inside the panels is plain old ugly to look at. I would not be surprised at all to find he never attended art school nor ever stepped into an art gallery to muse at the formal beauty of shape and line.
But John Higgins is one of my favorite comic artists. His storytelling, by which I mean his layouts and choice of shots, is unbeatable. I’d like to say that in my head I pretend that an accomplished illustrator like Berni Wrightson was doing his finishes, but honestly, he is so in control of my read I don’t even notice how hideous his art is until he’s led me expertly through a whole book. Here’s one of my favorite sequences:
Warren Ellis’s terrible attitude towards absolutely anything finally gets its ultimate justification in these pages of one man’s desperate quest to have a drag. The intrusive sunlight drops in on his hangover from above while he begrudgingly attempts to rise from below in a beautiful standoff of panels on a field of empty space that sets up to conflict that follows. The world is out to get the hungover John Constantine. That sense of space vanishes as soon as John lifts his head, replaced with an oppressive Kirby six panel grid. John’s been boxed in and each of his mechanical movements get the equal weight of the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other tenacity this drunk must have in order to complete them. The Murphy’s Law joke the world is now playing on him is brilliantly left for the page’s last panel. Undaunted, he holds together his broken cigarette/life and completes that beautiful, hard-won drag. As soon as he inhales, the grid opens up: breathing space returns. Negative space replaces his negative world-view. You feel his shift in consciousness and, stalwart, bare-buttocked, you follow him to meet the world.