Less a Slippery Slope, More a Real Sharp Drop

Don’t go nuts with the strange panels shapes and borders.  A slight slant like in the previous examples goes a long way.  As soon as the panel shape itself starts getting wacky, you are drawing way too much attention to it — too little to what is inside.  Storytelling drops precipitously.  This is not, I repeat, NOT graphic design nor collage.  Yes, graphic design techniques are necessary for effective pages.  Yes, Will Eisner taught us to treat the page as a meta-panel.  But for every Bill Sienkevicz and David Mack who can make the “page as painting” thing an effective way to tell their cerebral stories, there are hundreds of others who are hampering there storytelling with “pretty” panels.  Realize that fancy panels are always a distraction that traditional boxes are not.  My favorite pretentious Latin motto is ars celare artem: the art to hide the art.  If you make your reader aware that they are reading a comic that is drawn on a flat piece of paper, she is no longer lost in the realm of the story.  Remember how the heavy-handed multiple frames of Ang Lee’s Hulk just killed the momentum of the action?  Don’t do that.  Here’s an example:

Marvel Comics Group  © Marvel Comics Group

art: Richard Corben colors: Jose Villarubia book: Cage publisher: Marvel Comics Group © Marvel Comics Group

Now, I love Richard Corben.  No, that’s not strong enough.  I WORSHIP Richard Corben.  If anyone really started looking for precursors for my own inking style, Richard Corben would be the first place to go.  He does not cartoon so much as filter reality through the history of illustration techniques.  His stippling is so dead-on and pristine, giving his world a grit, depth and presence that too many “stylish” artists fail to capture.  His comic art is Art.  In a different century he would have been lauded like an Escher, a Lautrec, or a Klimpt: an illustrator who can hang in a gallery.  Very, very few comic creators can match him as an artist.  And I am perhaps one of his few fans who would cite Marvel’s adult superhero book Cage as some of his finest work.

But this page just doesn’t work.  The shattered glass layout draws so much attention away from the action and fractures the page in such an unreadable way that the eye cannot possibly follow what is going on.  All the punch of the punches is wasted on the visual punch of the trope.  The result is the aforementioned Ang Lee mistake: an action sequence that is all concept, no chutzpah.  Be very, very careful of these weird panel shapes.  If Richard Corben can’t make it work, how will you?


3 thoughts on “Less a Slippery Slope, More a Real Sharp Drop

  1. Man!. This page works 100% !!!
    The page is divided as a crashed glass and
    each piece is a panel.You can read all in one:couse…
    all the violent things that it happen on it happens in
    a bery,berysort space of time.!

  2. Felice Applauso says:

    I agree 100% with Rafa Garres comment. Richard Corben’s art Is and has always been light years ahead of his times. Back in the 70’s the average comic book reader didn’t seem to get past the nudity in his art….and nowadays people still miss the mark whenever trying to comment on his work. What’s depicted in the panel above goes beyond the mere portray of a fight, this clog of brutality, confusion and shattered images of ferocity clearly are meant as a statement from Mr.Corben to remind us about the chaotic nature of violence.

  3. Bob says:

    This page is clearly intended to illustrate the chaotic nature of a fight. Rich did the same in a few other pages I can think of (mostly in the Den series), and it’s always been limited to these very quick fight sequences. I think it is VERY effective in conveying just what it intended, especially since that was your own way of describing the page: “the eye cannot possibly follow what is going on.”

    But that is very specific and a very very rare departure from Corben’s usual mathematic precision (take a ruler to the pages of Son of Mutant World sometime and note how the illusion of chaos is anything but).

    Even here I can see three tiers. I might criticize that a vertical sequence is used on the left (breaking a single tier vertically on the left can confuse readers even in a clear-cut page), but other than that, this is still a pretty orthodox breakdown.

    I think you’ll find better examples of splash breakdowns that don’t work (as intended or otherwise) if you look to heavy rule-breakers like Neal Adams. Or someone who regularly tried to push this particular boundary, like Alex Niño.

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