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?