Thanks to my new job, I not only have weekends off — I also have money! And one of the things I have purchased with this money — so many of those words feel really odd to type — is an iPad and a subscription to Marvel Unlimited, which allows me to read every Marvel comic with the exception of the most recent six months of publications. Given that I haven’t read comics regularly in a decade or two, I don’t think that’s much of a problems.
Point being, I’m now having many thoughts about comics and I thought “Why SEK, you have a blog, why don’t you write about them?” So I think I’ll make this a regular Sunday feature, starting today with a few “panels” from Ms. Marvel:
Jake Wyatt’s been rightfully acclaimed for his work on this book, but this page in particular is fascinating. At first I felt it was partly enabled by the new technology of comic book-reading, inasmuch as it’s “directed” by an algorithm that moves you from area-to-area within a panel. For example, on the iPad that page would look something like this:
Followed by this:
Followed by this:
Like I said — a “directed” reading. But it quickly occurred to me that I was wrong, at least partly, because the page really is playing with traditional comic book and basic reading conventions. There’s a real tension between the text and the image in this, beginning with the fact that the first “panel” — and I’m using scare quotes for the obvious reason that there are no traditional panels on this page — is in the lower left-hand corner of the page. That’s not where the eyes of English readers begin, so the first difficulty in understanding this page is simply one of figuring out where to start.
Your eye has to search the page, replicating writ small the difficulty Ms. Marvel and Wolverine are experiencing as they try to navigate out of the sewers. But even if they find a way, it’s not going to be easy, as the barely pubescent heroine who’s still discovering the limits of her powers is forced to haul a cranky 300-year-old man with an adamantium enhanced skeleton. How would an artist represent the difficulty of this endeavor?
With words. There’s an up-down conflict built into the text-image relationship. As they struggle up through the sewers, your eyes follow the text down the page. In effect, the images are hoisting your eyes up the page while the text pulls them down — a near-perfect replication of the struggle being depicted on that page itself.