Powerful Panels: BPRD: 1947 #3

This two-page spread/one big panel, which illustrates the onset of a zombie attack, the moment-to-moment chaos, and to some extent the aftermath, is a prime example of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics' "invisible art", between-the-panels thesis. McCloud's work has dominated the brains of comics artists since the 90s and I'd even argue there's been something of a rote internalization amongst good, sophisticated comics to follow McCloud's thesis to a T. Sorta what I was saying on Monday about Jeff Lemire's Essex County.

It's not that it's bad but that it's kinda going through the motions of "smart comics" and that kinda bugs me. Though it's a masterpiece, at times, Morrison and Quietly's All-Star Superman certainly falls into the McCloud school, a little too much at times. That said, there's times when the "life between panels" thing still totally works and just blows you away, and Ba's two-page spread but not really a spread, is an example.

I want to try to free this as much as possible from the excellent, Dysart-scripted, Ba/Moon-illustrated series itself, and do a kind of "close-reading" of the panels/pages, because I think it works without knowing the characters' names or the plot. In short, a bunch of government agents are in a scary place and some zombies attack. It's all you need for this to really work.

The thing about the image above is technically, it's five panels. Though it looks like a two-page spread with some mini-panels in the righthand corner, the left side of the page, the agent being attacked, the other agents in-shock, is it's own panel and the right side of the page, moments later, the agents firing their guns, reacting is also it's own panel. Or is it? It is and it isn't.

If you look at the point where the pages meet, it doesn't exactly line-up perfectly, for example the elbow of the Agent with the Moustache doesn't move over into the other page, but the tomb to the far right of the left page--and in dead-center of the spread, if you see it as a spread--does roll over into the other page. Below is a close-up of the spread that's not totally a spread, illustrating the break in the page, the rolling over of the tomb, the omission of the elbow, and the two agents reacting (right) and the reacting agents' springing into action (left):

Besides it just being a piece of comics art that really, awesomely and cleverly messes with visual narrative expectations, the sort of scrunching of all this action into a spread isn't something you see a whole lot. That's to say, action-oriented two-page spreads are very thrilling and all, but more often than not, don't mean a whole lot. Personally, action in comics is something I kinda skim over, my eyes darting through the violence and sound effects quickly, just to get to the usually-predictable result. The two-page action scene spread can be awesome but it's usually just two pages allotted to convey "THAT GUY IS KICKING THAT OTHER GUY".

Not so here, where Ba (and Dysart) fill the two-page spread--that isn't a two-page spread--with so much information as to capture the chaos and emotionality of the action too. Just moving your eyes from left to right, you see the attacked agent screaming, the other agents totally in shock, then more zombies crawling out and by the time your eyes have moved to the far-right, the agents firing at the attacking zombies.
As a last brilliant touch, Ba includes a series of panels at the top of the right page to show exactly how the attacked agent is ripped apart. It's very George Romero to me, in the sense that it graphically moves-in on the gore, not only to give you some added cheap thrills but to really have you consider the horror of what's going on. Wisely, it's stuck up at the top of the right side of the page--or right panel--because Ba's constructed a page that's diverted your attention from the attack, which is going on to the left, and so, he throws up this kind of footnote of gore, so that you're reminded of what's going on even as you're now focused on the agents fighting the zombies and not the agent being ripped apart by them.


Samax said...

nice insight, although i'm not sure i understand why smart comics would bother you...
McCloud covers so much ground in his books, I find myself hard-pressed to cover it all. I applaud that sort of thing (in service to the story, as it is here). why would that bother you? i'm interested...

brandon said...

I don't think I was super-clear, though read my Lemire rant and what I said should make a little more sense. I like Smart comics, but I don't like "smart" comics and I think McCloud and the comic book critical consensus crew (Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, D & Q, etc etc) have developed a kind of shortcut to making a "smart" comic when in reality, there's just as much smart stuff going on in a new issue of say, X-Factor or whatever.

david e. ford, jr said...

and if i could expand upon what brandon said, the thing about "smart" comics versus comics that are actually smart is that it seems that those comics brandon has identified as being self-consciously smart must have their smartness on the surface, so that you don't really need a particularly elegant or subtle intellect to extract whatever intellectual content is there, like it's sorta served to readers on a platter, whereas an actually interesting issue of some pop comic tends to look like a pop comic on the surface and it takes a bit of thoughtfulness to see past that. of course, this isn't unique to comics, but sort of runs through all forms of smarty-pants popular art, where everyone rushes out to their local indie theatre to gush over the latest sundance export all the while poo-pooing star trek or michael mann's latest movie

Samax said...

i can see that. i write a lotta movie reviews where people are arguing that the movie sucks and i'm stupid for saying otherwise, only to later reveal they didn't even WATCH the movie in question. LOL!

i think knocking off Scott McCloud, Harvey Pekar, or just making comics about being sad sometimes gets you credit for being awesome, whether you are actually awesome or not.

i like awesome in any form.
thanks for clarifying gentlemen!

keep up the great work... this is an awesome blog!

Vee (Scratch) said...

"of course, this isn't unique to comics, but sort of runs through all forms of smarty-pants popular art, where everyone rushes out to their local indie theatre to gush over the latest sundance export all the while poo-pooing star trek or michael mann's latest movie"

. . . yeah exactly.
Ba/Moon consistently producing interesting comic book work.