Comments on the Comic Industry: The dwindling art of complex page composition.

The dwindling art of complex page composition.

In the last 5-10 years I’ve witnessed a strange trend in comics.

More and more floppies (comics issued monthly, consisting of 16 pages or so, with soft cover, which eventually may be collected in Trade PaperBack format) chose artists that have no qualms about giving us just 2 or 3 panels per page.

Now, this is almost unnoticeable by anyone who hasn’t drawn comics for a living.

The casual reader may even enjoy the cleanliness of the page, the fact that it may contain fewer dialogs and fewer panels, because it makes it look…. well, cleaner.

I hate it.

The only excuse I can offer, the only exception I can find that justifies this trend, is when the artist is so amazing, the technique so advanced and consummated that we linger minutes admiring the art inside the 3 panels per page and we turn the page onto the next feeling we have witnessed a work or art.

Obviously that doesn’t happen often, and that’s why it is called “An exception to the rule”

I pine and long for those comics of the 70’s and 80’s (we shall never mention the 90’s, for obvious reasons) where Jim Steranko showed us amazing page compositions,

or where Mike Ploog taught us how to do maximum art with minimum panels.

But no, my friends, this is not just about me bitching for the “good old days”. I actually believe that there are empiric methods you can use to quantify the amount of work you can see in a page. Now you can’t account for the artists speed, or quickness nor you should. There are numerous anecdotes about how Gene Colan used to be a very slow (albeit amazingly masterful) penciler while guys like John Romita Jr and Mark Bagley are supposed to be among the fastest in the bizz.

Bringing some real examples to the front burner, I will mentioned that I picked up a recent DC title involving a speedster and found approximately 1 splash page every three pages. That was almost 5 splash pages, where the ink work was pretty loose, and the reliance on coloring very heavy. I mean, I am the first one praising good colorists as the undersung heroes of comics, but when you rely on colorists to finish your inks and fill the page…mhhh… makes me think that someone is cutting corners. Not that the casual reader will notice it, though.

The other one of the big two is not free of guilt either. I just picked up a title of some Marvel mutants running around, and I couldn’t find more than 4 panels per page, with heavy preference for 3. At least they didn’t put splash pages at every turn, but although the artwork was very acceptable and showed a good deal of detail, the backgrounds were scarce, and the page composition was more concerned with cleanliness than with good work.

It seems that more and more editors are concerned with “little work, but good work” rather than pursuing “good work, and in good enough quantities”. Good enough quantities means enough to be innovative and give something to the story that separates it from another cookie cutter comic book you pick up at the news-stand or airport magazine rack, and you leave behind.

Reminds me of the choices that government and politicians make: Instead of providing us with good solutions that provide us services and enhance our quality of life, they cut corners and decrease our quality of life, or compromise our liberties. But the casual citizen does the same thing as the casual reader: Shrug and put up with it. (End of my soapbox)

The counterpart is this title I picked up from DC, Gotham Sirens #26.

The average page layout showed between 4 and 5 panels, not like the other ones that show between 4 and 3 panels (diminishing returns) and lots of them relaying on 6. I also was impressed with the pacing. The book started with splash page, and then starts compacting the page with more panels as it progresses. Not putting splashes just for the sake of putting splashes.

And the art is superb. The city comes alive, the bricks fall and have weight, and the action flows, the angles chosen click, and in general, it gave me enough innovation that sent me back to the store to pick up more issues by these artists Andres Guinaldo, Lorenzo Ruggiero and Raul Fernandez!

This is not groundbreaking work, like the Steranko’s I mentioned earlier, but it is solid, sturdy and precious comic-book storytelling. It makes you feel that you got your money’s worth. It makes you come back for more.

So I have to thank these artists for bringing back some good old style paneling to complement some good old storytelling. It contributes something worth reading in the bleak panorama of blasé floppies that we are constantly confronted with.

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