Sunday, April 19, 2015

Pet Peeves: Author / Artist Disharmony

Scott McCloud and Harvey Pekar have long been of supporters of Graphic Novels (or as I like to call them, Comic Paperbacks) that truly great feats of literature can be achieved through harmony of both art and text working in concert with each other.  One or the other can dominate in other works, but its those that combine those spectacularly that are the most memorable.  When those traits are out of sync, they can lead to disunity and confusion.

This can be a tricky subject, since the meanings and motivations of creators are not always well-known, and are generally kept out of the public eye unless there's enough cultural interest in said stories.  Fortunately for us, the best and most examples come from Operation: Jail the Justice League!, written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mike Sekowsky.

This is a Silver-Age story where Green Arrow decides to spontaneously retire from the Justice League over "personal reasons" that he declines to give any further information on.  The other members figure that he's being targeted somehow, and decide to dress up as Green Arrow themselves, so they can deal with whatever threat is making him so scared.  The only one who's spared this is Wonder Woman who is unable to patrol the streets due to looking too much like a Rule 63 version, long before the term was even coined.

Apparently, having a change in disguise is more limiting than expected, since pretty much everyone winds up being easily defeated by C-list villains for the sake of the plot.  By all rights, Batman shouldn't even have this much trouble fending off the Penguin's hat-tricks, yet the other heroes are similarly left incompetent.  After each defeat, the hero winds up looking like the villain, and the villain looks like the hero, which allows for easy apprehension by the cops.

By all rights, this shouldn't be a complicated plan to understand.  Every time one of the "Green Arrow" heroes get defeated by a villain, they get switched and placed in jail while the villain gets off scot-free.

In the very next instance of the switcharoo, Martian Manhunter is accosted by Dr. Light, yet at his defeat, his Dr. Light persona winds up looking confident rather than defeated.  Rather than reverse engineer how some influential comics would've been written, (with the exception of Alan Moore whose overly verbose scripts are laden with dense commentary over something as simplistic as a panel of falling rain) a greater challenge would be trying to figure out how such an amateur mistake could've gone past the editors.

I'm not much of a fan of the American style of comic scripting, since they read too much like Hollywood scripts for my taste, constantly putting the setting and location before the dialogue.  What probably happened was that this scene was written as "The form of Martian Manhunter (Green Arrow) lies comatose in the air while surrounded in rings of light as changing into Dr. Light, while on the roof, Dr. Light changes into Green Arrow and looks upon in triumph."  Only, the artist made the mistake of having both Dr. Lights look active.

Things only get more confusing with the last "victim" Dr. Woodrue and Atom, switching places.  Here, the comatose body of the Atom changes into the standing pose of Dr. Woodrue, while the comatose body of Dr. Woodrue turns into a standing Green Arrow.  It's possible that the artist had no idea how to superimpose two collapsed bodies on top of each other, one being smaller, and easily obscured.

This isn't my only source of discontention.  This particular annoyance can come from artists who are more concerned with how "cool" each panel looks, rather than how they're combined on a page.  Panels that bleed into each other is pretty much a staple of Manga, but can lead to general confusion when the boundaries of invisible borders aren't made clear and leave no clear clue for where the wandering eye should flow.  That kind of crime can be understandable for those who struggle to understand the form without understanding the function (more on this later), but this shouldn't be much of a problem for individual panels.  Kelley Jones' Batman is enjoyable more for the portrayal of grotesque anatomy and misshaped bodies cast in warped dark shadows than anything else.  Exaggerated muscles is nothing new, but you'd think there'd be better consistency between panels.

In the very first frame, the terrified doctor is reaching for a medical hammer conveniently close to his hand.  In the very next panel, the hammer has somehow turned around in his hand, ready to strike his foe.  In the last panel, the doctor's hand is caught due to "lightning quick" reflexes, yet has somehow switched hands somewhere during the downswing.  That's some fast sleight-of-hand there.

Granted, this could all be chalked up to artistic license, but chances are, Kelley Jones saw the words, "Doctor reaches for hammer", "Doctor lunges towards foe with hammer", and "Foe catches arm clutching hammer" as three individual instances taking place.

For a more overt example of how artists tend to ignore the writer's intentions, check out these panels of Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man.

Here, Felicia is menaced by an approaching Venom, with a chandelier peeking out at the upper corner.
Somehow, despite having one leg caught, Black Cat managed to notice a hanging crystal ornament behind her and kicked off the chain with her free foot, and have it fall on Venom, even though he was nowhere close to the instrument.  Now, it could be argued that there was more than one chandelier in the apartment suite, but realistically, how often do you see more than one fancy overhead light in more than one room?

Even independent comics aren't free from this glaring flaw.  The historical comic on folklore song Stagger Lee was easily understandable, showing a clear argumentative division between two men.  And then this page came up, which blurred the lines between Billy Lyons and Lee Shelton further than intended.  To differentiate between the two men, Lee Shelton was cast in a Mexican scrawled outfit, while Billy Lyons wore a checkered outfit.  Other than the text box creating potential confusion, can you tell what the problem is?

The key clue comes from the words "Conversely, a little shrinkage occurs in the process of turning Billy Lyons into the big man's perpetual victim."  If we're turning Lee Shelton into a more imposing figure, then Billy Lyons should be larger first, then smaller second.  Chalk this up to being constantly overexposed to people Hulking out in more popular comics.  Unless this confusion was intentional.

Just as annoying are people who take inspiration from the source material, but are unable to interpret it properly.  For years, comic fans were nervous when Hollywood became interested in doing adaptions of their favorite titles, after having been burned by low-budget movies that only scratched the surface area of their comics.  For the most part, those fears have been a combination of confirmation and justification due to results being a mixture of faithfulness or misguided interpretation.  Watchmen in particular suffered from being too faithful to the action scenes, (which weren't the book's most memorable moments) while downplaying or condensing other scenes that deserved more attention.  The most successful adaptions are those that adhered to the spirit of the comic, rather than being a lavish devotion to the comic (which usually doesn't translate well onscreen).  There are many examples of minutiae left out in Movie adaptions of Comic Books, or Comic adaptions of movies.  Chances are, something's going to be left out of the equation.  But I think this example of a homage to the MAD parody of L.A. Law portrays my point best.

For the most part, the majority of the cast are able to recreate the poses as portrayed on the cover. However, the two actors on the far right annoy me.

Richard Dysart is doing a thumbs-up that's pointing up, and nowhere close towards the judge's direction, while Jimmy Smits is just impotently dangling his tie in the air instead of using it as a makeshift noose.  Alan Rachins can be forgiven for having his palms spread outwards, and Susan Ruttan looking extra surprised, since they're closer to the spirit of the parody.  It could be argued that actors would be better prepared to understand the motivations of their characters, but you'd think they'd be able to understand the nuances of a drawn page better.  Otherwise, they're just going through the motions without understanding the meaning behind said actions.  It's also annoying that no one who took this photograph noticed this discrepancy.  But maybe there were just too many moving parts to pay attention to the small details.

No comments:

Post a Comment