Copra #2, Pages 4 & 5; buy it here
I just couldn't ignore this spread. Like a moth to the flame or Icarus to the sun with this shit, seriously. This particular Copra #2 spread isn't the most flashy or exciting of the comic, but it has a wide range of visual progressions and shape echoes and choreographic tricks, and so is perfect to explore through the lens of pictorial mapping and analysis. As always with these posts I'll throw some quick notes and visceral reactions in here at the top and then move in closer for further examination. First, Fiffe has shifted away from the euro/manga ratio of 1.3-ish back to the american mainstream ratio of 1.5-ish, presumably because Copra is an american action comic, not a personal anthology comic, and because that format and ratio slot into existing direct-market tastes with much less friction.
I'll bet if you could visit the production area of the print shop where it's made, though, you'd find page-cut-offs from larger 8½x11 paper (11x17 paper, actually) that's been cut-down.
Just another quick note on ratio at large here, that actually I think Frank Santoro may have mentioned in his TCJ or ComicsComics posts at some point, regarding a weird maybe-coincidence in the relationship between 1.3 ratio pages and 1.5 ratio pages. That being that a double-page spread in a 1.5 ratio comic, if turned on its side, can actually be seen to be at more or less a ratio of 1.3 for the spread at large.
The inverse is also true: take a 1.5 ratio comic, turn it on its side and open it wide, and you'll see that you've got about the 1.3 ratio page.
Click for larger view:
I'll try to come back to it in another post at some point, as I think there's something interesting in that relationship to be explored. And lastly, lest you think page ratios somehow do not matter, ruminate on some of the ways the widescreen 16:9 shift changed film-making, and then get back to me.
So, the spread as a whole has the usual upper-left to lower-right motion, with the corners that are tangent to that motion isolated from it in order to preserve the upper-left to lower-right energy flow.
And in this case the upper-right happens to be more isolated than the lower-left, but both are considerably isolated from the standard upper-left to lower-right energy that powers the spread at large. There's a nice little visual eddy in the upper right-hand block, and the whole is broken into four note-swung, further-subdivided quarters. Our strong initial visual hinge is back, which is itself inverted in the opposite, lower-right corner, we also have the usual (in 1.5-ish ratio comics) vesica-piscis-powered circles-in-tension, and there are, of course, the usual line and shape structure echoes all over the place.
There are less color echoes than usual, compared to Zegas, probably due to decreased production time and increased page output. The color used in the spread here is quite sparse and mostly is there to contribute to the creation of general fractal shape-density and a grounding "X" across the spread.
Now, the basic quarto/octo-based panel structure:
Several patterns should be crystal-clear at this point.
The spread's top quarters are based around simple two-panel closure/progression, the bottom quarters double this and are based around four-panel closures/progressions.
All slightly swung so that everything feels loose but coherent; patterned but not coldly, mathematically perfect. I guess I'll just go a quarter at a time through the spread, considering they're mostly self contained, here. Though there are places where Fiffe's shape-words reference other shape-words in the visual dictionary of the spread, wherein the visual references move across the quarters, and there break with the self-containment.
Actually, there's really only one place where that specific cross-quarter, self-referential, visual-dictionary shape-communication occurs, but that one occurrence is actually what makes the whole spread work. Without it, even with all the other geometry and layout, the spread would still be a failure. We'll come back to what this magical element is and why and how it works a bit later.
For now: quarters!
And this is The West, so, of course, upper-left first.
The hinge of the page: a nice little dry-brush pelican-smudge black-mark to anchor the eye.
From there the ley lines of the page direct the eye in two directions: either up along the lines of the of the docks and the ship or down along the bed and sleeping seaman. And if you do happen to take the higher road up towards the top of the page, Fiffe pulls your eye back down with the sleeping sound effect and, more subtely, the continous color hold of blue across the gutter. The bottom angle of the window (and thus the blue color-shape) evens conform to the same broken-perspective angle of the bed, continuing the eye-line and upper-left-to-lower-right energy.
That same left-to-right energy fits into the larger structure of the page itself, which, despite eddies and isolated corners, still has a very clear "X" composition undergirding it.
The upper-left to lower-right slant-shape is even echoed in the sitting pose of our green-clothed female black-ops recruiter; the shape and proportion of the pictorial triangle made by the pelican mimicking her in miniature. Also, do her clothes here remind anyone of The Long Tomorrow or other Moebius work? Maybe it's just the hat... Anyway, these similar shapes read similarly to the eye, providing a smooth, non-linear, compositionally-based image juxtaposition/transition for the reader.
Whether they mean pelican or woman, the shapes have a similar spelling.
A similar drawing.
The shapes rhyme.
Iterative shape echoes, branching outward from the hinge, in fractal fashion. But something has to be our swing-note, our exception that proves the rules. Our swing-note, moving almost-tangent to our dominant energy, is the boat-dock-sea combo.
And it's the most important element of the composition.
It's the magical element that I mentioned earlier.
Invert the energy of that boat-dock-sea combo to move with the larger page flow rather than against it and the eye would simply slide right out of the panel. The whole thing would tilt over one way, far, far out of compositional balance. Some element of symmetry always oh-so-very-necessary. The swing note of the boat-dock-sea icon-combo will itself be swung later on in the spread, inverted onto itself and echoed back, repurposed as the chorus of the piece. It'll be echoing on again in this bit of writing as well, returning to provide, on a number of different levels, symmetry, grounding and perspective, once we've managed to make it all the way to the final portion of the spread.
Alright, so, that's the first quarter, the first movement, the first call and response, the first basic unit of the whole page's macrocomposition.
Let's review: we've got an immediate establishment of a left-to-right diagonal energy (which fits into a larger "X" across the whole spread), a strong contrasting icon to open the page, a color-shape that spans gutters and whose shape fits the larger diagonal energy, a set of pictorial triangles whose shapes rhyme for easier reading, and a tangent element to be our swing-note, and later, our chorus, and which is the magical element that the whole page rests on.
Oh, and if you look down toward the bottom-left of the quarter, the table with the peanuts is on the same inverted angle as the boat-dock, and is additionally at opposite angles with the table over on the opposing side of the panel.
Echoes, inversions and reflections everywhere.
Now, next movement.
Even here in the one-quarter zoom-in we can see the geometry holographically scale-down to hold the quarter together. The eye has comfortable paths to travel across all the live areas of the page segment. All the layout rules adhered to even down to the small scale.
The quarter is built of two basic beats, one of which is considerably more subdivided than the other. The undivided one on the right is also the only panel on the entire spread to span the whole of a vertical page quarter. That panel is the swing note of the layout, the thing that stands out in order to bring the rule-sets of everything else into sharper focus.
I'd like to further zoom in on the quarter-of-the-quarter here and examine the mechanics of that little three panel choke-and-cough motion, because there's another hinge hidden there, I think. It's one of the basic rhythms of storytelling (and kind of of the universe at large) to establish a dynamic and then invert it, and that's absolutely what seems to be going on in this little quarter-of-a-quarter portion of the larger spread.
Fiffe takes two panels to establish the one-two of the peanut-into-mouth and moment-of-realization head-icon views, then doubles the size of the icon and shifts the angle of the head by 90 degrees around an imaginary fulcrum within the page space, tangent to the angle it was previously at, and coinciding with the forward motion of the head within the scene.
Some of the most basic mechanics of comics storytelling, with the transitions here, and yet many comics don't even bother with techniques such as these across a whole page, let along a quarter-of-a-quarter of one.
Skill and brio, yo.
Two small beats off to the left, one big beat off to the right.
Two half notes and a whole note.
Dun... dun... DUN!
It's just basic visual rhythms, holographically encoded. As above so below; fractals; visual self-reference; etc, etc.
Because even though I've been selling it that way, it's not really a wholly divorced, isolated little entity on the page. It still fits with all the usually patterns.
It's got a hinge, it's got left-to-right energy, it's got eye-movement to in-panel-movement correlations. It's got the standard holographically compressed "X" across the main of the quarter-composition, and it's got at least three trackable floating-point-icons which allow for a very broad range of visual network interpretation (you'll have to wait for the next How to Read Comics post for a proper explanation of that one.)
It is a perfectly composed little visual symphony on the page, a miniature fortune of interpretive graphic information.
This is simplest of the all the quarters, yet it's also where the chorus rises up again and where the symmetry of the larger composition is echoed and completed, and where the quality of the piece is ultimately tested, and found to be worthy.
We've got two panels of of the same held shot (get it? see, he's being hel- never mind...), with the echo/chorus/inversion/reflection of the page's larger earlier establishing shot between those two panels, and with a close-up eye-sliver to contrast the visual zoom-out of the chorus's return.
We've got two nigh-identical beats, a returning chorus and an inversion of the chorus's zoom-out idiom to end things.
And as I've been saying, without a reminder of where we are in the larger spatial sense, the page would fail. We'd have been in too close, the feeling too claustrophobic. After a bunch of action-to-action panel transitions, with only the slightest of pauses for the glasses-reflection panel, the page needed to breathe.
To decompress and step back a little.
The inversion of the orientation of the boat-dock-sea icon to face leftward allows Fiffe to kill many birds with a single stone in that panel: The directional orientation, and the color and the structure of the boat-dock-sea icon itself all bring us back to the establishing shot of the whole page; the inversion of icon-orientation allows the first panel to be recalled without off-putting, cold, perfect, precision; the inversion provides the swing. The inversion also allows for the upper-left to lower-right energy to continue all the way across the tier and create further shape echoes across the tier as well.
So many birds.
Alright, as usual, and adhering to the rules of symmetry, back to the large scale at the end of things here, to draw the through-lines and make the final notes. First of the last things: the basic structural tension inherent in the spread's layout and how that tension contributes to the upper-left to lower-right energy of the piece.
As you can see, the left-quarters split just above the page's mid-line (the darker orange line), and the right-quarters split far below the page's mid-line. This shifts the orientation of the whole page into the upper-left to lower-right dynamic, along the line connecting the middle splits of the quarters (the blue line).
In effect, this slightly tilts the mid-line of the page, and the weight of the composition along with it. The eye and mind, natural comparison machines, compare left to right, with the visual "expansion" of the top-right quarter pushing down on the whole spread, further bolstering, via the tension of the layout itself, the dominant upper-left to lower-right energy.
Alright, I think that's it for me on this one. I missed quite a lot; the spread is deeply encoded. But I think I'm a bit better at this. The taxonomies, both visual and terminological, seem to be accreting and solidifying rather well. The efficient methods slowly making themselves clear.
Anyway, this post is really late, and really jumbled, so I might as well just cut the thing here.
Enjoy the leftover images!
written with many, many thanks to the amazing Michel Fiffe,
and of course with many, many thanks to the
incredibly patient reader, as well!