mapping comics 004
sailor twain; page unknown

So I'm reading the Comics Reporter's Year-End Interviews when this sucker pops out at me. I'd not really seen any art from Mark Siegel's Sailor Twain yet, having only heard his Inkstuds interview, but I'd no idea it was this good.  I could stare at this page forever, it is so fucking well done. I want a mural of this page, I swear. So yeah, I'll follow the usual Mapping Comics structure, here: ratios, visceral reactions, then billyin' on in close. Sailor Twain the book is at 6" x 8½" which makes its operating ratio 1.42, just off the vesica picis, with a slightly enlarged middle-iris shape from the 1.5 ratio. I've not read the book, but Siegel doesn't seem to have a hard and fast grid approach, allowing the layout to move around however it will. The basic grid of the page is as below: 

Five basic beats, two above, three below. It is a simple and effective layout, not about action or movement, but about mood and feel. And all you need for that is just some space and the barest bit of tension to release into the space, not grand panel experiments.

To properly divine the tension in the layout here, we'll have to return to the ol' swing-note and the idea of patterned reactions to established dynamics. If there is no hard and fast grid to be the back-beat of the comic (3-Panel, 4-Panel, 6-Panel, 8-Panel, etc) the it's up to the artist to establish a rhythm on each page. Each approach has its pros and cons of course and there's a hell of a lot of grey area, with folks using a grid as a back-beat and then swinging the gutters and panel sizes a little here or there to create variety.

(Dig out your old THB issues, boys and girls, Pope mostly uses a heavily swung 8-Panel grid there. We will return to this in future.)

So, what does Siegel establish here? And how?

Well, the top tier is where the tension begins. And I don't mean tension like anxiety, I mean like a physical object under pressure. The page as a whole has the standard vesica picis powered circles-in-tension, with the top tier riding along the square made by the bottom three panels, and wider-than average gutters. The top tier of the page also divides with a noticeable lack of alignment or resonance with any other element. It's not on the thirds line or the middle line or the quarter line; it doesn't make the far-right panel a square. It's nothing but swing-note. The same goes for the bottom three panels, all of which are slightly different widths, none of which are wider than the top tier is tall.

All these things: the square made by all three tall panels together, the wider than average gutters, the lack of alignment or resonance in the panel widths, and even the height of the panels in the top tier in comparison to the width of those in the bottom tier, combine together to almost make the layout shake.

And that's before the compositional elements are even introduced. 

There just so many ways that the page can be visually interpreted. The image hardpoints are intertwined so deeply that you can latch on to any of the icon-structures and network your eyes across the image in an infinite variety of harmonious ways.

So many inversions, so many dynamic relationships; yet such simplicity. 

You could stand here and visually network the image over and over again, each time getting a different reading experience of the fictional super-position of the space and emotion circumscribed by the page.

Alright, I'm gonna run through the rest of this quick here.

The first panel has considerable depth, suggesting even mountain ranges and a second ship in the background, but the use of heavy values removes a range of gradiating contrast and so suggests far less depth in the foreground. These heavy values with lack of smooth gradation also contribute to the creation of a heavy hinge and larger upper black shape to act as the visual anchor of the page. This first panel also introduces the first two of our only three trackable floating point icon structures: the steamboat and the rain.

The steam from the steamboat also noticeably "cuts-in" the corner, aligning with the curve of the circles-in-tension; and the shape of the steamboat itself even aligns wavily with the mountains in the background and wavy lines of the water in panel two.

As always, there's more to be said about that first panel, but that's most of it.

Second panel.

The beginning of the chorus of the piece. And also introducing our last trackable icon (the water) which itself actually continues the wavy line describing the boat and the mountains from the first panel. But the wavy line describing the boat and the mountains is not the only bridging element between panels one and two, there's actually the rain as well, which falls across the two panels (and the fourth as well) as though the gutters aren't even there. The rain appears in panels three and five as well, but swung in panel three and altered into a wholly different icon in panel five.

The chorus of the rain only beats out consistently across the first, the fourth, and here, the second, panels.

There's even a subtle depth to panel two here, with the both the closeness of the wave crests and the darkness of the panel itself increasing the closer your eye gets to its top. 

Alright, third panel. 

Contrast. All contrast. Two of our icons return to contribute to the beat, with a white, light, emptiness to the middle of the panel and the heavy blacks at the top and the bottom. In effect, this pulls both the top and bottom of the panel toward our eyes, with the clouds managing somehow to actually loom over us, despite being way off in the distance.

That's contrast at work.

The rain inverts its angle so as not to slide the eye out of the page with a too-dominant angle. The "water" is left light and empty to not pull it too close to the eye, out of the heavy contrast dynamic, past the figure in the foreground. This same lightness contributes to a sense of shifting time and place and weather when the boat icon is read in the panel, since the last time we saw the boat, it was surrounded by darkness, not lightness.

Then there are the strange little raindrops-hitting-the-water marks that only appear to the right of the dock. Why make the marks only there, when the whole scene is rainy?

Well, I will tell you why: Composition.

If those marks weren't there or were everywhere, or even slowly faded out or appeared to the left of the dock or whatever, the eye would then be pulled into all the wrong places. If that space was empty, there'd be a huge hole where there shouldn't be. Your eye would get stuck right there in that trapped little corner. There had to be, at the very least, textural busy-ness to fill that compositional space. Oh, and the angle of the dock and the woman on it are echoed with the column and railing in the last panel, both of which are part of larger alignments within the page.

But you knew that one.

Fourth panel.

This is where the chorus comes back and where the page is completed. This is the panel that everything rests on. It has the most depth by a considerable margin, with the "camera" right down close-in on the water and the mountains looming over us in off in the misty distance. 

Heavy with the weight of accumulated association and existing within a non-linear, mood-oriented page, this panel is our true reading experience. It's the middle unit, literally. With no progression of actions or even (since it's on a blog) placement within a sequence of pages, the context shifts. Out of a Western-trained upper-left to lower-right reading experience and into single-unit art. This page, while quite clearly comics, demands to be read more like an etching or a block print or a silkscreen. I know I've digressed horribly, but that middle panel, like the same chorus panel I pointed out in Mapping Comics 003, is very important. 

Panel 4 here echoes other panels in the dictionary of the page with the rain, with the water, with the mountains, with the wide range of values, and with the very placement and alignment of the panel within the middle of the larger piece, the top of the mountain and the circle of the raindrop hitting the water acting as the top and bottom of two shallow pyramids.  

Not coincidentally, Panel 4 is also the widest of the panels in the bottom tier.

Now, fifth panel. 

We go from a panel of deep depth of field and detailed close-up, immediately to a stark middle-ground silhouette. We go from space and expanse and a sort of hazy warmth to an elimination of space and expanse and a cold barrier.  And our larger alignments and shapes are respected, of course. At the bottom, the railing fits the line of the water down to the impact of the raindrop and above the roof continues the line of the clouds towards the mountaintop and the other tip of the imaginary pyramid. The background is also heavily ambiguous and patterned to so as not to echo with the lightness in the panel on the far left of the tier.

The value structures across the whole bottom tier and kept carefully separate and differently structured so as not to accidentally provide resonances or associations. We wouldn't want to be reading the fifth panel and suddenly have our eye bridge the value structure in the background of the column with the value structure of the water in the third panel. That'd be bad.

As always, I missed rather a lot in the image. 

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. Damn! That was impressive. Highly enjoyed this read and wish I could see these things for myself.