mapping comics round 002
zegas number one; pgs 14 & 15

Zegas Number One by Michel Fiffe; Middle Spread

Into the deep end to start with, here. A beautiful Zegas One spread from Fiffe, full of energy and tension; like all masterful work seemingly elegant and simple, but of course with many, many layers of supportive meaning and structure holding it up. As with all the pages I'll be spotlighting in Mapping Comics, Fiffe adheres to the usual harmonic alignments, and only a few notes on ratio are needed before we move into full on-examination mode. See, Zegas is an 8½"x11" book and doesn't adjust its inner borders to alter that at all, which means it's working with a native 1.3 ratio, closer to bande dessinĂ©e and euro comics than the usual 6⅝"x10⅛" dimension of American comics, which are themselves at a much taller native 1.53 ratio. What this means in practice for Zegas and for other magazine/euro format comics is that their geometry and mapping are just a tad different.

Oh all the basic rules are the same of course, and you could work your map as though you had a perfect 1:1½ vesica picis to pull from and the "sound" wouldn't be too far off, but I'd rather just pull from the ratios we've got here and see what comes out the other side that way. I'm no pro at this or anything, I just try to see what happens. So, the spread ... yeah. I'll just throw out my initial gut reactions to it then move in to pick closer at things as I get going.

We've got an upper-left to bottom-right energy at work overall (a very useful thing to do in comics written in languages that also are read the same way), with a very strong symmetry and balance to the whole, a pair of dueling vanishing points, and a strong initial visual hinge/hardpoint. There's shape/color echoes all over the place and excellent negative space management and overall eye direction in general. Fiffe cuts the page horizontally on the thirds line for the bottom tier (which, due to the lack of a 1:1½ ratio, does not make square panels the way it would with said ratio) and cuts horizontally almost on the quarters line, making the almost-squares for the 6-note alignment along the top of the spread.

This twin 3-1-2 beat is the base panel structure of the whole:

Within that inner base structure, Fiffe then follows several different approaches to the creation of his reading experience. The usual left-to-right top-to-bottom reading pattern is respected of course, but the larger, non-linear, reading pattern of the spread is respected as well. Emily Zegas appears in each of the upper corners of the spread with the remaining four upper panels taken up by the street vendor’s head. The street vendor’s head is surrounded by black, Emily’s the natural hue of the paper and highlights of her signature color. Below, this is slightly inverted, with the heavy black in the corners of the page and the remaining middle panels with the natural paper-hue in the backgrounds. Of course the heaviest blacks are on the left, with the lighter-weight ink-area on the right. This shifts the negative space and the energy of the page off to the bottom-right. Upper-left to bottom-right energy. The generation of momentum. Then the making of rhythm within that momentum.

Staying with the top and bottom tiers for the moment: all have a clear center-focus. Some along the top have some swing to the focus, sure, but the center focus is still clear. (Note: the concept of the swung note, or off-beat rhythms, or syncopation or what have you, will be a recurring theme on this blog.) 

Along the top, the faces provide the obvious center focus with an upward swing, with the left half of the tier reading with eye-flicks up and down ‘tween the dialogue and the faces, and the right half of the tier reading with an obvious inversion/subversion of the dynamic just-established on the left, with the focus moving slowly down from above. (Note: basic inversion/subversion of idioms and dynamics will also be a recurring theme here.) That inversion creates an upper-left to lower-right dynamic, with the last caption box on the right dropping down to get closer to the one below it, or to “cut the corner” of the page itself, so to speak. Check its opposite, its inversion, too: the lower-left-hand corner. It’s “cut in” as well, directing the eye away from the corner of the page with a harsh 45 degree slash.

This fits the visual energy patterns of the the whole bottom tier, in fact. Each panel of which operates on a simple four-point “X” pattern. From left to right: the first panel has the balloons along the top points, the empty spot in the bottom-left point and the the vendor in the bottom-right point. This panel has the loosest adherence to the pattern, as bringing it into the rhythm too much would extend the pattern too far to the left, losing the momentum and the energy. The panel is further segregated from the tier’s dominant rhythm via its colors and aforementioned heavy blacks.

BUT, again, as previously mentioned, there’s still the obvious inversion/reflection/echo of the lower-left panel, over on the lower-right. But I’m getting ahead of myself here, as there’s just so many echoes and reflections and harmonies all over this spread.

Okay, from left to right along the bottom: the first panel has a loose adherence to the tier’s dominant rhythm, set as even more of a visual standout via hue and value, and which is inverted/subverted/reflected/echoed in the opposite corner. The second panel then further coheres the rhythm, with three very clear points mapping to the “X”: the head, the money and the balloon. The last point, the bag, rests just out of frame, just off-beat. The third panel of the tier fully coheres the four-point “X” which immediately establishes a visual cross-rhythm. Your eye goes from caption to caption, tangent to the connection between the hands. In the last panel of the tier, Fiffe uses the just-established four-point “X” structure to good use, with the surprise snatch of the money echoing the exact same visual rhythm as the caption-reading experience of the previous panel and, of course, continuing the dominant left-right visual momentum.

Not only that, but the money is actually handed toward the natural center of the whole page in the third panel, and when snatched is also, naturally, snatched away from the center as well. This into-the-center-out-of-the-center movement, combined with the moment-to-moment direct sequence of the last two panels, and the built-up momentum and energy of the whole spread make for a very powerful pictorial ending beat.

Such beautiful visual tension to this comic. It is virtuoso work.

Alright, I’ve talked the top and bottom tiers, time to go in for the two middle panels. And boy, those are a doozy. Ostensibly we’re dealing with a pair of dueling vanishing points here, but that’s actually not quite the case. We’re dealing with a broken perspective and a hinge situation here. Visual hinge; something for the eye to hook onto and swing off of. In this case, in keeping with the adherence to the left-right energy, the hinge is in the upper left and the eye moves ever-outward from there. That this coincides with the natural western-trained tendency to look to the upper-left as the “start” of a piece of paper, is actually, of course, no coincidence at all; it aids in the reading experience.

The left-hand panel’s vanishing point is just about at the little triangle of dark yellow at the bottom of the jacket of the person throwing away the trash in the background. That spot is set aboout on the rule-of-thirds line for the panel, i.e. off to the left. Left-right energy again. Everything moves out/in along the lines of the vanishing point in a drawing that has one. This of course creates a path for the eye, in this case moving in and out from the left side of the page. If you were to draw in a grid for the ground-plane in the drawing, you’d have more ink on the right-hand side of the vanishing point. More energy there, emerging from the singular point of origin on the left.

This is of course, all disrupted (sent off-beat; note-swung; what have you) with the right-hand panel. In the right-hand panel the perspective is actually broken. There is no vanishing point! The lines are all parallel to each other! They’ll never meet in a singular point of focused visual energy! But despair we not! For energy and momentum there is still!

The relatively shallow angle of the food stall and the vehicle behind it (as well as the street and everything else in the damn panel) force the eye into that same upper-left to bottom-right motion, with the heavy black along the bottom further adding to the effect. This same angle, if carried in an imaginary line from the food stall to the antenna type thing cutting-in the corner of the panel, is more or less the same angle established by an imaginary line drawn from the vanishing point of the left-hand panel to Emily and then to the man waiting. Echoes and reflections and swung-alignments everywhere.

Furthermore, the basic negative spaces of the two middle panels echo and align. De-focus your eyes a just bit (or, if you're like me, just take off your glasses) and then look at the spread again.

Actually, nevermind, here:

Plus, there’s a big hole in the middle of the page with no dialogue. The eye snakes around the page, emigrating hurriedly across the middle gutter from the bottom-middle, disrupting the reading flow, and then starting the same 3-1-2 rhythm over again, in cracked reflection, or in fractured echo, of itself.

Again, virtuoso shit.

A couple of final notes on the relationship between the two middle panels. Imagine, if you will, you were able to reach into the drawing on the left and grab the vanishing point and move it around (or just do the mouse-over thing with the image above). Now imagine moving it somewhere just about an inch and a half or so above the whole magazine’s upper left-hand corner. Notice any alignments? You’re on the extended line of the food stall and the vehicle behind it. Hell, I can almost feel the perspective lines rise into the upper-left and separate, the objects in the foreground seeming to shrink away to the bottom-right and the objects in the background shift higher, closer to us, into the upper left, as whole camera itself zooms out, and the perspective slowly breaks.

It’s as though the whole grounding and perspective of the scene pivots around the crucial fulcrum that is Emily Zegas. Which, of course, the scene doesBoth metaphorically and spatially.

I said this was virtuoso shit, right?

Alright, back to the macro scale of things before the end, here. Let’s talk about hinges. The hinge in the spread here is, as stated earlier, in the upper left corner. But, assuming it’s there, what’s makes it? What holds it up; builds it? Visual hinges are made of alignments. Many disparate elements aligned to radiate out from a point, usually the point associated with the beginning of the “reading” of a page (i.e. the upper-left-hand corner for us in the West), are what makes a visual hinge. As usual with these things, the alignment is never perfect, there’s always a swing, an off-beat, and if it was perfect in alignment, your eye would immediately reject it as being “too perfect”, as having cold mathematical precision, but no character, no warmth of the human hand in error-filled creation.

So the hinge here is aligned only enough for the fuzzy logic of the whole to “take”. And honestly, I'm not entirely sure that the concept is wholly sound. In reality the concept seems to be more of an overlapping of two other things rather than a thing unto itself. I dunno, the idea needs work-shopping, but I think there's something in them thar hills.

That about does it here, I think. That’s the map of the spread. What its tricks seem to be and an exploration of how it seems to do them. Unless I fucked up and got it all wrong somehow, which is entirely within the realm of possibility. There’s more to explore of course, but not a whole lot more under the umbrella of “mapping”. There’s plenty of interesting brushwork and character design and cartooning on display, and the color work is great, but yeah, I think that’s it on this one.

Enjoy the few leftover images!

With many thanks of course to Michel Fiffe, and with,
of course, many thanks to you, the reader, as well!

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