Robot 6

Your Wednesday Sequence 17 | Marcos Martin

The Amazing Spider-Man Sunday Spectacular (2011), pages 5-6 panels 4-7.  Marcos Martin.

The basic motivating idea behind comics art is “pictures that move.”  The whole point of sequence is to force readers into seeing motion between images, to position individual pictures as the captured points of larger, extended passages of movement.  That said, on the printed page “pictures that move” is an obvious oxymoron.  The stillness of drawn images is one of the most fundamental problems that comics have to work against, and as with other non-negotiable truths of the medium like its lack of ability to produce sound or light, pretty much every artist of note has come up with a slightly different way to overcome it.

One of the more convincing ways to imply real motion is with layout.  An individual drawing can communicate a single motion wonderfully when it’s done right, but beyond that it’s limited, unable to do more than pin down one small section of time.  When individual drawings are put together they form a string of single moments, single actions, but it’s the way they’re put together that determines whether or not that string reads as something continuous, unbroken.  At its best, layout amplifies the motion implied by the drawings it holds, smoothing out the gaps between them and forcing the reader to stitch them together into one unified whole.

That’s exactly what Marcos Martin does in the spread above, using an ingenious layout that turns a single panel into a greatly extended length of time while avoiding the hiccups in flow that the breaks and camera-angle switchups between panels always cause.  Martin sets a long progression of individual drawings against a single background, emphasizing the conflict between the stillness of the setting and the movements of the character within it.  It’s motion as we experience it in real life: from a fixed perspective, not the editorial omniscience that passages of panel-to-panel cutting affords.  Martin creates sequence within a single image to sell the motion in his pictures, leading readers through it along the exact same path his character takes.

So meticulously choreographed is the arc the figure traces across the room that there’s simply no reading this as the typical “snapshot” type of comics panel.  It’s almost too easy for the eye to follow, a long lazy ‘U’ shape with an immediately obvious beginning (Spider-man costume), middle (boxer shorts), and end (normal clothing).  Martin leaves as little of the space between his images as possible up to the reader’s imagination, showing us the exact route to take through the panel, turning the unremarkable subject of “guy walks around his apartment” into a vehicle for strikingly innovative sequencing.  The question of clarity is made largely irrelevant when we can see everything happening diagramatically, within a single fixed frame.  And just in case readers might think there are seven guys milling around Peter Parker’s apartment, Martin drops three inset panels to act as a kind of chorus, showing the amount of time his sequence takes up in a more familiar way.

It’s precisely because of the banality of the subject that this little bit of comics works as well as it does.  We’ve all done this kind of meandering through our living space a million times — well, minus climbing in the window, maybe — and Martin makes it seem fresh and new by stripping away the panel-to-panel “comics” aspect of the sequence and showing it with as much naturalism as possible.  Even when the between-panel cutting brings readers into a more intimate understanding of what they’re seeing play out in front of them, it also creates a subtle remove, the sense that this isn’t the way you’d actually see it happen in real life.  Martin’s sequence, on the other hand, shows it as it goes.

More than that, though, this sequence is an excuse for its artist to indulge in a virtuosic display of figure drawing.  The bird’s eye view is one of the most difficult to compose a convincing human figure from, and Martin just about annihilates the challenge, cutting perfect musculature and drapery into spot-on silhouettes with a few fluid ink lines.  This is the traditional way of selling motion in comics: the creation of lively, self-consistent, completely convincing forms whose graceful poses and subtle gestures seem pulled directly from life itself.  Even within the most ingenious structure, it always takes capable drawings like these to communicate the message.  Adding one to the other, though, makes it just about as good as it gets.

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Comments

10 Comments

Great analysis! Alan Moore and JH Williams did something very similar in Promethea. Supposedly the influence was Hitchcock.

Regardless of whether it’s true or not, you bring up an interesting point that it’s only effective when it’s detailing an everyday mundane routine, reminding us all that comics are an interactive medium and we actually do have to work a certain degree to see it really move.

What’s neat too is that the rooms themselves become panels and the walls become the panel borders.

I think that the layout is fascinating and clever and pretty and all, but I REALLY love the fact that Marvel promoted good bathroom habits by taking the time to show us Peter Parker washing his hands after using the toilet. I’ve never ONCE seen Batman flossing his teeth or Clark Kent lift and lower the seat in DC’s comics.

whoa whoa whoa, “after using the toilet”? i just thought he was washing off web residue

anybody wanna chime in with their opinion on this issue?

I agree that this is fantastic. Marcos Martin is easily one of the best artists working at Marvel currently. And did I hear somewhere that he is involved with the newly relaunching DAREDEVIL?

Artists who experiment with layout or use it to enhance or alter narrative are fascinating to me. I haven’t caught every installment of “Your Wednesday Sequence” so far but I look forward to it. JH Williams III, Chris Ware and Frank Miller’s SIN CITY should all be featured. Kudos on a great column!

Also, I don’t know if it was the colorist or Marcos Martin, but the sunlight on the floor from the windows, complete with Spidey’s silhouette, is a really impressive touch.

I love Martin’s stuff, he’s great at this kind of thing, I can’t wait to see him unleash it on DD.

Better scan here: http://img713.imageshack.us/img713/3938/scanxx.jpg

This is a great sequence and Marcos Martin is one of the best mainstream artists out there. Marvel have really allowed this guy to blossom. I buy the comic pretty much for his artwork alone. The storylines are nothing special, but he is a major talent.

It’s interesting that writers are now the main media stars in comics, but I still can’t read a ‘name’ writer, say, like Matt Fraction, if the art is crap. Are writers really the ‘authors’ of the comics and the artists only their ‘illustrators’?
I wonder how much of this sequence was scripted or cooked up by the team together?

The Angriest Dog in the World

July 7, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I disagree about the basic motivation of comics art being the illustation of movement.
Sometimes it’s just the creating the effect of time passing, without physical change occurring, and sometimes it’s showing you different views without even the suggestion of time.
Obviously many accomplishments have been made in response to the challenge of portraying action, but some styles and some stories simply don’t require that effect.
I’m glad Mr. Seneca said it though, it’s interesting to consider the exceptions (both concrete and speculative) to his rule.
Always a thought-provoking read.

Slott and Martin must be using “Marvel Method” on this comic, because while I like Slott well enough, it’s hard to believe he actually scripted something as great as this.

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