Robot 6

Your Wednesday Sequence 29 | Jaime Hernandez

Love & Rockets: New Stories #4 (2011), page 89.  Jaime Hernandez.

I don’t think I’m advancing anything too controversial when I say that if there’s a Platonic ideal for the comic book page, it’s a piece of sequential art that works both as an assemblage of individual panels and as a single, unified artwork.  This, of course, is a lot easier said than done.  When gridded layouts are discarded to turn the page into a poster-style piece of op-art there’s always some readability being sacrificed, and the grid is all too often a vehicle for cartoonists to work inside without paying sufficient consideration to what sum their page’s parts are creating.

Jaime Hernandez squares that circle in the page above, a slice of comics that flows like fine wine from panel to panel but stands rock solid as a full-page unit.  The basic conceit of the page is that it isn’t unified by a dual identity as one single picture or any fancy layout tricks, but an immediate, cohesive sense of motion that every panel supports completely.  It’s not always beneficial for comics to be “pictures that move”, but Jaime is a classicist through and through, perhaps the purest one in comics right now.  Every panel here is story information above all, a drawing that communicates something of substance as clearly and crisply as possible.  That’s true of pretty much everything Jaime’s drawn for the past two decades, but on this page the story is bracingly simple, and every panel works toward a common goal: closing the perceived space between the characters inhabiting two separate frames.

That’s a lot easier said than done, considering there isn’t a great deal of space on even the largest of printed comics pages .  Certainly not the few miles Jaime wants his audience to feel here.  And the gutters between panels are a constant on the page as well: stacked two to a tier, the placement of the individual boxes themselves doesn’t do anything to bring their subjects closer together.  It’s the pictures that are doing all the work.  Panel one gives us two figures as far away from one another as they can get within this grid, with an expanse of white negative space between them that’s almost uncomfortable to dwell on too long.  Most panels don’t leave this much blank, and there’s a real shock to seeing two that do arranged so that the vast majority of the full tier they make up contains no drawing whatsoever.  The only lines bridging that area are the two verticals of the panel borders, rigid and non-negotiable.  The eye sees an immense chasm between the figures, about as much space as can be had on this page.  It’s a long way.

The second tier begins to close the gap by moving the figures closer to one another and pulling the camera back to show the space they’ve moved through.  The horizontal lines behind them and the pitch-perfect body language Jaime employs convey their closing of the gap; the addition of the horizontal line of the doors and door-frames still between them provides evidence of a large amount of space still to be moved through.  When those doors give way to the horizontals of the cars in the third tier, so close they almost form a single vehicle, we’re suddenly so much closer, though the figures have only moved a few centimeters.  The final tier is a beautiful bit of multitasking, bringing the figures so close together that they’re almost touching while also leading the reader’s eye onto the next page by providing a clear line from the pivotal center point to the extreme right of the final panel: we, like Ray, look over to see who’s talking.

It’s a beautiful example of comics achieving exactly what they set out to do, without a single line or formal gesture out of place.  The overall directionality of this page, like Jaime’s drawings, is both complex and refreshingly simple: a classic triangular composition that discards the left-to-right motion of just about every comics page under the sun for a focus on the center, everything rushing toward the axis provided by the gutterspace splitting the middle.  It’s a wonderful meeting of form and content: a completely unified page on the subject of unification, a single unit made up of eight perfectly chosen, gorgeously cartooned panels, each one complete in itself as a composed single drawings.  This is comics at the highest level, with nothing wasted and everything on the page done as well as it possibly could be.

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Comments

17 Comments

“This is comics at the highest level”

about middle aged people and their mundane lives.

Yeah, fuck normal middle-aged people.

???

Yeah, this sequence stood out so much I had to show my wife immediately. The pages showing them growing up from the other person’s perspective and this page were astonishing uses of the art form.

Also works wonderfully at setting up the mirror sequence a few pages later.

Damn this was a good book; I think I’ll have to give it a reread to catch everything.

Frankly I think I’ll have to give the entire Locas run a reread to catch everything in that issue.

Steven R. Stahl

October 20, 2011 at 8:26 am

about middle aged people and their mundane lives.

I’m guessing that mckracken is either uninterested in the material or doesn’t see the point of writing a comics story about mundane lives. Unfortunately, as excellent as Hernandez’s techniques are, they won’t make the material interesting by themselves. As Basque commented on 10/18, superhero comics fans want excellent superhero stories and, in line with genre fiction preferences, won’t care about stuff in other genres.

SRS

This column is for people interested in comics. I could care less about genre fiction.

I like superheroes a lot, in any format. I love superhero comics. I love comics even more than that (whatever genre / subject matter – really, even romance and cooking). But above all, I love Xaime’s work. No question: it’s a massive and unique achievement in literature any way you look at it.

Then, everything is a genre: this is mundane fiction.

(and the only modern superhero comics i can stomach are Morrison’s)

“about middle aged people and their mundane lives.”

Tut tut tut.

They’re well made, well written, and compelling for anyone with a couple of brain cells to rub together, comics about middle aged people and their mundane lives.

“As Basque commented on 10/18, superhero comics fans want excellent superhero stories and, in line with genre fiction preferences, won’t care about stuff in other genres.”

Yeah. They’re kind of stupid that way.

Steven R. Stahl

October 21, 2011 at 8:53 am

Yeah. They’re kind of stupid that way.

Perhaps you’re not implying that genre fiction fans generally are stupid, but — There’s no reason to think that genre fiction fans are any less intelligent than comics fans with eclectic tastes. They read for entertainment and mental stimulation. If a favorite author has a new book out, or a new mystery seems interesting, reading that instead of a book by an unfamiliar author/artist in an unfamiliar genre is an eminently sensible decision. Getting a book only because it’s been critically acclaimed, without any preexisting interest in the material, smacks of elitism. I picked up LOVE AND ROCKETS: NEW STORIES #1 yesterday at the LCS to satisfy my curiosity about the Hernandez brothers’ storytelling. It’s been satisfied.

SRS

You pickeed up the one with a superhero team and ouldn’t find anything to interest you?

uuuuuuuuuugggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhh

Oh, I have no doubt genre fans know how to tie their own shoes and can, maybe, hold down a job, Steve.

But viewing people who tell you there’s more to the medium than Spider-Man as elitists? Looking down on great craftsmanship because there’s not some asshole in spandex within the panels? That’s stupid.

Not “learnin’”-stupid. Just stupid-stupid.

I really, really need to get off my behind and purchase the collected works.

While the right side is a reflection of the left side, there is a also progression going on panel by panel. Maggie hasn’t reached the door while Ray has. Maggie hasn’t reached her car while Ray has. While Maggie is driving, Ray is distracted in his driving.

Eyeball Origami

October 22, 2011 at 8:58 pm

An astute reading of a page from one of the great storytellers of our time. Thanks for running it.

I live in a town where no one has heard of Love & rockets. it’s driving me crazy that I keep reading praise for this issue but can’t buy a copy and read it. But next time I’m in the big city….

Man, that is a great page.
And what an acute, lucid write-up. Nice one, Mr. Seneca.
I’m also enjoying Leocomix’s addition.
This page is both formally satisfying, and character driven. Composition and narrative excuisitely integrated.
Really beautiful.

One trivial correction:
“the addition of the horizontal line of the doors and door-frames still between them ”
That should be vertical.
Other than that tiny slip-up, this is as close to perfection as I need a Wednesday sequence to be.

“Middle aged people and their mundane lives,”
Yes, indeed, that is the subject matter here.
One that is timeless in any medium and, when handled with such mastery, will always hold a special fascination.
For most adults, at least.

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