Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. Except for these next few weeks. The tables have turned onto the other foot as Chase unwinds from his recent wedding, and it falls to him to question and Mark to answer. Chase doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Mark. In fact, he might just ask him about things he knows nothing about just to watch him squirm.
What is best in (comics) life?
Just the other day, I posted a Bill Sienkiewicz Moon Knight page on Twitter to point out just how cool I thought it was. It’s a 9-panel, polyptych which means that a single image/tableau is divided up by each of those 9 panels. The page shows geography, depth, and movement as Moon Knight starts at the top left position on the page and circles around the page clockwise, ascending a series of platforms to evade a villain’s gunfire. A few people liked and retweeted my very obvious appraisal of this awesome page, but then the best thing in comics life happened: someone looked at it and had a different take on it.
I fucking love a good polyptych comics page. Geography, movement, depth… You get it all on this page: pic.twitter.com/Zdjust4Jcw
— Mark! A Vagrant (@MarkOStack) April 24, 2017
Artist PJ Holden (Dredd, Tanks) thought the page would work better without gutters dividing the page into a 9-panel grid. No stranger to reading comics, he argued that the grid was liable to create confusion because readers are likely to first try reading the panels in 1-2-3-4 order instead of following the clockwise motion. He colored in the gutters to create a facsimile of it as a splashpage:
— PJ Holden (@pauljholden) April 24, 2017
Looking at it, I agreed with him! Without the gutters, I found it easier to focus on the figures and how the cape’s shape dictated the movement of the eye across the page. It reads to me as much faster than the print version of the page because I am no longer being encouraged to pause on each panel as a snapshot moment. It just reads straight through without the gutters. But, here’s the beautiful thing about comics, being a smoother/faster read doesn’t make this version of the page superior. It makes it better at doing something else.
The original page still works and arguably provides a greater emphasis on individual moments for the reader to pause at and track the character’s each new movement. That could have been something Sienkiewicz wanted readers to do; it’s a lovely page, I’d be bummed if I spent a lot of time working on it and readers blew threw it in a couple seconds without noticing much of the work. That’s one of those great things about comics (and art in general): there’s a degree to which you approach a work as something created with specific intent at every level on every step of production and interrogate each element as a choice. Bill Sienkiewicz didn’t accidentally draw the page in a way that reads slower than it would without gutters, he chose to do it that way and we can try to understand what his intent was in doing so. At least until we tweet him to ask about the page.
Personally, I like a middle ground for this page. I’d ditch the gutters with the exception of the center panel around the villain firing at Moon Knight. You still get the supreme speed and movement for Moon Knight but you also create a distance between him and the villain by placing him in a single panel that implies/emphasizes a difference in speed/movement between the two subjects. Even more than that, you literally have the visual of Moon Knight on the outskirts of the page literally surrounding the villain in his little panel as he runs out of ammunition. That makes Moon Knight an even more dominant presence on the page. Again, that’s not the right way to do the page, but it’s another way to create it for the purpose I would want it to serve.
That’s what I think is best in comics life: talking about comics with people.You can do this from any angle as a fan, a critic, and a creator. None of these roles are mutually exclusive, and I’d argue that the only real line between fans and critics are use of and access to platforms. Any fan who notes how cool something in a Sienkiewicz page is has become a critic. If that person draws a three-page strip in stick figures then they’ve become a creator. There are some barriers but they’re relatively easy ones to leap over when compared to creating other media. Everyone potentially has something to contribute to the conversation through their insights and/or their own creations.
It can be rare to find. The internet is unfortunately full of people who will search for their name and sometimes harass people if they have anything negative to say about their work. That’s a concern that certainly limits how and what some people talk about publicly. But every now and then you can find yourself in a conversation where no one is worried about that, the magical exchange of ideas happens, and you get excited about the possibilities that these people have opened up to you.