Normally comics criticism focuses on entire series, issues, or (at the very least) pages. However, sometimes you need to devote some space to one very special moment or zero in on one particular element. Whether it’s a single panel or a short sequence, there are brief snippets of comics that deserve to be examined for their own properties. That’s why each week in SNAPSHOT, Hassan be giving these excellent panels/elements their due.
There’s quite a lot that goes into the craft of comic making, right? And if we were to list our favourite creators, who would they be? The vast majority are going to give back an answer of writer or penciler. Few would name a colourist. Even less an inker.
Anyone mention a letterist?
Each time you join us in this column, I want to take a look at some of the under-appreciated work going on right under your nose in comics every single week. I’ll pick out a couple of pages from a book I’ve been reading and help show some of the extra layers of work that might go unseen.
This week I wanted to show you some of Wonder Woman #2, and what Jodi Wynne is doing to help elevate the storytelling in that issue.
At the start of a story, you get a couple of pages to establish the world. To let the audience know what we’re doing here. If you start your comic out with a child in their bedroom, you tell the reader this is our reality – so then if you turn the page and the kid suddenly gets transported to a fantasy realm, we understand that this is all crazy and new for him. Similarly if you establish the world is all muted tones of grey, and then suddenly throw some vibrant neon green in a page, you signpost that this is different, unexpected.
So when Jodi Wynne letters her first page of Wonder Woman #2 like this:
We understand that’s how people talk. It’s a standard speech bubble, capitalised text and bold for occasional words of note. As mentioned, this establishes the world, and so when we turn the page and see this spread, we immediately notice how these women speak.
As you can see, there’s an extra line around the speech bubble, and the font is also italicised. The book is asking us to understand that they sound different here, and adds a level of power. It reads to me like a regular bubble wouldn’t be enough, Wynne has to double down on the speech bubbles because one would break with the power of the words (like double-bagging our food at Tesco). The italics seem to add weight, too.
If we run down a couple of style types with the same sentence, you can see the impact.
“Hello, I’m a dog.”
“Hello, I’m a dog.”
“Hello, I’m a dog.”
Italics add a point of interest to the word but without the weight of bold text – which can be interpreted as anger or adding extra “oomph” into it. If we think about how we might use italics normally, specifically to emphasise something in written language – and so to have all of their speech be italicised feels like every word out of their mouths is important, is forceful, is impactful. That’s adding so much to the characterisation of these Amazons – purely by italicising their speech. How cool is that?
This double-page spread then utilises that to great effect. Comics are all about juxtaposition. Panels next to panels, and the difference between them. It’s what creates movement, motion, story, emotion: everything. And so when you have a page like this, that places “normality” next to the Amazons, you’re repeatedly making a point, over and over again, about the content next to each other.
So we have a prime example of how important speech bubbles are to storytelling. Look at the difference. By just changing only those two things – added lines and italics – Wynne is asking you to notice that difference, and try to understand what it means. How it makes the informal language of the people in the regular world different from the slanted dialogue of the Amazons. Greg Rucka – the writer – is drawing a comparison between these social events, and how they work in each location, and Wynne is reinforcing that with her speech bubbles.
It may seem simple, and of course very noticeable, but the power of comics is that you can’t hear this bubble. You have to imagine it. So Wynne needs to alter the bubble in a certain way to get you to feel that difference in speech – she can’t just make the voice of the actor an octave lower and speed it up as you could with film, and Rucka can’t be as on-the-nose as having another character say, “Hey, those Amazon’s sure speak with authority, right?”. So the job comes to Jodie Wynne to add depth to these characters by the simplicity of altering their speech bubbles.
God, I love comics.
For more of Hass’ insight into the art of comics, check out his video review series Strip Panel Naked on YouTube.