Monday, August 9, 2010

Looking-Glass Layout with Steve Ditko

I've moved on to reading all of the Lee-Ditko run on Amazing Spider-Man, and I want to take a break from the Kirby analysis by looking at Dikto's layout for page 16 of ASM #23:

I'm struggling for a vocabulary that would allow me to express what I'm seeing on this page that distinguishes Ditko from Kirby.  Perhaps the best way to express the distinction is that Ditko concentrates on motion within panels instead of motion between panels as we see in Kirby.  Ditko's characters don't flow as easily from panel to panel as Kirby's do; Ditko will often (in other issues of AMS) make radical shifts in viewpoint as he makes the transition between panels.  I can't recall Kirby making use of extradiegetic arrows to guide the reader's attention as happens in panels 6-8 of this page.  So a point for Kirby?  Maybe . . . but I still really love the layout of this page and find Dikto a dynamic artist.

What impresses me most about the page is Ditko's use of mirrored panels--not in the panels' contents, but in their shape and placement on the page.  The top half of the page (panels 1-4) is repeated in the bottom half of the page (panels 5-8), but in a way that creates an "X"-pattern.  The big panels 1 and 8 form one stroke of the X, while the little panel sequences 2-4 and 5-7 form the other stroke.  Put another way, Ditko takes the second set of panels and flips them left to right to generate the "X"-shape.

The contents of the panels support this structure: panels 1 and 8 are the only two to feature both Spidey and the Green Goblin.  In both panels, Spidey is positioned toward the outer edge of the panel while the Goblin occupies the inner edge (additional instances of mirroring across the y-axis of the page).  Spidey is upside down and swinging up and to the right in panel 1; in panel 8, he's still upside down, but now swinging down and to the left.  (He's also coming toward us in panel 8 while moving away from us back in panel 1.)  The Goblin leans left in panel 1 and right in panel 8, yet more mirroring.

Panels 2-3 and 5-6 are also mirrored panels, but this time they flip left across the y-axis of the page instead of right (as in the case of panels 1 and 8).  Panel 2 shows the Goblin's hand releasing a pumpkin bomb; panel 3, Spidey's hand shooting a web to block the bomb.  The diagonal line repeated in both panels (hand/bomb in panel 2, hand/web/bomb in panel 3) is then repeated yet again in panels 5-6.  However, this time, the characters have traded places: now it's Spidey who acts first in panel 5, and the Goblin who wards off the attack second in panel 6.

Panels 4 and 7 offer similar layouts yet utterly different contents.  In panel 4, it's Spidey who acts, tossing the pumpkin bomb behind him to his left (and our right).  In panel 7, it's the Goblin's turn: he pulls Spidey's web in the opposite direction (behind him to his right and to our left).  The curves formed by the motion lines of Spidey's arm in panel 4 and the web shape in panel 7 are mirror-images of one another.

So while Ditko does feel the need to clarify the diegetic sequence of the page's action with the arrows connecting panels 6-8, he nonetheless does a brilliant job of integrating the entire page through an innovative page layout.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Kirby's Legacy Lives On

I was reading Alan Moore's wonderful revamp of Rob Liefield's Supreme last night and came across a page by artist Rick Veitch that demonstrates Kirby's influence.  Of course, it's not particularly a surprise that this page is Kirbeyesque: the issue from which it's taken (issue #6 of Supreme: The Return) is an explicit homage to Kirby's lifework.  Nevertheless, Veitch's work here is more than a pastiche of Kirby's style, but a testament to his mastery of Kirby's layout techniques.  The page below is from a sequence in the comic where Supreme encounters a cigar-chomping "imagineer" who prefer to go by the sobriquet "King":

There's so much to love about this page.  Matt Yackey and Digital Broome (the colorists) use the traditional "color spectrum" to generate an "X" layout for the page: panels 1 and 4 form one stroke of "X," giving us natural colors brown and green bounded by "cool" colors violet and blue, while panels 2 and 3 use the "warm" colors yellow and red to form the other stroke.  Veitch strengthens this second stroke with the motion lines in panel 2, diagonals replicated by the Kirby krackle cigar in panel 3.

Veitch also uses the "Z" layout we saw in the Kirby page I analyzed in my last blog entry.  Supreme (drawn by Veitch in the 1990s Image style customary to the character) navigates his way across the four panel layout.  In panel 1, he flies away from us and to our right, drawing the eyes to panel 2--where he turns toward us and flies down and left to panel 3.  In panel 3, Supreme turns again, still facing us, but this time flying down and right into panel 4.  There he ends the page pointing up and to the right, with his back turned to us: a pose basically identical to the one he assumed in panel 1.

At the same time, Veitch makes Supreme progressively larger in each panel, an increase in size that heightens the Kirbyesque sense of motion on the page--a nice contrast to the more static quadrants of the "King"'s face.  Even there, though, there is motion as each quadrant shifts in color and texture from one of the four classical elements to another (earth to air to fire to water).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

More Kirby Layout Goodness

This time let's look at a page from Fantastic Four #58 . . .

(Apologies for the image quality, but I'm blogging via iPad from my father's hospital room in Florida--he had a cardiac arrest Thursday night, so I've flown south to be with him and my family.)

What we've got here is a beautiful Z-pattern that naturally syncs your eyes and the flow of narrative action on the page. The eye goes from Ben to Ben in each panel (expect for the transition between panels 5 and 6 which is handled via Doom's figure as well as the natural causal link between the makeshift spear in Ben's hand and the explosion that spear causes when it hits Doom). There is also the same sort of X-pattern that I discussed in my previous post on Kirby's Thor layouts. You have a line descending from the "ZAFFT!" in panel 1 through the "RAKK!" in panel 3 to the "ZOT!" in panel 5. Crossing that line is the one descending from the Ben Grimm in panel 2 through the Ben in panel 3 to the Ben in panel 4. The diagonal line formed by the wreckage that Ben demolishes in panel 3 adds to this larger portion of the X-pattern.

There's also a lovely bit of variation in panel size and shape here as well. The top and bottom tiers of panels consist of two equally-sized squares each. These tiers serve to frame the middle panel, a single rectangle that expands left (with the eye's own motion as it shifts down and left from panel 2) to mirror Ben's violent action in panel. A nice bit of emphasis by the King here!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Prospero (Supers!)

Public Identity: Prospero
Secret Identity: Professor George Faust

Composure 2D
Fortitude 3D
Reaction 2D
Will 2D

Academia 2D
Occultism 2D
Technology 2D
All the Rest 1D

Astral Projection 2D (Device: Book)
Mental Blast 5D (Device: Staff)
Mental Shield 3D (Device: Staff)
Paralysis 3D (Device: Staff)
Telekinesis 5D (Device: Staff)

Old Age

History of Science Professor George Faust was carrying out archival research when he came across a spellbook and a wizard's staff from the sixteenth century.  After years of trial and error, he was able to access the mystic power inherent in the two items.  Now he fights crime under the nom de guerre "Prospero."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dr. Sulfur (Supers!)

Public Identity: Dr. Sulfur
Secret Identity: Lowell Fry, M.D.

Composure 3D
Fortitude 2D
Reaction 2D
Will 4D

Occult 3D
Medical 2D
All the Rest 1D

Invisibility 3D (Concentration Needed)
Mental Blast 4D
Mental Shield 3D
Mind Control 5D (Delayed Use, Debilitating)

Old Age

For Dr. Lowell Fry, turning forty was not an excuse to buy an expensive sports car or seek out a young mistress.  Instead, Fry responded to the onset of middle age by beginning a quest for the Philosopher's Stone and the eternal life it promised to provide.  Alchemical pursuits are not cheap, however, and Fry had to resort to crime to fund his growing library of occult texts.  While Fry is still looking for the secret of the Stone two decades later, he has managed to parlay his alchemical knowledge into an elixir-granted set of potent mental abilities.  His teammates in the Ring of Fire provide him with the muscle and defense he needs to protect him while he continues his search for the Stone.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Why Kirby Is King: Page Layout

I've been reading the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run on The Mighty Thor, and I came across these pages from Thor 137 ("The Thunder God and the Troll") that demonstrate Kirby's command of page layout.  Here's page 2, my first example:

Here Kirby depicts a competition between Thor and the goddess Sif, his new love interest.  (I get the sense that, by issue 137, even Lee was getting tired of mortal love interest Jane Foster.)  What I love about the layout on this page is the interaction of the six panels.  The first panel (Sif launching a javelin toward the reader's right) is mirrored by the sixth and last panel (Thor throwing Mjolnir toward the reader's left).  The second panel (Sif's javelin lodging in the pole) is mirrored by the fifth and penultimate panel (where the force of Mjolnir's impact on the ground causes the spears to burst out of the pole).  The overall effect is that of an "X" pattern: panels 1 and 6 form the first line of the X while panels 2 and 5 form the second line.  The coloring ties the layout together even more.  (There's no colorist credited for the issue, so I'm not sure who to praise here.)  Panels 2 and 6 match up due to their yellow backgrounds—but they're also linked diagonally to panel 3 by virtue of the rather large swatch of yellow represented by Thor's golden locks.  Blue dominates the reverse pattern of panels 1, 4, and 5.

My second example is page 5:

Yellow backdrops and action lines tie together panels 1 and 4.  So does content: in both panels, Thor is smashing an enemy's weapon.  The result is a diagonal pairing that continues the force of Thor's panel 1 blow down into panel 4: in both cases, Mjolnir moves down and to the reader's right.  Panels 2 and 3 are tied together by the diagonal line linking the troll missile before and after it is launched at Thor.  In panel 2, the missile points down and left to the center of the layout; in panel 3, it zooms up and right.  The layout is once again an "X" shape.  At the same time, though, Kirby ties together panels 3 and 4 in a lovely action sequence: in panel 3, Thor prepares to strike by moving Mjolnir down and to his left.  Then, in panel 4, Thor ends the page with a "Thbooom!" by swinging his hammer across his body to his right.  The layout result is a beautiful arc of motion across the gutter between the panels.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Burnt Rubber (Supers!)

Public Identity: Burnt Rubber
Secret Identity: Maria Brophy

Composure 2D
Fortitude 2D
Reaction 4D
Will 2D

Athleticism 3D
Fighting 2D
Occultism 2D
All the Rest 1D

Insubstantiality 5D (Debilitating, Side Effect: Generates Nauseating Brimstone Cloud)
Regeneration 3D (Side Effect: Generates Nauseating Brimstone Cloud)
Super Speed 6D (Side Effect: Generates Nauseating Brimstone Cloud)

Maria Brophy was a sprinter who dreamed of gold medals and world records.  But the speed just wasn't there: she was destined for a life of bronze medals and no records.  Desperate, she turned to the occult and actually summoned up a demon.  He made her a deal: in exchange for her soul after death, he would given her super speed in life.  Of course, the demon cheated: Maria's newfound powers produced noxious clouds of brimstone whenever she used them, making it impossible for her to compete and win.  Realizing that she was now on a clock, the bitter runner turned to crime as a means of funding her hedonism.  She took up the alias "Burnt Rubber."  She is the newest member of the Ring of Fire.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Ring of Fire

The Ring of Fire is a villain team with (unsurprisingly) a fire theme.  They are a deliberate tribute to my friend John Hartwell's Arctic Circle, the villain team that plagued the heroes in our college-era Champions campaign.  The members of the Ring of Fire include:
  • Pyre - Actor by day, villainous Human Torch by night.  The Ring's leader.
  • Igneous - A rocky bruiser with a lava touch.  Pyre's righthand man.
  • Burnt Rubber - She sold her soul for superspeed.  The Ring's newest recruit.
  • Dr. Sulphur - Alchemical master of the fires within.
Although the Ring was originally created for use in a Supers! one-shot (and will appear as such in the posts to follow this one), I plan on converting them to use in Icons as well.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Blue Marble (Icons)

Here are the game statistics for Blue Marble, my first Icons character:

(Blue Marble's awesome portrait is the work of Dan Houser, Icons artist extraordinaire.)

Name: Blue Marble
Real Name: Professor Peter Stein
Origin: Transformed

Prowess 5
Coordination 4
Strength 7
Intellect 5
Awareness 5
Willpower 7

Stamina: 14
Determination: 1

Science Expert (Ecology)

Blast 5 (Blasting)
Elemental Control 4 (Earth)
Invulnerability 5
Leaping 4

Catchphrase: "Time to knuckle down!" (or similar marbles-themed phrases)
Epithet: Gaian Goliath
Motivation: Protect Mother Earth

Enemy: The Slurry
Social: Public Identity
Social: Rocky Monster

When Professor Peter Stein’s scientific experiments failed to prove his version
of the Gaian Hypothesis, he turned to the mystical arts in an attempt to locate
and speak with the spirit of the Earth. He succeeded—but at the cost of his
human form. Now he fights to protect the planet from those who would despoil
it. If that goal sometimes pits him against other heroes, so be it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Origin Story

Kracalactaka! exists to provide its creator (yours truly) with an outlet for his superhero gaming creations and thoughts.  It didn't seem right to clutter Vargold: The Wolf-Time with this sort of material—the readers of that blog expect material appropriate for sword-and-sorcery gaming.  So I've given the superheroes this blog to call their own.

The blog's name is actually a sound effect from Thor #340, the fourth issue of Walt Simonson's acclaimed mid-1980s run on the book.  Simonson's opening storyline (retroactively named The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill) is the narrative that hooked me on superhero comics.  (Prior to that I was primarily a collector of sword-and-sorcery titles like DC's Warlord and Marvel's Conan the Barbarian.)  Although Simonson is a well-regarded writer-illustrator, it's perhaps his sound effects (produced via collaboration with letterer extraordinaire John Workman) that are most notorious among hardcore comic book fans.  In picking out a name for the blog, I considered such beauties as "Shrrakadoom!" (Thor #351), "Karakathoom!" (Thor #362), and "Kkrakkadoooum!" (Thor #380).  But I settled on Kracalactaka! on the basis of this panel:

How can anyone resist this sound effect?  It's the noise generated as the Norse god of thunder and his horse-headed alien doppelganger clash their mystical uru-metal mallets together, people!  Cue the wailing guitars, and let's get down to some superheroic gaming!