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.

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