Thursday, August 4, 2011

Kirby Page Layout . . . Now with Panther Power

There's a Kirby page from Fantastic Four #52--the Black Panther's debut issue--that I've been wanting to talk about ever since I read Hagop's lovely discussion of it at The Short Box back in February.  Here's the page in question:


Hagop does a good job of discussing what makes individual panels on this page exemplars of Kirby's style.  What I'd like to add to that analysis is a reading of the page's overall layout, one that takes into account Kirby's ability to masterfully direct the reader's eye from one panel to the next.

For example, we once again see our old friend the Z-pattern.  Here it's based on Ben Grimm (with an assist from Johnny Storm).  In panel 1, Ben rushes toward the right edge of the panel (and the page), attempting to seize the FF's Wakandan guide before he escapes.  The motion lines contribute to the rightward dynamic of the panel.  In panel 2, Ben's figure still anchors the Z-pattern, but now Ben has been flipped right-to-left, and his left arm points down and left, directing our eyes to the second tier of panels.  Panel 3 (the first panel of the second tier) continues the downward diagonal begun in panel 2.  Finally, the Z-pattern is completed on the third tier of panels in panel 5: the falling figure of the Thing completes the downward diagonal's leftward motion, and the Torch's sprawling form pulls us to the right edge of the page, finishing the base of the Z.  (This is why it's important that the Torch show up in panel 3, supporting Ben from the right side of that panel--the same basic layout of figures that we see in panel 5.)

Kirby complicates matters with the appearance of T'Challa in panel 4.  Visuals match the narrative here as T'Challa intrudes upon the Fantastic Four, and the figure of the Black Panther breaks into the Z-pattern of the page.  Where the Panther is concerned, panels 4 and 5 form a second downward diagonal parallel to the first.  T'Challa leaps down upon the unsuspecting heroes in panel 4, a jump completed in panel 5 as he knocks them sprawling.  (The legs akimbo of panel 4 become the complete spread of panel 5--a single fluid motion captured in two moments.)

The Panther's attack also disrupts the page's panel grid.  Up until panel 5, we've been led to expect a six-panel grid broken down into two panels per tier, three tiers page (exactly what we'll get on the next page of the issue, page 11, and throughout much of the issue as a whole).  Kirby departs from that expectation here, giving us  instead a single elongated panel that covers the full extent of the tier.  Story drives layout: T'Challa kicks Ben and Johnny, and their flying bodies literally push the panel down and out toward the edges of the page--to the point where Johnny's body pressures the boundaries of human physiology to mimic the right angle of the panel's lower righthand corner. Again, motion lines are used expertly here, extending the panel out from the center point of T'Challa--whose impossibly split legs also copy the panel boundary (in this case, the long horizontal line at the top).  The Black Panther pushes the bottom line of the Z to its limits, causing it to bow out in the middle.

It's the clarity of layout that impresses me the most here.  While I love much of the art in modern comics, I find that the layout skills pioneered by Kirby and others are less in evidence, an absence of craft that undermines the reading experience.  But there are some nice modern counter-examples, and I'll discuss a few of those when I next find a chance to look at page layout.

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