May 1st, 2008
In another post Sean Phillips was described as having a telepathic drawing style. Not telepathic in the Zener card sense or even the psychic ninja-knife sense, but telepathic in the very simple sense that the reader can read the thoughts of the figures he draws. By this is not meant that Phillips has a particularly good grasp of how to draw realistic or communicative anatomy or body-language, but literally that something strange happens to his pictures where they somehow become imbued with a quality as yet unknown to science that transmits the thoughts of imaginary beings into the minds of any non-imaginary viewer. To demonstrate – the reader knows exactly what Miss Misery is thinking here:
Phillips’ telepathy, while rare and immensely valuable, is not unique in the sense that no other human beings currently dwelling on earth possess these apparently impossible abilities that cause their drawings to do inexplicable things. A less celebrated artist currently working in mainstream American comic books, Goran Parlov, is similarly possessed of such gifts. Parlov isn’t a telepath, but he has equally impressive powers of sonic transmission and temporal manipulation. Here is a picture of the amazing Parlov, disguised as a Euro-baddie*:
Here is an example of Parlov using his powers of sonic transmission, from Punisher MAX no. 33:
Thwuthnk. Can’t you hear that? Listen again -
Thwuthnk. First of all there’s the sound of the axe cutting through the air, then a wet sound of meat when it hits the hand, then a solid impact sound as the axe hits the wooden beam. Thwuthnk. There – you heard it that time didn’t you? If you listen very closely, you can also hear the tiny silence immediately following, the noise of a surprised pause dying in Barracuda’s mouth as he processes what’s happened. It takes a lot to shut him up, as we learn.
Here’s another example, more hand mutilation from Punisher MAX, this time issue 54 (careful now, there’s a potential spoiler in this picture, though I’ve cropped it to hide the most important bit. If you haven’t read Punisher 53 and 54 yet then you really should, because it is the most thrilling, brilliant and disgusting two issues of solid fight hell that you will have ever held in your hands):
You must have heard that, it’s loud and clear – a sharp, dismissive slap of a sound as Frank flicks the hand away, accompanied by the loose metallic rattle of the rifle and its strap. Thwpatt!
So that’s sonic transmission, plain as the ears on your head. Very useful power in these post sound-effects days, eh Mature Readers?
Here’s an example of the spectacular Parlov using his other, more mysterious power of temporal manipulation. Temporal manipulation is when seconds seem like hours but are over in a flash, when time goes like plasticine stretched and messed about by a thousand mentalist monkeys and babies, all within the confines of a single panel of comicbook.
These three shots come from three consecutive pages Punisher MAX 53. They each occupy the same position on the page, occupying the third of a simple, four tier widescreen layout. In each, the single image of the panel isn’t frozen or static at all, but a progression of active, living moments stretched out across the width of the frame.
These pictures move. They obviously owe a lot to FPS gaming, although rather than just taking on a straightforward POV perspective, the over-the shoulder view we get has significant advantages. Frank is all shadow, a long, cold, dark absence dominating the centre of the panel. His hulking form forces the reader’s eye like stormclouds hitting mountains, up and over his head, across the panel left-to-right, simultaneously shifting the depth of field from the mid-ground smoke and muzzle-flash and onto the target further back. The bullet holes drag us across again, amid smoke and impact and flying glass, the eye finally led off by three flying cartridges, like punctuation marks, helpfully pulling the eye down on to the next panel below. These aren’t discrete moments that can be ticked off like seconds on the clock, but a rhizomatic network of events merging and interacting over a stretch of narrative space. Parlov spins and stretches the flow of these moments around the panel like bleeps in a French house record.
(These fragments might give you a poorly-photoshopped idea of how the timeline and the eye-line skip all over the place in this one solitary panel:
This next one is a brief pause in the action. The scene is alive with smoke and heat trailing from the raised muzzle, as if the panel itself is still rubbing its eyes, trying to get the flashes out, as a fleeting few seconds of calm struggle to reassert themselves and the car still boils away in the background. In terms of the composition itself, the light-echoing smoke, or whatever it is, form a border for the shot and draw the view from one side to the other again, while maintaining the chaos and rhythm of the scene:
In this last one Frank has shifted his position, inclining toward the opposite side of the panel. It mirrors the first one as it brings this exchange of gunfire to an end. Time begins in the Past on the left with the dust and smoke from the last burst, speeds past the Now (Frank drawing a bead on the car) and explodes into the Future where the rounds are pouring and sparking ferociously into the engine block:
But really, Goran Parlov is zapping you with his superpowers.
Alright, the superpower thing is a bit daft, but there’s a couple of serious points need making here. One is to answer a couple of negative opinions appearing around the houses about Parlov as the artist of choice to finish Ennis’ Punisher run. It’s not clear what complaints they could have – perhaps dissatisfaction with the slight air of caricature in his bodies and faces, or a desire to swap his soft, textured lines for something more slick and realistic, as if the book really was just about hardware and exit wounds. These complaints are clearly dogshit – Parlov is a natural born storyteller like Lester Freamon is a natural born po-lease (anyone else getting a Lester vibe from the special forces commander guy in this latest arc? Wise eyes.) Although Ennis has had some extremely good artists on his run, Parlov is easily the pick.
The other serious point to all this blather is the more important one, and harder to describe. So go back upstairs and look at those panels again. Listen to them and try to time them on your watch. There is something very special at work here – this is the state of the neufth art. Lines on paper can do remarkable things when they hit the human nervous system. It is comics happening – the form doing what it can do at its best. Your feeble being is interacting with some colours on a cheap bit of newsstand trash and coming out with brilliant, beautiful, lucid, moving hallucinations. To have one’s mind opened in this way is like a new dimension being born. We discovered this synthetic, unpredictable reality a long time ago, and we like it there.
This Is How We Lost Our Minds.
* I really hope it’s not racist or otherwise offensive to use the term ‘Euro-baddie’. That is to say, of course it is offensive, I just think I get a pass there being English. As anyone who’s ever been to a cinema knows, the English are the filthiest Euro-baddies of all.