Monday, March 5, 2012

Uniquely Comics, part three: Sudden Transformation

The comics medium is surreal by nature. Cartoon images look like the pictures we see in our memories and dreams. Still images tell the story only by demanding great assistance from our imaginations. We create the movement and sound.

And still pictures have a special power to instill themselves in our brains. They have unique potency, as frozen moments in time.

In the surreal world of comics, characters can transform from one panel to the next. Even in a realistic story with no fantastical happenings, one thing can become quite another to indicate changes in mood or perception. Similar phenomena occur in our dreams and memories.

A brilliant use of this sort of transformation took place in “Hedy Lamar” (Written by Jim Ottaviani, drawn by Carla Speed McNeil.) (Spoiler warning: I recommend that you read the story from Dignifying Science before viewing the excerpt below.)

Throughout the story, Miss Lamar is drawn relatively ordinary-looking, to de-emphasize her physical beauty and focus more on her thoughts and feelings, particularly her scientific insights. In the last panel, she “transforms” to match the classic Hollywood photos, and the perception of the gawking masses.

My next example involves a confrontation between man and dog. It is taken from "The Abyss Gazes Also", chapter VI of that timeless wonder of a graphic novel, Watchmen. (Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Dave Gibbons, colored by John Higgins). A well-worn copy of the book has accompanied me on my many cross-country moves. I have read it in its entirety three times, and have gone back to re-read selective passages countless times. Even so, I did not take specific note of the 'uniquely comics' aspect of the sequence below, until my big brother Carl pointed it out. Then again, out of 350 pages that are dense with words, pictures, emotional power, and potent philosophical ideas, it may be no surprise that I didn't pick up on this particular bit of storytelling brilliance, amidst all the others. (Again, spoiler warnings apply; I advise reading the book first.)

Vigilante anti-hero Rorschach tracks down a kidnapped girl, only to discover that his enemy has killed her and fed her to his dogs. In the first panel (out of those displayed above), the dogs seem like the epitome of evil, as they chomp on human bones (and display red eyes). In the seventh, the dogs appear like innocent pets. Unfortunately for them, Rorschach has already made his verdict, and it is death. The dogs' sudden transformation from monsters to victims would be hard to pull off in any medium but comics. I commend the creators.

Heddy Lamar page is copyrighted to Carla Speed McNeil. Watchmen pages are copyrighted to DC comics (much to the chagrin of the writer). Low resolution reproductions are used here for archival and educational purposes only.

No comments:

Post a Comment