Monday, March 22, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: Global Frequency #12 by Gene Ha

[Continuing Art Discussion Month 2010. 31 days, 31 artists, a whole lot of discussion. The explanation behind my choice of comics and the archive can be found here.]

Global Frequency #12 ("Harpoon"). Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by Gene Ha. Coloured by Art Lyon.

And, so, we conclude the Global Frequency artists before getting into the three-issue-minis artists. For the final issue of GF, Gene Ha came on board with his realistic style and colourist Art Lyon and delayed the hell out of the book if I recall properly (though, really, it could have been any number of things that delayed it, so it may not have been Ha). Visually, this issue is quite distinct, partly because of Ha's style, partly because David Baron didn't colour it.

As a final issue, it works. Ellis creates a big enough threat: a space harpoon on a setellite has malfunctioned and will fire on Chicago. The computer tech is shit, there won't be a communications window to the ground team for three weeks, and the harpoon is a super-heavy, dense chunk of something that just falls -- no tech involved there. So the plan is to send two teams: one to knock out the ground team, one to fucking space to stop it. In the end, the ground team all killed themselves and trashed the computers, because they went batshit insane or something. The spacelaunch is a success (an independent group did it) and the astronaut has to just blow the whole thing up (including himself) to save Chicago. In the process, we see some characters from previous issues, giving it a bigger, get the whole cast together grand finale feel.

And that feeling is carried over to the art. The layouts for this issue are unique as, on every page, the panels are laid atop a background that may or may not be an extention of a panel on the page. If Aleph shows up, one of her panels forms the background image of the page -- if not, it's still her room and monitors that are used as background art. It's an effective technique to show that for all of this to happen, for all of these people to work together and be connected, you need Aleph in her communications womb. She is the backbone (background) of the book and story.

Not only that, but the image of monitors, text, computer data, often shown on an angle of some sort, warping it... well, shit, son, that just looks cool. Ideally, that's what you want art to do: convey meaning and look cool. Do those two things and you're golden. (Though probably not as I'm no doubt oversimplifying the whole thing.)

Beyond that, Ha's layouts differ from those of previous artists. I don't see too many that look like 'Warren Ellis layouts.' Ellis's style of writing, of using between four and six panels usually lends itself to a certain type of layout, usually a basic grid-like one. And it's not that Ha doesn't do layouts similar, it's just that he shifts things around and deviates. He's more likely to take a five-panel page and shove four of the panels to the corners, leaving the centre of the page with Aleph as the focal point. Very interesting.

It could be Ellis changing it up for Ha, but the panel layouts are different enough that I don't think so. Part of it is also leaving space for the background to come through. That makes a page with six panels (three on each tier) look different from the layouts of other artists where they use the exact same grid. By making them all smaller with more gutter space for the background to come through, it changes the visual impression more than you'd think it would just hearing about it. The pages looking fuller.

The actual art has Art Lyon using a similar technique to David Baron by colouring certain location and scenes with an overriding colour. A lot of the art is in black/grey and white despite this. It's a very toned down method of colouring, somewhere between Baron's work on issue 9 and his work on issue 10. Not as moody as the former, but better than the latter. Lyon's colouring is a bit more nuanced, done in a style that looks like watercolours instead of computer colouring. It has a way of adding a little bit of mood while heightening the focus on Ha's line work. He also deviates from Aleph being bathed in green light.

Ha's art is realistic, but not as detailed as guys like Bradstreet and Bermejo. He doesn't use a lot of lines to get across that look of realism. He gives each character a unique and distinct face and bone structure for one thing. That alone makes everyone look a little more real. He uses shadows and shading to get across that extra level of detail in the same way that a guy like Bradstreet uses a lot of lines. There's a subtle look to Ha's realism that's hard to pinpoint exactly.

However, in places, Ha's art looks too simplistic. Sometimes, when he gets too close to a face, it looks less real, more like a drawing done by a child. I can't explain it. Maybe the subtle shading loses its effectiveness if you get too close. There are a couple of panels of Aleph that just look bad.

He also creates strong background and environments for his characters. They look real because the world around them looks real -- and is drawn in, not layered in with Photoshop, converted from a picture or something.

Ha's characters have an odd contradiction: they look highly posed and stiff, but also naturalistic. I guess the way I'd explain it is they look posed, but that doesn't bother you or take away from the reality of the situation he's depicting. The amount of jumpcutting he does helps, no doubt, since we very rarely see characters move from one panel to the next. Standing alone for one shot, it's hard not to look posed and stiff.

A strong way to end the series. Tomorrow, we just to Steve Rolston and Mek.