Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: Hellblazer #141 by Tim Bradstreet

[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.]

Hellblazer #141 ("The Crib"). Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by Tim Bradstreet. Coloured by Grant Goleash.

Was this the last time Tim Bradstreet drew the interiors of comic? I can't remember seeing another comic that he drew. I've seen tons of covers and pin-ups but not many interiors. Bradstreet is also the first artist whose work almost all of you can picture in your head. He's very well known and has a distinctive look. So, basically, if I fuck up, this is the first artist that it will be obvious for. Ha.

"The Crib" brings back the technique of pushing narration to the gutters, but it's the exact opposite of Higgins's work in "Haunted" as Bradstreet uses black gutters instead of white. That change alters the tone and look of the book quite a bit. Instead of feeling open and meandering, it's closed in, it's imposing. It feels darker and more like a horror story. White font on a black background looks wrong almost since we're used to the opposite. It's unnatural.

Bradstreet is a very skilled artist at creating single images. His photorealist style with intricate details lends itself perfectly to static images. His work in this issue is gorgeous, but looks like flipping through stills of a movie. The story is told, it looks real, it looks good, but something is missing.

The story here centres on the crib of the miscarried anti-Christ. It's a rumour, a legend, within the underground occult community and, in researching a book, David Niles came across it when it leapt from a serial killer living in his building to him. Now, it tortures him, pissing in his veins. Of course, John Constantine shows up, rips it off of him, and it's just a cereal box with a dead rat in it taped to his chest. Discovering the serial killer in his building and actually speaking to the man unhinged Niles, driving him to kill, and blame some made-up anti-Christ crib story. It's a nice little horror story about the fragility of the mind and the stupid little worlds we can create. Very much in tone with Ellis's run.

Bradstreet does some impressive things in places. While much of the book doesn't flow, he uses that apparent weakness to his advantage, creating tension and horror through quick cuts that don't require fluidity. In the scene, Niles has a knock at the door and no one is there. After he closes and locks the door, the lights go out. The next page is six panels spread out over four tiers: two, two, one, one. The first two are the same picture: a lamp, but, in the second, the colours are reversed. The third panel is a close-up of Niles's face, stark. In the fourth, his computer monitor shuts off. In the fifth, he turns and, behind him, is a window where a bunch of black birds are slamming into it, crazed, possibly thrown by wind. The sixth panel is outlined with a dull gold border and is completely black, except for a spark of the dull gold on the far right-hand side, bleeding into the panel border. The next page is a splash where John Constantine leans against the entrance to the room, lighting a smoke, head tilted down to light the smoke, so he's looking up a little to look at Niles, and saying, "ALL RIGHT, SQUIRE?" Very effective stuff.

On another page, he does a neat trick by repeating two panels twice with small changes, but, for one, between the repetition, giving us the top of the panels. Okay, words don't quite do it justice. The three related panels depict Constantine and Niles. The two repeated ones show their torsos in profile, facing one another. John's looks as you'd imagine, while Niles's has his ripped black shirt, showing the red, infected area where the crib is attached to his chest. In the second panel, we see their heads from the shoulders up. Below that, we go back to the torsos as John rips the crib from Niles's chest. The second and third panels don't quite line up, giving the suggestion of movement between them. While Bradstreet can be static, this is very good. The final two panels have John sticking his thumb into the crib and nothing changes except, in the second, blood comes out of the hole onto his hand. Again, something has happened and it's clear by the juxtaposition of the panels.

Bradstreet's actual drawings are a little problematic as he's not a consistent artist. His Constantine changes throughout. Some panels are perfect as he captures the mood and facial expression better than 99% of artists could, but Constantine's face changes a bit too much. He doesn't always look like the same person. As well, Bradstreet's overuse of lines for detail creates odd effects on skin, giving off a fake, almost reflective look. You know how artists will draw lines on metal to show its shine and reflective quality? That's what it looks like, but on human skin.

Grant Goleash does the colouring and it's got a yellowish tinge to it in places like skin tones, and that's good. He colours the book to be creepy and somewhat scary. One spot that's always bothered me: one panel shows a dead priest who'd been stuffed with razor blades and stomped on, but the colouring of his clothes is white, not black. A shiny white. It almost looks like he was going for black, but wanted to show it under specific lighting conditions and it came out wrong.

For those with the actual issue, my copy had some printing problems with blurred lettering and art at the beginning and end, which is thankfully not reproduced in the Setting Sun trade.

Tomorrow, the first half of Hellblazer #142 with Javier Pulido and James Sinclair.