Friday, March 05, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: Hellblazer #142.2 by James Romberger

[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 #142.2 ("One Last Love Song"). Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by James Romberger. Coloured by James Sinclair.

James Romberger does a fantastic, wonderful job of capturing the feeling of Ellis's writing here. The story (like most of these Hellblazer stories) is very simple: after a night of drinking, John Constantine stumbles through the park drunk, reflecting upon and seeing old girlfriends before he's confronted by them all and resists the temptation to use magic to make them all love him again. He then goes home. It's a sweet, romantic, nostalgic story. I imagine this is one of those stories where there's a lot of Ellis the man in it. It's also not a hard one to see yourself in. It has a fantastic piece of writing where Constantine narrates, "MUST BE NICE HAVING AN EX YOU DON'T MISS. / I MISS 'EM ALL, ME. EVEN THE ONES WHO HATED ME." Not a sentiment I share, but I understand it.

Romberger is working in the usual 'narration pushed to the gutters' style and, like Javier Pulido, his panel placement is scattered, except, here, it makes more sense. First, none of the panel borders are straight. They're all curved, freehand lines to go with John's drunken mental state. The placement of the panels is very meandering and odd, again reflecting the way he wanders through the park and his memories. We don't get the exes in order, we don't get all of their stories, John jumps around a bit, so the panels do as well. The story's also more poetry than prose. There's a rhythm to it, particularly at the end and more cohesive, linear layouts wouldn't work as well. You need the odd panel shapes, the uncertain pattern...

His line work is a combination of rough, heavy blacks, and a lighter cartoony look to the characters. John Constantine has dark circles under his eyes, looking almost comedic in his drunken stupor. The exes have soft features, looking a bit like how John remembers them rather than how they were, perhaps? One of my favourite panels has one of the exes showing a drawing she made of John, not looking at all unlike Romberger's version of the character with the caption 'bastard' while the ex has a fantastic girlish grin.

Romberger gets across both the romantic, nostalgic longing of John and the somewhat freaked out reaction to seeing all of his exes, not all of them alive, when he turns around at the end of the story. He watches the girls all exit the park, floating into a light, a look of acceptance and peace on his face. He's not letting them go, he's just not bringing them back. In the final panel, he walks off into the darkness.

Romberger's failing is that he doesn't quite draw all of the women with distinct features. He uses clothing and hair to separate them, but their facial features aren't that different. Each woman is given a very different looking as far as hair and clothing, so it isn't too problematic, but it is the biggest weakness of his art here.

This is a nice, dreamy story that is reflected well in Romberger's art. It remains one of my favourite Ellis stories.

Tomorrow, I conclude the Hellblazer artists with Marcelo Frusin's first work on the book before he went on to be the primary artist of Brian Azzarello's run.