Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: Quit City #1 by Laurenn McCubbin

[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.]

Quit City #1. Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by Laurenn McCubbin.

Warren Ellis on working with Laurenn McCubbin:

You write different for Laurenn. Mostly because you know she's a better writer than you are. (I have the same problem writing for Colleen Doran.) But also because her pages work differently to other people. She works best with big images. She really brings it home to you that comics are a bastard fusion of at least eight other things (the French call bande dessinée the Ninth Art, and it's hard to deny them the point just because they're French). Single-panel cartoons, photgraphic composition, pure illustration, prose and poetry, even, as the writer Si Spencer once suggested, advertising art and copy and t-shirt slogans. That's how Laurenn works. She'll tend to frame a single line of text against a single image, using the photographer, illustrator, writer and graphic designer parts of her brain simulataneously. Every panel punches hard.


Laurenn photoreferenced Quit City in Oakland, of course, but it's watching her power-chord her way through that opening that teaches you that photo-reference isn't what makes an artist great. What makes an artist great is having the eye and knowing what the hell to do with it.

The first time I read Quit City, I didn't much care for the art. I didn't hate it or anything, but it didn't blow me away either. Reading what Ellis wrote about it, you'd think it was the best thing since whatever the last great thing was. I didn't see it. It's fine art. Very stylised. I liked the way she captured facial expressions, but found the figure work a little stilted, a little too posed. The design work made the pages look too busy without much benefit that I could see.

I haven't exactly changed my mind over the years, I've just grown to enjoy those things more.

Things that bothered me like how Emma, the main character who has returned home after quitting being a member of Aeropiratika (heroes who fly planes, basically), is always leaning to one side or another, or the extreme wide-angle close-ups of faces at certain times... don't. They serve their purpose and aren't the sort of thing you often see in comics art (or, at least, the sort of comics art that accompanies Warren Ellis comics). The leaning is a nice character bit. The close-ups stick us in Emma's shoes and we see these key pieces of dialogue from her perspective.

The use of maps in the art is interesting as they form the background of pages throughout the issue (the background I'm speaking of being the gutter space, where the panels are laid atop), but McCubbin also has the maps show up in the comic itself, imprinted upon characters or behind them. It's not always effective, but, in some places, it works well to act as a visual representation of what Emma is returning to. That weight of coming home after having left and done amazing things. Hell, it's a feeling I get whenever I visit my parents and I haven't done shit away from home really. Except write about comics.

McCubbin does facial expressions very well. If there's something great that comes out of photoreferencing, it's this. The looks of surprise and 'aw, yeah, well...' and self-righteousness and many others that she captures are great. I've seen those looks a million times in real life, but not too often on the page. Her use of certain looks borders on the extreme in places, but I can't fault her too much since she doesn't seem to be working to match all of the dialogue, but one particular moment that happens during the interaction we're seeing in a single panel. It's a sort of recognition that certain looks only happen for a brief flicker before disappearing and her picking out the most visually interesting expression. It makes the panel-to-panel storytelling look like radical jumps in places, though.

She uses a lot of tones and greys in her work. It's not simple black and white... it's everything in between, which gives it a different look from the other Apparat books, which all tend to stick to a strict black and white approach. She uses a lot of shading as a result, not all of it working, but most of it looking good.

I still wouldn't call the art in Quit City my favourite, but I've definitely grown to appreciate it more than my initial reaction to it.

Tomorrow, I finish off the Apparat Singles Club with Simon Spector by Jacen Burrows.