Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: Reload #1-3 by Paul Gulacy

[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.]

Reload #1-3. Written by Warren Ellis. Pencilled by Paul Gulacy. Inked by Jimmy Palmiotti. Coloured by Guy Major.

Funny how Black Summer got all sorts of notice for killing the President when this series begins the same way. Sure, it's not Bush and it's a not a superhero doing it, but still. Another high concept book: Chris Royal is Secret Service and the President was just killed by a mystery assailant. In investigating what happened, he notices inconsistencies in what the official story will be and is kidnapped by the assassin, a woman named Kiva, and she tells him why she did it. Turns out, a while back, the mob began worming its way into politics, figuring that was a good way to run business and, now, they had complete control of the White House without anyone knowing. She was trained to be a government assassin and hates who she's been taking orders from, so she killed the President and now wants to kill his Chief of Staff along with the rest of the Presidential team. Royal goes along with it. Mob takes over government, so government assassin kills them all. Lovely.

Gulacy's art isn't really like anyone's who I've looked at so far this month. He's very good at showing movement in a dynamic, interesting manner. He doesn't use any standard page layouts, changing it up to suit his needs at the time. His faces have a unique look to them, but I'm not sure how I would describe them other than 'they look like Paul Gulacy faces.' He uses a lot of shadows. He doesn't always use panel borders, having two pictures take place within what we think of as the same panel, but still look separated.

The sequence where the President is assassinated is stunning. Over two pages:

Page 1. Divided into three tiers. Top and bottom tiers are roughly 1/3 the height of the middle tier. The middle tier has one picture that takes up the space with two narrow, long panels laid at the top left and bottom right corners. So, five panels. The first two panels are shots of the President delivering his speech, first from a head-on view from way in the back of the crowd, then from just to the President's right, maybe five feet away. Third panel is the big one with the second and fourth panels overlaid -- it shows the bullet flying through the air, coming at an angle towards us. The fourth panel shows it about three inches from the President's forehead. The fifth has it about to hit him, seemingly between the eyes. We're right behind the bullet and the President has almost a cross-eyed look as if he sees the bullet coming and is thinking "Ah fuck..."

Page 2. Three panel, same proportions of the tiers, but the first and third panels go all the way to the edge of the page. First panel, heavy blacks, a little sketchy, a behind view of the President's brains being blown out. Second panel has those brains literally hitting the American flag behind him (which is hung on its side, so the stripes go vertically) with some of the brains and blood dripping down to the third panel, covering the President's head as he lays dead, SS agents all around. Go breaking of the panel border for a kind of shocking and graphic visual.

Chris Royal is drawn in an interesting fashion. He's got this look of a bit of a fuckaround about him. In the first issue, in one panel, I just get the sense from how he looks that he'd rather be somewhere else. He looks like the sort of guy that joined the SS because he believed in something, but that's deteriorated as he's had to deal with the bullshit that goes along with the job -- and who exactly he's tasked to protect. That doesn't mean he slacks on the job, it just means he doesn't look happy with his lot in life.

His action scenes use a lot of different layouts and perspectives. In those scenes more than any others, though, he seems to stick to panel borders. He's more inclined to have panels overlap slightly or have a larger image in the background with panels overlaid than have figures break the borders -- though the second issue is very confined compared to the first and third. In some cases, he does break the borders, often to give it a chaotic effect, like having a bunch of panels with two random shots of Kiva or Royal's guns firing laid on top a little without any panel borders.

I don't know if it's in Ellis's script, but he's not afraid to use a lot of panels in his art, especially in action sequences to show the more minute moments and movements, giving them a quicker pacing as a result.

He generally uses a thin line, but that breaks up in places. I don't know if it's too thin and doesn't print well, but, sometimes, characters aren't fully drawn in spots because the line just disappears. But, usually, when he works with heavier shadows, the lines are thicker and more lush, avoiding that trap.

Guy Major's colours are pretty similar to David Baron's, but a little darker. Since a lot of the comic takes place at night, there's a general level of shadow and lack of light in the colour tones. Even in the daytime, nothing gets too bright or shiny.

Tomorrow: Tokyo Storm Warning #1-3 by James Raiz.