Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth by John Cassaday

[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.]

Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth. Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by John Cassaday. Coloured by David Baron.

At this point, Warren Ellis had been working with John Cassaday for a while, so he obviously knew how to tailor his scripts to Cassaday's abilities. Most pages contain four or five panels, a bunch less than that, only one going up to six. While Ellis prefers five panels per page, he also writes a lot of six-panel pages, so it's interesting that it's mostly five panels per page here. Cassaday likes to have a little bit of room -- he seems to like to draw bigger pictures. Unlike Ordway, he also focuses in on characters quite a bit, showing a lot of close-ups and shoulders-up shots. We see their environment in an establishing shot and, then, sometimes, throughout a scene, but otherwise, his focus is on the characters. There's a pretty even split between characters sharing a panel and being alone.

Cassaday is something of an anomaly: an artist with good storytelling skills that also seems to focus on the individual drawing. Every panel is meticulous and detailed with his gritty, smooth style (yes, I know, those words don't go together), but they flow well from one panel to the next. He likes striking images. Batman, holding his cape out, diving down to the ground, moon behind him. Dark Knight Returns Batman choking Elijah Snow...

But, there are also pages that work very well as wholes. Elijah Snow and the other two are tracking down a murderer who runs down an alley...

Panel 1: Killer in foreground, running towards us/the left side of the panel with Elijah and the Drummer running the background.

Panel 2: A shot focusing on the killer from the ground to his shoulders. He's right right to left, just entered the panel, left foot hitting a puddle.

Panel 3: Elijah Snow looking left, three little twinkles in front of his face.

Panel 4: Same view as panel 2. The puddle freezes and the killer's left foot is trapped, he looks like he's about to trip.

Panel 5: The killer fall flat on his face right in front of us.

Simple, dead simple storytelling. Ellis writes scenes like that for Cassaday: simple shots, simple action flows. He works best with the simple, striking images. That's why the panels are limited and so are the characters per panel. Cassaday will drop out backgrounds when it suits him to draw focus to the characters.

There's something a little too simple about his art at times, though. That's one of the reasons reading through a comic he's drawn is such a breeze. His art lends itself to less words and less panels. I don't find this problematic really, but some do.

His line work is somewhat gritty, but also smooth and soft at times. It's a contrast in those two approaches, oddly. He also uses light and shadow to form figures when he can.

David Baron provides simple colours. The odd bit of red, but mostly muted colours. This is Gothan City and it's nighttime. The alley is a little brighter than you'd assume, but he also does a good job distinguishing between the different Batmen with colours. The purple gloves on the 1940s Batman is a fantastic touch.

I love the way Cassaday draws stubble, by the way. Even since Planetary #1, I've just loved the way he draws stubble. It's fantastic.

Tomorrow, Art Discussion Month 2010 ends with The Authority #1-4 and Bryan Hitch. Oh boy.