Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: The Authority #1-4 by Bryan Hitch

[Concluding 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.]

The Authority #1-4 ("The Circle"). Written by Warren Ellis. Pencilled by Bryan Hitch. Inked by Paul Neary. Coloured by Laura (DePuy) Martin.

I have the absolute edition of the Ellis/Hitch/Neary/Martin Authority run, but it's sitting on the shelf. For this post, I've got the actual issues out. I only own issues one through four in the singles, not the rest. My dad bought the book and I didn't usually buy something if he was, too. Why spend what little money I had as a teenager on books I could read for free already? But, I bought these four issues. I remember getting into the car after doing so and telling my mom what I'd gotten, how dad already had these comics and she asked why I'd buy them then, a fair question. It was the writing, obviously. But, it was also the art. The Authority #1-4 were the first comics I bought because I wanted to study the art, to pour over it, to look at it again and again. I carried those books in my backpack for the next few weeks, taking them out at various times and just looking at them. I really like Warren Ellis's writing on these comics, but I fucking love the art. I don't think Hitch has ever really done anything better than the work he did in these issues -- same with Laura Martin. Both have done great work since, but there's something special about these ones, maybe a desire to prove what they can do, a certain energy, I don't know what, but it elevates the work. Or, maybe, it's just me projecting onto the comics, of course. After all, they came out when I was 16 and that's some powerful shit, getting exposed to something at 16 and it clicking in the right way.

"The Circle" is basically the Authority fighting against an army of Asian supermen as they attempt to carve the symbol of Kaizen Gamorra. Terrorism for the sake of terror. Mostly, just a lot of fucking head bashing and KICKSPLODE! peppered with small, quieter moments. A wide range of things to draw.

One of the reasons why I think this is Hitch's best work is that, while obviously influenced by photos and the real world, he's also cartooning a lot. His characters bear that Hitch-ian face, especially Jack Hawksmoor. It's kind of a scrunched-up bulldog look that his characters tended to have before he went into photorealism more. There's a sense of Hitch in the art here that I find lacking in his later work. While I enjoy the later work and, in many ways, recognise that it's technically better, it lacks the energy and force of his work here. This is just fun.

Laura Martin's colouring of different times of day is what impressed me most when this first came out. At the end of the third issue, the Authority show up in Los Angeles having figured out what Gamorra is doing and knowing that Los Angeles is where the third mark will be 'cut' into the Earth. They arrive at dusk and the lighting is this reddish orangey pink. I mentioned this sort of thing in my discussion of Red and, man, you have no idea how much this blew me away at the time. I'd seen this shade of lighting before in my life, but never in comics. The sky is a mixture of pinkish red and purple. There's a double-page spread of the Gamorra supermen flying through the air and the colouring of the sky is amazing as it shifts from blue/purple in the bottom left-hand corner through red, pink, and into yellow/orange at the top right where the sun is obscured by a thin cloud cover. (Or is it haze?) Gorgeous.

When pouring over these issues, I counted up the panels in each and every issue averaged around four panels per page. Lots of splashes, lots of room. Visually, this is just an action movie. People talked about these books being 'widescreen' and that still holds up. Lots of thin, wide panels. Lots of tracking shots. Lots of fun camera angles. But, 'widescreen' doesn't just mean 'movie,' it means BLOCKBUSTER MOVIE! Funnily enough, blockbuster movie just means going back to old school superhero action. Granted, this is more violent, but it's an evil guy doing evil because he's evil and the good guys stopping him because they're good. Gamorra wants to kill people, the Authority stop him. They fight in the rain in London and over Los Angeles... lots of fun.

One great sequence is the Midnighter bringing the Carrier, their giant shiftship HQ, down to Gamorra Island to kill Kaizen Gamorra. The giant ship's bottom tip is driven into the ground and then dragged towards Gamorra Tower, carving up the city. The sequence is great. First, we get a splash of the Carrier looking giant as it hovers over the Island, breaking the forcefield. Then a page where there are three panels of it moving toward the tower, just destroying shit, in the third, Gamorra sees it coming. The final two panels of the page have Gamorra looking out at us, hands pressed against a window, reflection of the Carrier coming toward him, saying "I ONLY WANTED TO HAVE SOME FUN" and a shot of Midnighter: "I LOVE BEING ME." Next page: splash of Gamorra Tower blowing up/being destroyed by the Carrier.

The use of lighting always struck me as impressive. Hitch nails the idea of light sometimes being so bright that it seemingly breaks through solid objects, around the edges. With the sun in the direct background, a character up against it will have breaks in their figure: a circular pattern with shooting lines that get smaller the deeper in they go. I love that.

A favourite panel: Hawksmoor coming at us, out of the side of a building. His left arm is reaching out. His face is drawn in a way where there's no shadow over his right eye, but one surrounding his left, leaving a dark eyesocket area with just the glowing red eye. Creepy and great.

The Carrier and the worlds it sails through provide great, wondrous pictures. These serene, lovely pictures. Alien visions that are akin in beauty to sunsets.

Yeah, this is less 'talk about the art in a deep way' and more 'Chad gushes over the comic in random, weird ways.' By this point, that's all I really have in me. I could keep going, but if this exercise has proven anything, it's that my words will never be enough.

Thanks for reading.