Monday, March 08, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: Frank Ironwine #1 by Carla Speed McNeil

[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.]

Frank Ironwine #1. Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by Carla Speed McNeil.

The second of the Apparat Singles Club books, this is a detective story. Ellis places its inspiration in stuff like Columbo and other human-driven mystery stories/series. This doesn't rely on forensics and technology, it's all about people and history. Definitely one of my favourite Ellis books with the fantastic interplay between Ironwine and his new partner Karen de Groot as he shows her how to be a detective, basically. The murder is a pretty simple one, but good enough to hang the issue on. As I've said before, if I were to demand any of the Apparat books get continued, this is the one I'd fight for.

A big part of the appeal here lies in Carla Speed McNeil's art. I love the way she draws Ironwine and contrasts him with de Groot. McNeil's art is soft, but rough in its shading. It reminds me of pencils and charcoals... I know it's ink, but it looks more like the other two. Frank Ironwine is anywhere between 45 and 70 in age. I don't know which it is. He doesn't take care of himself too well, so his looks don't provide much of a clue. Then again, I love that. He looks half-wrecked throughout the issue, barking orders, face all wrinkly and haggard. McNeil communicates a lot about the character in her art. She draws crow's feet near his eyes, which serves two purposes: to show his age, but also to draw attention to his eyes. Ironwine is always looking, examining -- he's a detective, so, of course, he is! He's got these beady little eyes that I think can see through walls or something.

McNeil's art is soft and angular at the same time. Ironwine is all dark and angular, while de Groot is softer and lighter, very little black on her clothes, very minimalist. A clean slate compared to Ironwine. Ironwine doesn't even stand right up. He's lopsided, leaning to one side or the other, looks like he moves weirdly. But, he still gets down on the ground to examines the carpet.

Today's post is one of the few where I wish I allowed myself to use scans so I could show off the various expressions of Frank Ironwine. Most are shouty angry looks, but there's one panel where his face is totally at peace and he looks like a content old man. It's a small peaceful moment and not at all how any other artist would draw him then. de Groot is glaring at him, but he's somewhat peaceful. Except it's not an entirely peaceful look, because the case is still open. He's thinking. You can see the bastard thinking.

Later in the issue, the murderer takes some shots at the detectives and takes off down the fire escape, so de Groot rushes after him. But, Ironwine just stands there, this freaked out look on his face, the sort you imagine anyone who'd just been shot at would have, before he turns and leaves the apartment, calmly takes the elevator down, walks out the door of the building, and punches the suspect in the face as he rounds the corner. This is interspersed with the action shots of the suspect and de Groot's chase, and it's just so wonderful. In straight-up visual terms, we see what separates Ironwine from every other cop show out there: he takes his time and handles situations with his brains.

In another scene, the wife of the first murdered man has killed the eventual murderer's wife. She thought her husband was cheating on her with that woman (turns out it was the woman's husband -- who then killed the man when he rejected him). The woman is scared, can hardly believe what happened. She didn't mean to shoot the gun, just wanted to scare the other woman away, and she looks so damn scared. Her eyes are downcast, she's hugging herself a little, and Ironwine treats her with compassion and tenderness, speaks slowly to her, while de Groot makes snide remarks and has a permanent bad attitude all over her face.

McNeil's art suits the book here, because she can draw the hell out of people. Examining the panels, the number of expressions on the characters' faces is amazing, constantly changing, constantly revealing something new about them. You may only see an expression once, like that thinking expression of Ironwine's, but that's all you need. This is a comic about people and that's what it looks like. McNeil doesn't use a lot of unnecessary lines, it's a very basic style, only a the way that eyes and lips are drawn usually giving it away, but she does it so very wonderfully.

I also love the way that Frank Ironwine walks. It would look stilted and stupid with other characters, an awkward kind of shuffle, arms at his side, knees barely bending, but it looks like him.

Tomorrow, the only other female artist that I'll be discussing this month: Quit City by Laurenn McCubbin.