Thursday, March 11, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: Global Frequency #1 by Garry Leach

[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.]

Global Frequency #1 ("Bombhead"). Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by Garry Leach. Coloured by David Baron.

Global Frequency seemed to have two purposes: 1) Write a series of self-contained issues with a maleable high concept that would work both in singles and in the collection, partly as an experiment to see if it could still work well. 2) An excuse to work with a bunch of great artists who may or may not have time for longer works, but could fit 22 pages in. The high concept is: there are 1001 people on the Global Frequency, a private group of people with a wide range of skills all dedicated to stopping bad things from happening. The group is headed up by Miranda Zero with a young tech-savy woman, Aleph acting as the coordinator most of the time. Very simple, very open to different stories with differing casts.

In "Bombhead," a Russian man who has an implant in his brain left over from the Cold War that will teleport a nuclear warhead to his location. It is malfunctioning and the GF must prevent that from happening. Not all of this information is available from the beginning. It's partly a story wherein we find this out.

I remember Ellis talking about this script being a very hard one to write as he tried to compress all of the necessary information into 22 pages, cutting out whatever wasn't essential. After all, unlike the other issues of the series, this one needs to tell the story and introduce the concept. While the self-contained element means the concept needs to be introduced every issue, as you go, you can take for granted that readers will have increasingly familiarity with it. Here, it's entirely blank. That also puts a bigger burden on Leach since he has to set the visual tone a bit.

(Semi-unrelated question, but: who designed the looks of Miranda Zero and Aleph? Was it Leach or another artist?)

Leach's style here is realistic, suiting the real world nature of the book. While dealing with some pretty out there ideas, Ellis usually works off of things he's read in scientific journals and other (semi-) credible sources. While not everything exists exactly as shown, there's something real in it. So, Leach's realistic style kicks things off wisely. The people look real, but not photoreferenced. It's what we'd probably call a retro, classic, basic sort of style.

The panel-to-panel progression of this comic is different from most in that it's unlikely to stay in the same location from one panel to next. That makes the flow of the comic a little different with quick cuts. That requires the art to be more focused on clarity in each panel, of communicating exactly what's going on since there isn't necessarily any other panels to provide a lot of visual context. At the same time, there are also recurring images or progressions that the readers need to pick up on and remember later in the issue. The image of the warhead progressing down its track in the Russian silo before it goes through the teleportation doorway is repated a few times. Each time, it's closer to the reader... the perspective is always the same, but the warhead has moved closer.

Near the end, Leach does some very impressive work with lighting and minimal, strong bold lines to show the strength of the light produced by the teleportation effect. Characters lose their hard outlines, existing in shadow shapes. Very well done.

Leach's layouts are very basic, mostly done in two tiers, diving the page in half. He breaks from that division a few times for specific effects... like the recurring three page-wide panels on the final page of the issue. But, with the frequency of cuts from characters and locations to others, linear, rectangular panels are a smart choice. He doesn't get fancy with the layouts, instead focuses on clarity.

Yeah, if one thing comes through in the art, it's that Leach is trying to make sure that, visually, the comic is as easy to read and understand as possible. Characters all look different, almost unique in their types; the panels are arranged in simple layouts; and the images are very focused. There's detail in his art, but not distracting detail. He uses a lot of close images to make sure the reader's attention is on the focus of the panel. He doesn't leave much to chance in the hope that the reader's eye will be drawn to specific characters or portions of the panel. It's storytelling 101 almost.

Same with David Baron's colours. They're not muddled or trying to be too subtle or nuanced. They're very basic and very clear. He does alter his style throughout the series since he colours every issue except the final one. He definitely takes his cues from the artist and since Leach is focused on clarity, so is Baron.

Tomorrow: Glenn Fabry.