Sunday, March 14, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: Global Frequency #4 by Roy Allan Martinez

[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 #4 ("Hundred"). Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by Roy Allan Martinez. Coloured by David Baron.

Look at the list of Global Frequency artists and one name stands out: Roy Allan Martinez. Who the fuck is he? Before you see any of his art, he stands out, because he's the only artist that you've probably never heard of. It's not a slight against him, it's just that this was a book filled with well-known artists, many of whom don't do a lot of interior comics work and Martinez was (and still is, I guess) something of an unknown. It's a case of 'one of these things is not like the other,' right?

And I rather like his work in this issue. It's an action issue. A web development company/cult has taken hostages and will kill them all as well of themselves unless their weird demands are met. The GF has two operatives in Melbourne, Australia. A black cop named Danny and an English tourist named Jill. They need to go in and save people using guns.

Martinez's style is a little stiff in places. His characters are rendered with clean lines that vary between very minimalist and photorealistic. It's a little jarring in places, the switch. On one page, we have two panels with detailed close-ups of Danny and Jill each sandwiching one where Danny is a vague, somewhat impressionistic blob despite being... oh, let's say five to ten feet from the reader's perspective. It doesn't always flow strongly. Taken as individual panels, they look nicely almost always, but that's only half the job (or is it a different fraction of the job? Discussion question!).

Near the end of the issue, there's a wordless series of panels where I honestly can't figure out what I'm supposed to be getting from them. Danny kicks down a door; looks back at Jill, looking slightly nervous; we see Jill's mouth in the foreground, almost smiling, Danny behind it still looking nervous but not as much; the two run forward guns in hands. It almost looks like there are word balloons missing, because I can't understand the meaning of those panels based on the art alone. I can guess -- but I don't know. And there's no reason to be vague in this issue. This is not a vague, read into the subtext, and form theories sort of comic. This is action kicksplode shoot the fuckers dead sort of comic.

And, generally, Martinez does that well. His jumps from panel to panel convey the chaos of action well, showing the key moments. His layouts, for the most part, are basic. He uses a lot of page-wide panels, not always strongly since they're limiting in ways that hurt the art. Page-wide panels work, ideally, for four panels or less on a page. And, even with four, it's pushing it. Three panels is the perfect amount for that 'widescreen' look with page-wide panels, but Martinez uses them on pages with five or six panels, meaning some are just so damn short and long that what they can show is limiting.

Sorry, it sounds like I dislike the art more than I do. It's easier to pick up on the flaws. It's serviceable, though. Martinez's style doesn't really help the issue the way that the other artists' styles have. David Baron's colours even look a bit more flat and bright/shiny to match the art. So far, it's the weakest Global Frequency art (probably the weakest of the series... though we'll see), but, again, look at the competition. Standing alone, it wouldn't look as bad.

Tomorrow: Jon J Muth draws Global Frequency #5.