Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: Hellblazer #140 by Frank Teran

[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.]

Hellblazer #140 ("Locked"). Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by Frank Teran. Coloured by James Sinclair.

This story doesn't have any narration, so it operates visually in a more traditional manner than "Haunted" did. It's a fairly simple story: a man has spent a week slowly torturing and killing people in his room, scarring it to the point where anyone who enters the room goes crazy, and the police need John Constantine to sort it out. A nice little horror story that also doubles of an interrogation room story. While my focus here is on the art, the more I think about Ellis's Hellblazer run, the more it becomes apparent that it's really detective/police fiction... obvious to some, probably.

Frank Teran has a very dark, rough, sketchy style. His Watford is a lumpy, ugly man that is a good interpretation of John Higgins's version of the character. His Constantine looks a little younger than most artists depict him. He's got these big blue eyes and genuinely looks like a charming fellow. That's something I don't often see: John Constantine looking like a charmer. He's supposed to be one, so looking like one makes sense.

Teran uses a lot of heavy inks to suggest the dirty, disturbing nature of the building and the story. The two opening pages, consisting of four panels each, depict a small piece of each day as the man kills his friends. They're done in very close-up shots, depicting more a suggestion of the horror than the horror itself. It's more effective than outright showing the killing. Teran takes that approach for the rest of the issue, preferring to provide visual hints about what's happened (taking his cue from Ellis) since, honestly, that's scarier.

The best thing about Teran's art is how he progressively alters the killer. At first, he's a dirty, balding, crazy-eyed man. He looks a little like a monster, but, as the story continues, he becomes more and more a monster. By the end, he resembles Gollum somewhat. He goes from cool scary to goofy scary over the course of his discussion with Constantine, matching Ellis's script, as Constantine slowly picks him apart, breaking him down from Monster to Sad Lonely Man. By the end, the character is so pathetic that he's this cartoonish, goofy villain ala Gollum. Terran depicts that wonderfully when the killer attacks Constantine at the end, leaping in the air, eyes wide, a long tongue sticking out, arms poised to tackle... he's a fucking goofball that isn't at all scary.

Teran represents the effect of the room on Constantine in an interesting way: he shows squiggles that James Sinclair colours red. Lots of circular patterns and, by the end, little evil monster fish. Simclair separating those squiggles with red makes them stand out effectively. We can see the effect of the magic, which is somewhat rare in this book; but, it also makes Constantine's resistance seem stronger. Without them, the room would become a joke by the end as well. The room is dangerous, the killer is sad and pathetic.

Sinclair's colours are different in this issue than they were in "Haunted." They're darker and dirtier to match Teran's art. In the room, he uses a lot of greys to bathe the room in darkness. He usually colours blood very darkly (it looks because Teran has inked much of it already), but, in a couple of panels, it shows up as bright red -- before Constantine enters the room -- and that's a little off-putting, a little jarring. It adds to the suggestion of horror and the danger of the room and the man inside before we get to go in.

Teran's panel to panel storytelling isn't always consistent throughout the issue. In one sequence, the room's floorboards somehow rip themselves up and, I guess, a piece strikes John in the head, because he's bleeding from a head wound for the rest of the issue. However, this is unclear. The sequence doesn't effectively deliver the information we need. However, the way he shows the final sequence where the killer attacks John and John stabs him in the gut with a broken lamp is very, very good.

I would love to see more of Teran's work since it suits the book (despite John looking a little too young), particularly Ellis's horror approach. Of all of the Hellblazer artists on Ellis's run, I think Teran is the most suited to the type of stories Ellis wanted to tell, though the upcoming James Romberger-drawn story is very effective. But, before we get there, we have a couple of artists to discuss first: tomorrow, Tim Bradstreet in a rare interiors appearance.