Thursday, March 04, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: Hellblazer #142.1 by Javier Pulido

[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 #142.1 ("Setting Sun"). Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by Javier Pulido. Coloured by James Sinclair.

Hellblazer #142 contains two stories, so I'm doing one each over the next two days. The first, drawn by Javier Pulido, has John Constantine summoned for help. A woman he knows runs a boarding house and, that morning, one of the tenants died, but, now, his ghost is lying on the bed. He's a Japanese man who needs to tell his story and have an action performed, so he tells John his story of medical experiments and depravities in Manchurian China during World War II when Japan occupied the country. Insane, cruel stuff like freezing a woman's arms and then exposing them to the steam of boiling water to watch the skin flake off. Or killing a man via a decompression chamber after forcing him listen to the soldiers rape his daughters. His final horror is of taking a man's organs out one by one just because he could. After he tells the tale, he doesn't want absolution, he needs John to take his surgical kit from beneath the bed and do it to him. A very simple, somewhat shocking story.

First, the colouring on this story is very striking. In the opening pages, we see John arrive at the house via Chas's cab with windows coloured solid red, so is the sky. The rest of the world is somewhat muted and the red stands out. In the bedroom, the entire thing is bathed in pale blue light and the flashback are done in greys. Very simple colours, but they stand out.

Pulido's art is cartoony with thick lines, minimalist... his John Constantine is rail thin and pointy-headed with spikey hair. The art is effective as it works against what it's depicting. This story makes use of the narration being pushed to the gutters, resulting in some odd layouts as the flashback pages (where the narration occurs) have panels scattered over the page. They don't seem as purposefully laid as John Higgins or Tim Bradstreet's layouts. Both of those artists went for simpler layouts, while Pulido is more inclined to play around with the placement of text by having space left below one panel and above the next. It's not difficult to read, but is a little more chaotic.

He draws some stunning panels. A shot of the Japanese doctor's face through the broken window of the decompression chamber always comes to mind when I think of this issue. The twisted, crazed grin through broken glass... beautiful. His drawing of the woman's skin flaking off is surreal in that it doesn't look like it belongs and you want to blame Pulido for not drawing it right, but, in reality, it's that what he's depicting just looks unnatural and wrong. That's a problem with horror in comics: artists have a hard time capturing it without it looking fake even though seeing it in real life would look fake.

One odd tic to Pulido's art is that his non-Asian characters look Asian. Constantine, Chas, and the woman all have very narrow eyes, Constantine, in particular, looking two steps removed from manga with his skinny, spikey face/head/hair and narrow eyes. Constantine looks younger here than in any of the other artists' issues. It isn't too distracting in a short story where half of it focuses on other characters, but in a Constantine-focused story, it would stand out in a bad way. I was put off somewhat by the end of the issue.

Overall, Pulido's work on this story is good, but it's definitely some of the weakest from Ellis's run on the book.

Tomorrow: the other half of Hellblazer #142 with "One Last Love Song" drawn by James Romberger.