Friday, March 26, 2010

Art Discussion Month 2010: Red #1-3 by Cully Hamner

[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.]

Red #1-3. Written by Warren Ellis. Drawn by Cully Hamner. Coloured by David Self.

Man, I love Red. I had a list that I made for fun/out of boredom of books and comics that I would adapt into a film or TV series (depending on the property) if I could and Red was on it. Obviously, other people agree given that the movie is being made. I can't wait.

The simplicity of Red is stunning. Paul Moses killed people for the government and now he's retired, living in seclusion. The new politically appointed CIA Director has been shown a video of what Moses did. He wants Moses killed for fear that it would leak that he existed. Moses has decided to kill the Director and his people, because they broke their side of the agreement and tried to kill him. It's three issues of Moses killing folks.

Cully Hamner has a cartoony style, but it's a blocky, kind of angular one rather than a rounded one. Steve Rolston had a rounded cartoony style. Hamner is more angular with straight lines. Paul Moses has a simple look: bald, big eyebrows, looks like he's made out of granite. He doesn't have scars or wrinkles: he has fucking cracks. It looks like his face is cracked. He's a man of stone that's just kind of old. Hamner does a great thing by giving him this little gap between his front teeth that makes him look kind of goofy and stupid when he smiles.

Moses shows a lot of emotion in this book despite the idea that he's be stone-faced. There are scenes where he's happy and he looks kind. It's disarming and makes you get behind him. Yes, he's killed people and that's awful, but... he likes talking to his case worker once a week and getting letters from his niece. He has a niece! And he has a gap in his teeth when he grins his dumb-looking grin. When he's talking to his case worker on the phone, he just looks like a nice old guy. It's hard almost to reconcile the different Paul Moses we see, mostly because Hamner draws them so differently. It's 100% consistent, but the look is so different. It's remarkable storytelling since he gets across two different moods and looks so effectively while drawing the same character.

One of my favourite panels is in the first issue. On the previous page, we got three panels of Moses enjoying his day. One panel where he's reading outside at a table with an umbrella, pitcher and glass of lemonade (I assume) on the table, then he's walking through an area with cut grass, newly planted trees evenly spaced, nice shrubs, then he unlocks his door to come inside. (During this, the colouring is fantastic, changing the brightness and shade of the background lighting to show the passage of time.) On the next page, he enters the room, goes to turn on the light after hanging his hat up, flicks the switch, and... we get a panel where Moses has his head at a 3/4 turn, eyes looking at us, the background entirely black. I love this panel. The blackness tells us that the light didn't turn on. His look tells us that he knows why and that, yes, he's about to kill some motherfuckers dead. Great panel.

The action in the book is presented in a straight forward, direct fashion. Each stage of fights are shown in crystal clear clarity. There's no spot in the comic where I need to stop and examine a panel to figure out what's happening. I stop and examine, sure, but that's because the art looks good. It's meticulous in its execution. Moses is also professional the entire time, but not without emotions. The slowed down action is effective. This is meant to be a brutally violent comic, but it's supposed to show that filtered through the effectiveness of Moses. We have to see each step of what he does to fully appreciate the monstrosity of who he is. He's who we cheer for and identify with, but we shouldn't. This is a story with two sides that are... well, wrong. He's the monster and they're the people benefitting from his existence while condemning him for what he did. There's a wonderful scene in the third issue where the Director is on the phone with Moses and begins to threaten to kill his niece and we watch him get angrier and uglier as he begins to do a fraction of what Moses does... and, then, Moses enters the room and the guy fucking breaks down crying when Moses said he killed the Director's family. It's funny in that absurd way and Hamner does it brilliantly. The slow build-up and the quick break down.

The colouring goes for reality and mood. The issue opens with a great sundown lighting effect of a pinkish colouring that I never see in other comics (aside from The Authority #3-4, which I'll get to on Wednesday -- and any other books I'm forgetting). It's a lighting that people will instantly recognise, but is rarely used. Throughout the comic, David Self will forego reality for mood, colouring the sky red at the end of the first issue to reflect Moses's return to killing. Or the colours in the flashbacks we see. Usually, he goes for reality, showing the subtle effects of street lights and headlights, but in a simple manner to match Hamner's art.

The final page is awesome, too. I won't spoil it.

Tomorrow, Chris Weston and Ministry of Space.