Monday, November 25, 2013

Opening Contract - Moth City #2

This weeks Opening Contract marks a return to the expanding frontier of digital comics, this time in the form of Moth City Issue 2 by Tim Gibson (I’m using the ComiXology editions for those following along at home).

That said, I implore you to click through to the Moth City website and read the strip in its entirety. It’s truly excellent and blazes a trail few are following, showing us all what’s possible with this latest iteration of the comics medium.

In a previous column I discussed Alex De Campi’s Valentine. There, digital was used to broaden the concept of what constitutes a panel, using the swipeable/clickable screens of phones, tablets and computers to pan through a scene, establishing the sweep and scale of it. Each swipe/click revealed new information, giving us an idea of scope, slowing down the pace to ensure we took it in. With Moth City, Gibson plays with a similar toolset but employs them for a slightly different effect, as well as adding tools and tricks of his own.

The panel itself is a splash page and, like Valentine, is designed to be read in landscape orientation. The dominant aspect of the page is the sound effect of the gunshot (BLAM!!), the kerning and slight slant of the text subtly suggesting the speed and direction of the bullet. Beneath the SFX we see an image, the mystery assailant from the last issue clutching his objective, the flask, as the bullet tears through his shoulder, its path of flight suggested by the linework and colours.

The assailant occupies the far left of the screen with the middle occupied by the spray of blood, and the right being taken up by the remaining splatter and the sky beyond. On its own it looks fairly innocuous, but when you look at it again you can perhaps argue that the underlying image is split into three parts – assailant, spray, the sky. This, as we’ll see, is suggestive of what comes next.

As we swipe/click through to the next screen we once again see the same figure in the same pose, on the left hand side. The bullet is tearing through his shoulder as before, and the SFX is present too (albeit much smaller). To the right of this is a larger panel taking up the rest of the screen, showing us the assailant falling backwards off the balcony towards the ground below. When more swipes/clicks are made a series of three ascending vertical panels show the assailant’s fall from the tower into a handily placed canopy.

The first panel then gives us a taste of the next screen in two ways. Firstly, it shows us the image of the assailant beneath the SFX. It shows us the action that dominates the next screen but accentuates and heightens it with the SFX dominating the screen. The first panel suggests the feeling of being shot, the experience of the assailant himself.

Secondly, it segments the page into three parts, suggesting the motion of the bullet and its speed. The same effect is used on the next screen – the bullets impact, the assailant staggering backwards and his subsequent fall. The first panel is prologue, the next screen is set up, conflict and resolution.
The panel is also indicative of a tool that Gibson uses effectively throughout Moth City – the idea of layers and using them to withhold or parcel out information with the intention of a surprising reveal or shock.

In the subsequent chase sequence that follows the opening of this issue Gibson begins a new page with nothing but black and a single piece of SFX (DUN). Each successive click/swipe lays in another SFX element (DUN DUN) and another before the next swipe reveals an image ‘below’ the SFX of the wounded assailant running across the roof of a moving car. It’s a great piece of comics, suggesting sound and, with the introduction of the accompanying image, movement. It’s words and images working in perfect unison as comics always have but, by delaying the juxtaposition, Gibson heightens the moment. Later, in the same issue, a panel features two shining ovals in the dark before a swipe ‘turns on the lights’ and reveals them as a pair of glasses on a corpse.

The control over reveals such as this and the opening panel are a real advantage of this iteration of digital comics and one Gibson uses well. It’s why I feel genres such as action and horror are particularly ripe for this kind of comic. Tension, conflict, and good old fasioned scares can all be created using this technique.

In addition to this, the opening panel points out another area where digital comics perhaps have an advantage over their printed counterparts. Digital allows creators a greater degree of control over what elements of the story to bring to the attention of the reader. Each screen can begin with a splash before bringing in additional elements and panels to heighten the impact or focus of a specific image, action or piece of dialogue. Layers can be tweaked, removed and altered – focus, subtraction of elements, addition of text, changes in expression and so on.

As Scott McCloud said
“Pictures can induce strong feelings in the reader, but they also lack the specificity of words. Words, on the other hand, offer that specificity, but can lack the immediate emotional charge of pictures, relying instead on a gradual cumulative effect.”
Digital allows for the creator to control that cumulative effect more than ever before, something Moth City and this opening panel proves in spades.

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