Best Sequential Art Ever (This Week): Jeff Smith, Shawn Cheung and Francesco Francavilla
The comic book, animation, illustration, pinup, mashup, fan art and design communities are generating amazing artwork of myriad styles and tastes, all of which ends up on the Internet and filtered into ComicsAlliance’s Best Art Ever (This Week). These images convey senses of mood and character — not to mention artistic skill — but comic books are specifically a medium of sequential narratives, and great sequential art has to be both beautiful (totally subjective!) and clear in its storytelling (not so subjective!). The words and the pictures need to work together to tell the story and create whatever tone, emotion and indeed world the story requires. The contributions of every person on a creative team, from the writer to the artist(s) to the letterers, are necessary to achieving a great page of sequential storytelling.
It is the special nature of comic books that we’re celebrating in this all-new recurring feature: Best Sequential Art Ever (This Week).
Cartozia Tales #1
“Master Cyrus & The Boy”
By Shawn Cheung
Cartozia Tales is an interesting experiment in sequential, serialized storytelling with a group of creators. The art throughout each issue is in various different styles and by many different artists, including two featured guest stars in each issue. Like most anthologies, it can be hit or miss at times but as a whole it’s a good showing by the whole team. This story in particular has gorgeous artwork. With a few simple lines, Shawn Cheung manages to evoke fantastic expressions from the characters. The expressions of the character of Blip in particular are great and really charming. The lettering is placed perfectly to work with the art, and even though the page has a lot of panels, everything is clear and moves properly from panel to panel. Although this page is part of a longer story, it tells its own story completely from beginning to end so that it could function as a standalone story.
Rasl is a beautiful thing to behold. Jeff Smith is, of course, an amazingly talented cartoonist so it’s no surprise that his storytelling stands out. Where Smith’s art really excels in this book, though, is in the juxtaposition between the old-timey photographic art and Smith’s regular style. This page is a great example of that. The first four panels flow flawlessly, with the arc of the poker chip in panels 3 and 4 working especially well. The sharp contrast of the final panel and the narrative captions taking the reader into history versus the modern current events of the first part of the page is very effective. At the same time, the contrast doesn’t distract from the story, which is really important.
And by the way, the recent addition of the color to this book in the form of the new hardcover collection really adds depth and mood to the work without overpowering any of the art.
Black Beetle: No Way Out #1
By Francesco Francavilla
Lettering by Nate Piekos of Blambot
Edited by Jim Gibbons
Available: Comics shops (print) / Amazon (print + Kindle) / Dark Horse Comics (iOS + Android + Web + Etc.)
Full disclosure: As an editor I once had the pleasure of working with Francesco Francavilla on Detective Comics a couple years ago. I think Francavilla is one of the strongest storytellers working today. He experiments with layouts without ever making the story unclear for a reader, and his art is perfect for a good noir tale. And all of his strengths are apparent in The Black Beetle. Take this page as an example — the limited color palette works to set the mood but never lets the action blend together as it could. The contrast of the blues and oranges set the characters out from the background and foreground. The curve of the bottom of the upper row of panels doesn’t interrupt the story and instead perfectly frames the important aspects of the following panel. The lettering is placed where it should be to keep the reader moving with the story and the grey balloon background works better here than a white background would.