Strip Panel Naked: ‘Unstoppable Wasp’ And Dealing With Complicated Layouts
I love the fun Marvel books, like last week’s Unstoppable Wasp. It reminds me why I started reading superhero comics in the first place, and the whole thing is a blast. You can tell the creators — Jeremy Whitley, Elsa Charretier, Megan Wilson and Joe Caramagna — are having tonnes of fun, too. It starts to bleed into the way they present the story, with some non-traditional layouts on quite a few pages.
The comics form is often limited to just regular panels, gridded pages and the like, but it’s not the only way to draw a story on a page, obviously. So when you see an example like Nadia recounting a story of her father — Hank Pym — and it’s told through the mask of Ant Man, that stands out. It breaks the normal mold of what you’d expect, and it does a couple of things that help tell a story.
The first is it just looks cool. That might sound silly, but it’s true. You turn the page, see this change, and it looks different enough to pique your interest. It also contains this flashback sequence within the context of it being Hank Pym’s story — it’s all told within that helmet. Both of those things lead to the final thing it achieves, which is distinction from the rest of the story. It looks and feels different — which is important because it is, it’s a flashback. It doesn’t need to follow the same rules the rest of the story does.
Beyond the layout, Wilson is able to do some great color work on the page, too. The red wrapping the gutters and the Ant Man helmet signifies Nadia and her past, and a link to the red room where she grew up. That red ties into Nadia and her world a lot in the rest of the issue, too, as she is predominantly dressed in shades of red, while the world around her is often green. The red seems to mean her isolation, a link to the bad parts of her past, but also through that pain a link to her father. Her costume contains a fair chunk of red, for example. It’s a great use of created conflict with the color all through the book, but noticeably by the end, Nadia has shed her big red coat and gone to a cooler yellow/orange.
So you see the red that fills this layout, but the top panel in the helmet is black and white. It helps with the sense of the flashback and an old-timey feeling, but it sets that “happy” panel apart from the rest. It’s not as conflicted, and she’s not as divided in her emotions about that part of the story — that’s where her father and mother were content.
There’s a lot going on in this layout, clearly. Which does then pose a problem. We know how to read a comic with a traditional format, let to right, top to bottom. When you have something like this, where the content in each panel has various points of focus to attend to, and not a clear direct way to view them in the right order — for example the panel in the mouth area of the helmet has multiple overlapping images — then that’s where your letterer comes in.
I’ve written and talked about Caramagna before, but on this page you can see how much he’s guiding you.
The lines are so clearly brought in, in that standard double Z curve. By clever and thoughtful placement of the balloons, you are led easily and careful through the right imagery, in the right order. A confusing layout gets entirely nullified by this, and all that’s left is the great storytelling and inventive design with none of the flaws.
You’ll read me writing this a lot throughout Strip Panel Naked articles, but when a team gels like this, it really does lead to fun results, and Unstoppable Wasp is one hell of a fun read.
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