Thumbnail: Francis Manapul’s Masterful ‘Detective Comics’ Layouts
One of the most pleasant surprises of the New 52 relaunch was Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato's run on The Flash. With clever, Will Eisner-inspired titles pages and chaotic compositions that emphasized movement rather than structure, Manapul's layouts were impressive without being superfluously...flashy. Eye-popping, complex designs weren't slathered across every page; they were saved for the moments when it best served the story. So it's not too much of a surprise that his work on Detective Comics looks completely different.
Where The Flash was colorful and kinetic, the current story in Detective Comics is a dark mystery, and appropriately, Manapul takes a different approach.
The most impressive layouts in The Flash were all about movement: action-to-action transitions that went by at a high clip and brilliantly conveyed Barry Allen's super-speed. In Detective, Manapul goes the opposite direction, using more aspect-to-aspect and subject-to-subject transitions to slow the perceived passage of time. The emphasis is on stillness rather than motion; effects that bring you deeper in to the story rather than through it.
Instead of the slanted, distorted, and irregular panel frames of The Flash, we have mostly 90-degree angles, with boxes inside of boxes; Tetris-like puzzles that make the reader stay on the page a moment longer. At one point you're even inside a box inside a box inside a box, when Batman tries to stop the Anarky virus, and we're looking at him from a perspective inside the computer. When Batman fails, Manapul conveys all the mayhem of the countdown to detonation with more boxes inside of boxes, showing the virus progressing, the panic of the crowd, and Batman leaping outside and scaling the building, all with aspect-to-aspect transitions (i.e.; transitions between different aspects of the same place or moment).
That's not to say the book is without action: Manapul has a real talent for mapping out the eye's movements and manipulating tempo, and he never spares on dynamic motion.
In particular, the car chase scene is DC #38 is a two-page textbook on pacing in sequential art. With a generally slower pace for the rest of the story, though, and the exceptional colors of Brian Buccellato adding depth and mood, those flashy action scenes really count.
'Thumbnail' is a new recurring feature in which we invite our writers to reflect on comic book details that deserve a little extra attention, whether it's a favorite character, an artistic choice, or a striking page.