Strip Panel Naked: Framing Locations In ‘The Vision’
Gabriel Hernandez Walta might be the most understated artist working on a big-two book. With each issue of The Vision, written by Tom King and with colors by Jordie Bellaire, Walta gave readers a masterclass in visual storytelling.
One of the elements that makes this book so strong is how Walta decides to use the locations and backgrounds to frame characters, which then informs so much of the story happening on the page. There’s an example in the fourth issue that really encapsulates the clever work going into the book.
In this scene, Viv and Vin are outside playing football, and Vision joins them soon after. Virginia, the wife, is in the kitchen. So much of this book deals with windows, particularly for Virginia. She perennially finds herself trapped just one pane of glass away from supposed freedom. We’ve seen it in nearly every issue right from the start.
Here it’s no different, as Virginia is constantly trapped inside the kitchen. Walta has her framed within the frame of the window, where the light doesn’t quite reach her.
Contrast that with Vision and the kids, who are in the freedom and wide open space of the garden. They take full advantage of that a couple of pages later, flying off in these large vertical panels, while Virginia remains trapped inside of various boxes that Walta has constructed for her.
When she takes a phone call, she’s caught in a box of light, her back turned so she is shrouded in darkness. A panel later, this rectangle covers her again, and the final panel of that row she’s trapped inside the house, in that tiny box.
This is Walta telling us that Virginia cannot escape this house, a representation of the life she’s doomed to live.
There’s a clear link between Virginia and the house, too, in how Walta decides to render her clothing. Black is a key visual as the series progresses when it relates to Virginia, but also how Walta draws that black: in these scratchy horizontal lines that pop up in various rooms and backgrounds.
It’s exactly the same black as he creates for Virginia’s clothes. By doing this it creates a visual identifier that ties the character to a location. Virginia matches the aesthetics of the house, in particular, areas of the house rendered in shadow. It might not seem like much, but that alone is enough to keep her weighed down and tied to the house, and everything it represents.
In the final page of this sequence, the effect is in full force. We’re shown four panels with lush backdrops: the autumnal, warm garden scene lifts to bright pastel blue, a background Walta doesn’t even really render. It’s entirely open and unrestrained.
Then the final panel crashes it back down to earth with a close-up of Virginia. In comparison to these wide, full body shots of the previous panels, Virginia has the "camera" up in her face. She’s pushed away from the garden scene both physically and by the window frame, which traps her against this wall. It’s got that same scratchy black rendering too, and Virginia mostly in shadow.
Walta doesn’t just draw a panel of someone in a kitchen, or someone watching something from another room. Every one of these compositions seems to exist for a reason, and while it may not be in-your-face, it’s all compounding an idea throughout the book. Virginia isn’t happy; She’s trapped in a place everyone else seems to be able to escape from.
It’s stunning work, made even more impressive by the fact this is only one very, very small element of what Walta is putting into these pages.
If you want to know how to really tell a story in this medium, here’s your chance to learn.