Strip Panel Naked: How Terry Moore’s ‘Motor Girl’ Conveys Dominating Personalities
Terry Moore continues to make some of the best and oddest comics found on store shelves --- odd especially in their merging of genres, such as in Motor Girl, which seems to stretch from PTSD sufferer's story to spy thriller; and best in that he really has an understanding of conveying character and moments.
That's what I noticed in the opening of the third issue of Motor Girl. Moore is in charge of every element; lettering, inking, pencils and writing --- and it allows him to have complete control of the pacing in these small moments. To that end, he utilizes a noteworthy technique with Sam and her imaginary gorilla best friend, in a doctor's office. Sam still has headaches after returning from being held in an Iraqi prison, and it becomes apparent that the gorilla is something that comes along with that. It's a bittersweet moment of story, when we realize that her damage is what gave her a "best friend."
So what Moore brings to these pages is the utilization of the gorilla and it's size within the panels. He appears and disappears where necessary, and his large frame is used as a force of emphasis to keep bringing up the elephant in the room --- that Sam is damaged. You can't hide from it. That sense of her issues fills the panels and fills the room.
As an example from the first page, we open with those two panels of Sam, initially silent; we pull out to reveal her bored, in her gown, just waiting. In that moment of boredom and silence, we reveal the gorilla. He comes in to fill the void, and he takes up half the panel. His dialogue is, nicely, the internal fears of Sam, which she attempts to put rest to, but can't.
In the panel after, the gorilla now consumes almost all of it, Sam's dialogue small in the background, layered under his own balloon. You really get the sense that he's big, right? It's not just a case of gorillas actually being big, but it's how he fills the room.
The transition from panel two to three, then to four, speaks volumes about how Sam diminishes, how her thoughts switch mode from "everything's okay" to the fear that being here brings. I've lined those panels left to right for you to see directly how she takes up less and less space.
On the next page, the dynamic resets again with the doctor and Sam, both balanced fairly evenly in that initial panel, reflective of the final panel on the first page. It all starts to reset back to "normal".
Then panel two happens, and the gorilla appears again, large, sat in the background. He fills around half of the space, with Sam and the doc pushed to the right half. Panel three shows more of the same, the gorilla covering part of Sam and taking up more room, and then finally completely filling panel four.
Interestingly, Sam and the doc are never made to look small, or drawn particularly small in any of the panels. Rather, they are shoved around, framed around, and placed next to a larger creature. It's clever because Sam never loses power, particularly, but more we're asked to notice how large the gorilla is. That comes from never having to reassess Sam's size. If Moore drew her really small in a panel for added effect, for example, it means we have to rebuild this image of her, her scale, in our heads. The way it's presented here, we can focus on the details Moore wants us to focus on.
It's clever. The human touch is never lost, even though this is two pages with a large gorilla, and that's very important with a sequence dealing with real, honest issues. It's a very fine balance, to bring this level of surrealism while keeping everything grounded, and Moore's approach to keeping the human very human is heavily led by such a simple thing as scale.