Strip Panel Naked: Toying With Scale In ‘God Country’
There's a really fun set-up in God Country, by Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, Jason Wordie and John J. Hill, which starts to heavily utilize the idea of scale in the second issue. It becomes a major feature of the work, and one that the team keeps drawing attention to, page after page.
You first notice it on the front cover, this landscape piece with the title spread across it, and the main character crouched beneath it. He looks tiny in comparison, the cover in effect flipping the regular format of large heroic figure taking up the bulk of the page.
In his hand is the sword that was revealed at the end of the first issue --- again, quite large. The lead character in this story actually becomes the smallest point of focus on the cover.
That plays throughout the book, too, and it's interesting to see how Cates and Shaw adapt the framing and choices to move our lead, Emmett, into various different sizes. It starts to depend on scene context, and who he's with. For example, on the opening page he's framed with his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter.
Now, here he looks kind of mighty --- in stature at least. He's the largest character in that frame by some margin, standing over a head taller than his son, and he's clearly stockier and thicker, through his limbs and torso. It's deliberately creating a sense that he's tougher, bigger, stronger. His son is seeing him this way, it's how he plays in this situation.
However, as the page progresses, we see Emmett get smaller by kneeling down to hug his granddaughter. Suddenly, in that third panel, all of that power and weight disappears, and he's been placed on the same level as her, directly in the centre of the panel.
Again that sword comes up. Here it's tucked away in the scene, in the first panel behind Emmett and the scenery, and in that final panel being cropped by the borders. It's there, but cleverly it's not being brought to the foreground to get your attention, which means the scale of Emmett is never compromised in comparison. He's smaller than that sword, so if they make it a focus, Emmett starts to seem smaller again.
Here's an example from a few pages on, where the sword is seen in it's entirety. By placing the camera above Emmett and his son, we lose that huge size disadvantage he has, and now the focus is on the plane of the sword. It's an extra nice touch that Wordie gives the sword this blue hue, as in that first page the sword disappears into a similarly-coloured background, but here, against the orange ,it starts to pop.
That final panel on this page removes any scale differential between the son and Emmett again, by having them shoulders up, face to face. They're on the same level.
Then the first splash page hits, when Aristus lands into the story. Again, the key here is pure scale. He takes up nearly two thirds of the page, the house and Emmett very, very small in comparison. So we start to see a slight weakening of Emmett here, and some drama and fear is created by giving us someone far bigger than him and the sword.
The next page opens with this panel, which again invites that comparison:
It continues throughout the book, this shaping and re-shaping of characters' sizes within the world, and it's a lovely touch to give the book a sense of drama. It's entirely unrealistic, and a clever use of the medium.
In film, you might generate this effect by re-positioning the camera in some way, but the magic of comics means you can adapt your sizing when you need to to draw effect, and it never feels odd or out of place. Shaw, Wordie, Cates and Hill have crafted a great second issue that reveals a lot more about the world, and particularly Emmett --- and often, it's hinged on something so simple as the size of the characters in the frames.