Sunday, 18 June 2017

Kirby's Panels

Comic books are graphic narratives. All of Kirby's skill and style - style that, as comic book great Will Eisner often said, was a way to disguise artistic limitations - would be irrelevant if he lacked a story-telling ability. It is in the shift between panels that the comic book is energised. 

This sequence of four panels from The Fantastic Four (slides 37 - 38) offers a short introduction to Kirby's storytelling. The first panel sets up the action - a gun is fired - before the second panel answers - the shot is reflected. In panel three, the shot returns to the aggressor, and in the fourth, the consequences are revealed. 

This taut, concise narrative line is embellished by the swirling shading and the posture of the characters: the initial dynamism and contortion of the first panel eventually resolves into the almost static figure in the fourth, with competing elements of stability, as in the defending posture of panel two, competing with flux, like the flames in the final panel.

This competition between poise and imbalance lends a simple sequence an epic, hysterical ferocity.

This two panel sequence from Captain America uses a similar tension: the protagonist's body falls, awkward and disjointed, while the antagonist hangs calmly, a static focus around which the drama curls (slide 39).

Another four panel sequence from The Fantastic Four (stripped of dialogue) uses a simple anecdote to represent the relationships between the characters without intruding on the action (slide 40).

The emergence of The Thing (slide 41) has become an iconic moment in comic book history, and Kirby's use of three panels for a moment's transformation lends it the appropriate gravitas.

By the 1970s, in this example from The Fourth World, Kirby relies on shapes and no characters to create a building sense of anticipation (slide 42).

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