Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Black Hood, or how comics tell stories

(Clockwise from upper
left: Black Hood #1,
Black Hood #1, Black
Hood #1, and Black
Hood #1)
I almost never buy individual issues of comics because I don't like working myself into a state of excitement over something that will take me five minutes to read, then having to wait a month before I can resume the story. That's why I prefer trade paperbacks that compile five or six or eight issues. (Most recently I bought and read the two books that collect the 11 final issues of Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera's awesomely good Scalped.)

Philadelphia's own Duane Swierczynski and his artist collaborator Michael Gaydos compensate for the small number of pages in a typical comic by packing a whole lot of beautifully spare storytelling into those pages. The climax of the opening scene in their new Black Hood series, for example, is one panel, one color, and 19 words: "And as the dark came down over my head, I couldn't help but wonder: Would anyone give a shit?"

That's a lot of storytelling, mood-setting, and existential-doubt establishing for one little panel about two inches high and three inches wide, and Gaydos and the colorist didn't have to vary their palette much; the panel's all black, except for the two little white rectangles where the character's thoughts appear.

As often with good comics, I like the way the two media — words and pictures — play off one another, sometimes together, sometimes one (usually the picture) offering ironic commentary on the other. The Black Hood is something like a masked-avenger tale, the story of a guy, here a wounded police officer, who dons a mask and assumes a new identity before going out into the world to attack criminals, but the first glimpse of the protagonist in his hood is anything but heroic.

And Swierczynski is a hell of a technician and craftsman if he can get the hero to refer to "the 15-year-old inside my head" without even coming close to breaking the dark mood.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Blogger seana graham said...

I get really excited about comic books about one day a year, which is national comic book day, when you can go to the comic book stores and get free comic books. But last year I forgot to go. This year it's May 2nd I see, so thanks for reminding me.

March 26, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I got a book or two at my local comics shop on National Comic Book Day, so thank you for reminding me.

This was not the first post I had made about one of Duane's comics. Perhaps hard-boiled crime fiction, which has a tradition of laconic prose, is thereby especially well-suited to illustration. With relatively few words, there's lot os room for the pictures to contribute to the story.

March 26, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

Yes, they look great. I think what happens for me around the National Comic Book day is that I actually stop and spend time looking at the way the artist and writer have teamed up, rather than just speeding on through. For awhile, I pay extra attention to any kind of cartooning even if it's just something informational. It recedes from my awareness again, unfortunately.

March 26, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, that's what National Comic Book Day and my occasional posts about comics are for. Detectives Beyond Borders: Fostering Visual Awareness For Almost One-Eleventh of a Century.

The final issues of Scalped include several long (by comic standards), wordless, and highly effective fight scenes.

March 26, 2015  
Blogger Unknown said...

My last experience with comics was Classics Illustrated. I think I will take a pass on new comics. But I am amused by the characters on Big Bang Theory (e.g., their addiction to comics). I hope that does not make me a snob.

Postscript: I do like Krum's work. Have you seen his illustrated Kafka?

March 26, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have not see the illustrated Kafka, I have had two brushes with comics since my youth: I discovered Harvey Pekar in the 1980s, and I have read Scalped in recent years, along with occasional issues of 100 Bullets, Ex Machina, and another title or two. (Click on the word "comics" at the bottom of this post for a link to my other posts on the subject.)

I will say that if Alan Moore created the boom in dark, angst-ridden superhero comics with the brilliant Watchmen, what followed has been exceedingly thin: all full-bleed color, dark palette, cover prices whose rise had greatly exceeded the rate of inflation, and a hero whose worth id measured by the angst he suffers--you know, because that's an ironic commentary on the "super" in "super hero."

March 26, 2015  

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