Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Sins of the Wreckers : The Visual Storytelling of Contrast, Scale and Composition.

 - Leigh Gregurke 

Sins of the Wreckers (2016) Written and Drawn by Nick Roche, Colours by Josh Burcham with additional colours by Joana Lafuente, letters by Tom B. Long, edited by John Barber. Published by IDW.

In the last five years we have seen an escalation of quality in the depiction of character relationships through wonderful and considered writing in Transformers comics. Sins of the Wreckers is an excellent example of visual storytelling, using a series of elements to show and demonstrate characters interactions to the reader. Roche's both written and drawn work is heavily informed I think by contrast and tone, both visually and in its written narrative. In this three part series I will investigate a number of panels and pages and shed light on the visual language and methods that had me so engaged.


The opening page acts both as an establishing shot of setting but also of tone. Intersecting the stark blackness of our setting of space we find predominantly contrasting white cuts that promote our eye to move through the image. A journey towards both the falling character Kup and then directional to earth, our destination. Each inset panel slowly reveals an element previously abstracted and ties to the presented text information suggesting mystery and disappearance. Even with the contrast of tones, the common connection between the coldness of the winter landscape and space, the restriction of visual information and the importance of light connect the spaces. The illumination in the final scene as the lights hit the rabbit switching its tone from grey to white suggests not only contrast and shift but informs us that brightness also can have an obfuscating effect. This element of sourced light is again used in the off colour Kup, heavily illuminated at one side suggesting another object off camera and then called back upon later in the book in a pivotal moment as pure white light is utilized to establish pivotal junctures. I feel as if we are shown hints of what to expect, this is a dense work that demands examination.


It is only when he is alone in a moment of solitude, a rare switch to an ordered 9 panel page by Roche in this book, that Kup is often upright and centered, detached in his own space. The prevailing expectation of Kup's age is evident but also his stress, tiredness and struggle with his own conscious state is displayed visually. A sombre moment as he pleads with Springer to 'wake up' the final panel returns to an isolated and again slumped Kup, contextually we question the target of the monologue.


In contrast to Kup, Arcee is dynamic and recurrently angled in an A shape pointing towards the top of panel. Roche uses a number of low angled shots to demonstrate her posture, power and control of a scene often in a stark contrast to the other figures. I think it could be said a lot of artists have struggled at times to entertain the traditional curved lines of Arcee but still create a blunt sense of aggression and intent but Roche pulls his lines and curves long. Extenuating a worms eye approach especially in scenes with Verity, we see an exaggeration of the dominance. Roche allows the hard angle of the sword in overwrought perspective to draw our eye and its presence somehow straightens the angles of her form . The choice to position the image against a white ground is not uncommon in sequential art but has a certain musicality in this book. The key beats and impacting moments are chosen to be illuminated and exist against white or exist purely as white, drawing back to our opening page and continuing that method in a final inset panel faded to black giving a stark contrast.

Something else I love in the above page is the visual pathway the road, as minimal it is the image provides. Like the slashes of Arcee's sword the mark making is aggressive, the road crosses down and then back and finally in rhythm down again, reminding me of some of the wonderful visual poetry of Miller/Janson's Daredevil. The artist directs the movement on the page and it reads quick, the mark making like the opening page direct your eye and set its speed.


The relationship of perspective and power between characters is continued with Hubcap and his crew mates. Although we are not unfamiliar with Impactor looking down on a character the framing of him in the foreground, not even creating an eye line with Hubcap further diminishes his scale in the shot creating clear information about the status relationship. Without the words, just through posture, scale and framing we get a clear visual identity. Even Roadbuster with his lack of facial features is importantly placed between the two figures demonstrating his balance in the conversation.  

This relationship's relevance emerges as the story unfolds and is perhaps most wonderfully executed when upon entering the Noizemaze we see a very visual juxtaposition of power. Roche once again exaggerates an angle, slumping Verity and playing the distortion of the space as Hubcap now towers in the frame. Hubcap reaches forward and is now cast in shadow......obfuscated. A tremendous visual switch that reflects the narrative arc of the character who is primarily informed by the perception of power and status as we fade again again to black. The final visual arc of Hubcap (page not pictured) has him reasoning for his life with Prowl. Roche places his figure stuck at the bottom of panels, emerging only with his torso or head as he pleads and often in long shot extenuating his small stature. A simple flat shot, an A+B camera angle would have not been able to convey the same information visually that these panels do, the choices make it all work.


There is something I am drawn to when an artist takes to writing their own work, perhaps it is that ability to know the subtext you wish you transmit and being able to code visual elements that a writer may not have the tools to express. Roche's work on Sins of the Wreckers, I believe is worthy of deeper inspection than it garnered upon release and I recommend taking up the book again and just examining how the story is told visually, seeing the patterns and understanding the choices at artist makes.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you have not done so, I recommend picking up the collected trade of Sins of the Wreckers, more than likely available to be ordered through your local comic store.

This is part one of a three part analysis, in the next piece I will dissect symbology, literary reference and conscious/sub-conscious themes. 

As always, keep it #Refined

Follow Leigh on Twitter at @AmbushThem

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