Thursday, 24 August 2017

Defining the work of Geoff Senior. Part 2/3

 - Leigh Gregurke

There is no one single rule or method that makes a page work. What exists is a range of tools employed by artists such as the mechanics of page flow, direction hierarchy and overall shape harmony. These may not be immediately implicit on a page but it is nearly always apparent when they are absent. 

You might not remember the pages that don't work because chances are if they were common in a book it wasn't great and you didn't make it far through. Many times I wade through a book, struggling because I find myself re-reading a page trying to find the rhythm, getting lost in the panels or struggling to identity the pace. Geoff Senior pages nearly always read easily and the information the writer wished to transmit is always clear.

In part one I touched on some of the more iconic pages of Geoff Senior but it's the absolute craft that appears on a regular basis that cements his legacy as the best. To spotlight the mechanics employed by Senior here are three different pages over three different eras of his career examined.

Leading the eye.

Marvel Comics

In a page from Matrix Quest, Senior employs a lot of spot blacked shadows to convey the sense of dread, tension and confinement perfectly suited to the horror themes Senior and Furman were exploring in a heavily Alien influenced 1990 issue. The shadows serve a dual purpose however not only of obfuscation and foreshadowing but acting as non obtrusive guiding lines.

The first down-stroke across the face is wonderful in giving us immediate tone but it also points us down to the left of the next panel. Clever work by the letterer Jim Massara filling the blank space draws us from Bumblebee's face towards the monitor; one of the major light sources of the page. Senior halts us, shows a new entrant to the scene; Grimlock again bathed in shadow contrasting against the negative space of the room beyond. It's the cast shadow of a cable or other piece of the environment that curves and almost tangents us directly into the pulled back shot giving us the room and context. A spot blacked element of foreground then drives us back across so the final panel reads almost in reverse. We find ourselves drawn to the connection between eye line, head-spike then the arm shunting out. By building movements across the page it builds pace, the arm although not using speed-lines or texture has direction and impact, it feels sudden, powerful and definitive. Senior provides us cause and effect, permission of eye movement blocked and controlled by suggested character movement.

Pausing the eye.

Marvel Comics

If you were to take the script of this page I think the first instinct might be to make the prominent panel the moment of Trailbreaker being shot; Senior resists however and provides us with engaging pacing and directional tools to build tension. The top panel is a trademark 86 Senior establishing shot, wide and flat and gives us the beat for the rest of the page. The dominant following panel switches the pace, completely stalling the eye, pulls the viewer up and away above the eye-line to show the predicament of the character. Even though we don't see through Scourge's eyes, we see the situation and each rack of steel leads the eye to a different direction. We don't get a clear read on where the action will be. It is the opposite effect to the clear road-map of the previous analyzed page and it is completely intentional. We feel the initial confusion, the maze, the viewers eye has to pause and explore the options we are trained to follow.

The narrative of Furman of course depicts the character of Scourge as the alpha hunter though, even when we are paused his hesitation is short lived. In that moment of pause we become the hunted and feel the tension of the hiding trio about to be revealed feel. You know that feeling when you are playing hide and seek? Waiting and knowing you are about to be found, that wait is agonizing. The panel is that wait. 

Scourge's shot mirrors the top panel but at a shorter size showing it's a shorter beat; the pace ramps up. The lettering insert lets us know that he reacts with terrifying speed but we already know that, we see it. The page isn't about a character being shot as much as it is about the tension beforehand, it shows us a character trait and puts us into the emotional state of three characters only pictured once in the final panel.

Directional hierarchy and shape harmony

Marvel Comics

Sometimes a page isn't always about the read order though, consider the above page that almost reads as though it could be filmed as a montage. The action all feels simultaneous. The effects of the subsequent panels to the left are shown affecting the initial. Every panel reads as upwards rising energy, every line is filled with a directional intent that starts from the bottom radiating towards the top. The directional hierarchy isn't subtle on this page and was not, I think, intended to be but there are other techniques at play hiding under the surface.

The page has intent to give us a feeling of a grouped barrage, a united front against the seemingly unbeatable foe in the giant planet eater Unicron. The directional choice gives us the stage of the battle. We know the players are on the ground, small.....even the normally heroically larger form of Optimus Prime and hulking brute of Scorponok are reduced to a head joining the directional choir and an insert panel. 

The first narrow panel gives us extra context of the results of the impact but we instinctively know from the story and the lore that Unicorn is upwards always, his size and celestial nature make it so. The second layer of shape harmony is subtle but one I think is entirely intentional, the other dominant shape coexisting with the straight directional lines are the circular forms depicting the effects of the weaponry, the curve of Scorponok's tail, the base and details of the planetary guns and the arc of the rising fighter jets. Senior I believe could have had the jets angling up and leftwards to create a stronger sense of directional hierarchy but instead having them accentuate that arc we see a hint towards both the spherical nature of Cybertron and of Unicron, two hugely dominant spherical forces at the heart of the book. Senior creates a page that not only reads unified in direction but in shape, no other visual element goes against the harmony causing friction or demanding the eye. Even Rick Parker's letters are kept tight and tidy to the borders to avoid contrasting the status quo. 

These are but some of the incredible works of Geoff Senior. Every page contains a number of techniques, tricks or tools to make them stand out and tell a story. Find a book that Senior worked on, find a page and take a look under the bonnet, why does it work?

The next and final installment of this examination of the work of Geoff Senior attempts to show you the mark making and line quality that defines a Senior. I hope to even teach you how to draw like Senior. Ambitious I know.

As always, keep it #Refined

follow Leigh @Ambushthem

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