- Leigh Gregurke
The team of Senior and Furman is perhaps a big reason why Transformers fiction and art has the credibility and reputation it does now. Its hard to find a working artist who doesn't call on Geoff Senior as an inspiration or love and his work could be seen as defining the visual style of so many now prevalent characters.
What makes Senior so great though? I've always valued his work even from a young age. I would skip other artists at times but never a Senior Issue, never. Now with a more trained eye and understanding of the craft I want to look back and unpack exactly what he did that pulled me into a story with such effect. Over three parts I hope to break down and unpack Senior starting with composition and cause and effect.
I wanted to begin with something I think most people know, Target 2006 Part 8. An issue devoted entirely to a fight between two emergent behemoths of the fiction. Furman uses Medias Res (starting in the middle of the story or action) driving the viewer straight into the work. Senior assists and places us immediately into a dangerous and exciting position visually. The action is angled directly towards and heading past us, the curving lines of the road and the smoke cutting into the gutters, the panel borders themselves cut at the tops showing motion and direction, everything angles towards the centre of the page, defining our focus while the by-standing cars career from its unstoppable path.
The sense of chaos reads immediately and we see the cars careering off the road letting us know the reckless and dangerous nature of the chase venturing to the wrong side of the road. The low shot gives us the underbelly of the Magnus truck mode, the smoke and grit sell the desperation and energy. Both Magnus and the other cars motion remind me of Frank Miller and Sean Gordon Murphy in the way they often depict cars almost airborne in speed, out of control and no longer chained to the surface. I will cover Senior's mark making, spotting of blacks and anchoring lines in a later article but I want to highlight the way Senior uses solid black shapes to show Magnus's cab, it adds tremendous weight and visual priority to the contrasting white of the cab against the stark background.
I think what immediately sells me on the desperation and consequence of this page is the action's visceral intent. Galvatron's hand clutching the shattered roof is both for his own survival but an act of incredible violence. Senior acknowledges the importance of alternate modes in Transformers lore and utilises their physical options for action. Creating a sense of chase in this issue pulls in some of the terror of films of the era that I loved, the relentless pursuit in Westworld and Terminator but also the speed and danger of the chase from Friedkin's To Live and Die in LA.
The page following carries the same intent and utilises a bit of a Senior trademark: the wide flat horizontal shot. In this instance it both acts as an establishing shot giving us a sense of scale but it also acts like a metronome and gives us the beat of the page. Sequential art at its best engages a pace and rhythm to assist the viewer and connect art with a sense of speed. Starting from the left and ending on the right of the page the top horizontal panel provides us a certain constant as the panels following all echo its action and we are reminded always of the situation. The final 2 panels even sit in the in same format as the top panel however zoomed in giving us the detail required to tell the change in situation. Cause and effect exists at the heart of good visual storytelling, the viewer must understand an action and its response. Senior I think delivers action so well in that we see always an act of something happens, therefore another thing happens, there never feels a jump or leap that we struggle to read or understand.
The final page, the climax of the tremendous back and forth struggle ends much like the story began with a now iconic image. Immediately the first two panels establish the emotion and brevity, the consequences of chaos and aggression. The flames all burn to the right providing direction, the following image echoes that direction with trademark Senior impact and we again see the panel borders affected by the action. Galvatron's stance is one of power, exaggeration and dominance and he strides almost out of the panel itself with generous foreshortening on show reminiscent of the great Jack Kirby handling a Captain America Punch. The shape contrasts are perhaps exaggerated more than ever here, Magnus's squared lines against the strong curved form of Galvatron. Almost centrally his cannon attracts the eye as it feels pointed towards the viewer demonstrating menace and dread with its black-hole like emptiness once again echoing the importance of the viewers eye from the opening page. The choice to obscure Magnus's face and instead focus on his reaching hand is a powerful one and it reads as desperation and defeat and allows Galvatron all the spotlight.
|Marvel Comics. Jeff Anderson|
I want to make it clear right now that I am always loathe to compare artists. I would rather find the strengths and promote what I love about artists and it's a rare occasion when I will pit them against each other but I wanted to include this page from the following issue by Jeff Anderson just to show how incredible Senior is. Anderson is a classic UK mainstay and I really enjoy his work. The above image reads well and gives us the required information but contrast the two. Anderson places the characters in the same plane and has the viewer at a similar eye level. Galvatron's dominance reads but the sense of scale, the contrast in power, the triumph and destruction is subdued and perhaps lacks the intensity that Senior utilised by having the scene have a sense of depth and placing the viewer directly in its way.
I remember reading advice from the brilliant John Romita Snr on having your figures feel heroic, allowing yourself to exaggerate foreshortening and make them look as they are lunging out of the page. When I think of action and cause and effect in sequential work that I love I find myself drawn to that style, whether it is Geoff Senior or other luminaries such as Romita's son who carved his own reputation as one of the greats here on Daredevil with Anne Nocenti or Walt Simonson on wonderfully indulgent and bizarre Robocop vs Terminator collaborating with Frank Miller.
|Marvel comics. John Romita Jnr|
|Dark Horse Comics. Walt Simonson|
Geoff Senior throughout his run on Transformers and other works consistently told excellent, clear and engaging stories visually. I knew when I was young, even when I sped read through some of the issues what was going on, he depicted action like no other artist. I cannot see characters such as Rodimus, Scourge, Goldbug, Thunderwing, Death's Head and of course Galvatron and Ultra Magnus without his vision and style defining them.
In part two I will cover Senior's mark making, quality of line and spotting of blacks.
What are some of your favourite Geoff Senior scenes? Let us know.
Until next time, keep it #Refined
Follow Leigh Gregurke @ambushthem