[UPDATED] In today’s First Impressions: Rafael Albuquerque and Mike Johnson employ color-coded visual storytelling in EI8HT, Jimmy Palmiotti and Matt Brady take aim at the convention industry in The Big Con Job, and Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen infuse science-fiction with heart in Descender.
The idea of using color as a storytelling device in comics—specifically as a signifier for temporal setting—isn’t new. We’ve seen it done before. Flashback sequences are often depicted in sepia, grayscale, or muted tones, for example. Brazilian artist and writer Rafael Albuquerque (American Vampire, The Savage Brothers) kicks that up a notch in EI8HT (Dark Horse Comics), the new science-fiction comic co-written and scripted by long-time Star Trek and Transformers: Prime scribe Mike Johnson. In the comic, visual elements rendered in green are tied to the past, those rooted in the present are colored purple, ones with links to the future are blue, and those outside the linear timestream, in a dimensional space known as “The Meld,” are given a very light orange hue.
The scheme sounds complicated on paper, but in practice, there’s an almost intuitive ease to allowing these associations to enrich the visual storytelling. Armed with the color information, it should only take a moment for a reader to realize in the sequence reproduced below that time-traveling protagonist Joshua is attempting to communicate with someone from the future (note that the screen of his wrist communicator is blue), and that he is stranded somewhere (somewhen?) outside the normal passage of time, as indicated by the orange background.
There’s a bit of a risk that the technique may lead to some narrative confusion, however. As has been demonstrated ad nauseam in social media circles over the past week, the perception of color can be a highly subjective experience—the debate over color naming and its ties to the controversial concept of linguistic relativity is actually almost half a century old. In particular, Albuquerque’s choice of a slightly less saturated, arctic blue to shade human figures might prove to be problematic, given its color wheel proximity to the more vibrant blue used to represent “the future.” I do suspect, though, that their similarity was a key factor in the artist’s decision to use these colors—I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the ambiguity is supposed to play an important role in the storytelling in a coming installment of the series.
While the novel use of coloring is the attention-grabbing feature of the debut issue, there’s also an intriguing sci-fi mystery in play here about a lost chrononaut, sent across time to avert some yet-to-be-revealed event of great import, and Albuquerque’s character designs are, as always, worth poring over. Brilliant stuff, all in all, and those who missed out on snagging the sold-out first issue last month should be happy to know that Dark Horse already has a second printing set for release on March 25.
Award-winning graphic novelist Jeff Lemire’s Image Comics debut comes highly anticipated, and he doesn’t disappoint with the first issue of the series Descender. Thematically, the new comic is of a piece with Lemire’s work on The Underwater Welder as well as DC/Vertigo’s Trillium and Sweet Tooth, exploring ideas such as time displacement and the end of childhood innocence, but in a far future science-fiction setting where the remnants of the human civilization are recovering from an extinction-level event brought about by robots.
Lemire’s most impressive feat in this premiere is how he is able to balance the necessary demands of worldbuilding with character development: He introduces a veritable galaxy of worlds within the course of the narrative without bogging down the whole affair with exposition, all while giving the principals, a disgruntled roboticist and a long-lost child-like companion robot, enough play to earn emotional investment from the reader.
Co-creator and artist Dustin Nguyen (Superman Unchained, Detective Comics), no stranger to the use of watercolors in comics, utilizes an aesthetic on the title that combines his distinct linework with the more painterly, impressionistic approach associated with some of Lemire’s most notable past works. The result is a soft, organic look that may strike some as being at odds with Descender‘s science-fiction grounding, but it works so far. I am not normally a fan of painted comics (both those that are actually painted and those digitally simulated to look like they were painted) because of my experience that clarity and the sense of implied motion are often blunted in many cases, but there’s none of that in this issue as Nguyen has wisely allowed the inks to fully show through the painted colors, and I am optimistic that will continue to be the case moving forward.
The convention business is changing. Conventions can be a reliable source of secondary revenue for both active and retired pop culture creators and personalities, events where they can sell autographs and memorabilia as well as genuinely interact with fans. The rise of what has been referred to as the “selfie culture” is slowly changing the dynamic, however. Conventions continue to grow in popularity and the major convention organizers are making more money than ever from gate receipts, but the convention space has grown from what was primarily a forum for fans to get close to their pop culture idols (for a price) to a place where fans also go to be seen and to interact with each other as cosplayers and embedded, amateur micro-bloggers. The paying attendees have become convention attractions themselves.
It is this situation that veteran comics creator Jimmy Palmiotti and comics journalist Matt Brady address in The Big Con Job, a new four-issue miniseries from BOOM! Studios. While the promotional materials highlight the title’s crime comic conceit—the solicitation copy describes it as “Galaxy Quest-meets-Ocean’s 11”—the first issue is focused on introducing readers to the book’s cast of washed-up sci-fi TV personalities. Palmiotti and Brady manage a neat trick here, giving a human face to the problem of diminishing revenue for marginalized convention guests while at the same time not falling into the trap of laying the blame on fans for the ongoing shift in convention behavior—they’re smart enough to know that the problem can’t be reduced to a simple binary equation.
An interesting commentary on the convention industry informed by insider viewpoints, with the promise of heist genre hijinks in coming issues as the desperate protagonists cook up a plot to rob the San Diego Comic-Con.