Infographics in Hickman’s PAX ROMANA

September 27th, 2012 | comics talk


As I mentioned previously, Jonathan Hickman, who was an actual graphic designer before he got into comics, has done the lion’s share of the most striking recent use of infographics in comics. Check out his first series, THE NIGHTLY NEWS.  This, which I think was his second or third book, dials their use back – but it’s worth looking at how he uses them here, folding them more sparingly, but more effectively into the service of narrative.

There’s a real fusion starting to happen here.  He could have done this with Google Maps screenshots and some clipart, but the connective marks are clearly from infographics.

I don’t think I have a lot to say about this, as such: it’s more about looking at how he does this, how he creates graphical associations.  It’s easier when you clip out things and place them together.

In this single image, an army is being sent back in time.  The story to this point, and the narrative panels on either side of it, contextualise it so that he can do this work in a single panel.

(There’s probably a whole other conversation to be had about Hickman’s use of colour, too.)

And then, there are the maps.


I love books with maps.  One of my favourite things about CRECY was getting to put maps in it.

This map gets repeated later in the book, changed, but that’s a spoiler.  I mention this only because I want to get across that this is a narrative element.  It repeats, with changes, in service of the story.

And then there’s this:

(much larger)

Note how the art element, the jagged stream, associates with the time-travel panel above.

I clumsily whited out a balloon here because it felt like spoiler.  But, again, see: narrative element.

Everything connects, everything reflects something else, and the book develops its own smooth language.  He doesn’t use these elements to jar.  Except when, in my favourite bit of infographic fun in the book, he does.  This still makes me smile.  And, yes, it’s a mild spoiler, but fuck it, it’s glorious:

It’s a single panel, less obviously impressive than many of the pieces above, but this is the audacious bit: it’s beautifully presented, utterly playful superfluous information that yet somehow enriches the panel.  This is the audacious bit, that harks back to Chaykin and Bruzenak, or Talbot in ARKWRIGHT: there is no need for it to be there, but it’s pretty and it adds something artistic and it makes me smile.  There’s a little bit of baroque nuttiness in Hickman’s otherwise clean-lined designer’s mind that I greatly enjoy.

Infographics In Cooke’s PARKER Graphic Novels

September 24th, 2012 | comics talk

Use of infographics in comics is hardly new, of course.  And, in the work of people like Jonathan Hickman, still current.  But I was interested in the way, in Darwyn Cooke’s adaptations of the PARKER books for comics, he uses them to compress information.

This is from the most recent book, THE SCORE, and, in fact, is pretty much the only place in the book he resorts to the idea:

He kind of defeats his own point by describing the guns in the text, and really just gets a pretty picture out of it.  But that is close to being very useful.  It sometimes feels like he’s champing at the bit over his own inventions, not quite able to run with them. He does it better in the previous book, THE OUTFIT:

Some of these elements had been introduced before, but not all of them.  Here, he’s done the work the comics adaptation of a novel needs.  A novel radiates more information from a single page than a comic does.  This sort of graphic action makes the comics page informationally denser.  He’s working on a page size that’s smaller than standard, too, closer to prose-book size, so it’s a concern. 

Cooke does a lot of work with maps.  Each of the books has at least one map, used either to bridge scenes or quickly distil exposition.  This and the page below are again from THE OUTFIT, the book richest with infographic practise (as well as shifts in illustration style).

It’s hard to make out (even in the original print object!) but the box marked MACE contains an explanation of that criminal term – “a stolen car with clean plates and forged registration.”

He’s trying to construct an infographic idiom using the available cultural tools of the period, while also trying to remain conscious of the narrative requirements of the comics page.  And trying to do it all in a fairly holistic manner – there’s no diegetic breakdown, in these pages.  (Cooke throws his hands in the air in a later chapter and does a sequence as magazine-typeset prose with a couple of spot illos.)

Again, he’s telling a little bit more than he’s showing – I don’t venerate “show not tell” to the death, but it’s a handy yardstick unless you’re after very specific narrative effects.  But the page has a beautiful balance, and does the work of comics narrative – your eye is led in pretty much the way it needs to be, and you end up in the bottom right corner as you should.

It’s interesting to see him try and work this out for himself on the page over three books.  Or, perhaps, two books, as it’s almost entirely jettisoned in the third book.  We’ll see if he returns to it.  But I wanted to get these samples out in front of me and think about them a little bit.  It’s something that’s currently of interest to me – writing a couple of longer novels has got me thinking about pages and information.

2000AD, Prog 34

September 18th, 2012 | comics talk

This comic, as you can probably make out, was released in 1977.  I bought it the week it came out.

And I don’t remember thinking twice about the cover.

You’d think I would.  I had persons of colour as my closest friends in infant and junior school, male and female, but this was the 1970s in south-east England: we’re not talking about a densely integrated area, and we are talking about a culture that was still very much casually racist.  My dad, once a soldier and a sailor, was extremely well-travelled and didn’t have a racist bone in his body, so I probably have a lot of attitudes inculcated in me from such a young age that I didn’t even notice.  But I’m not about to say I was colourblind, because I cannot possibly have been.

But I don’t recall this cover causing me to even blink.  And, believe me, my memories of 2000AD, and much of the culture I consumed as a kid, are still vivid to me.

Going back and looking around at comics of the time, this cover seems to me like a remarkable thing.  Totally understated, and yet saying a thing very clearly.  Quietly, but firmly.

An early Trev Goring piece, I think.  A marvellous object to find again.

Dear Comics Industry: This Is How Social Media Work

August 11th, 2012 | comics talk

Basically, it’s like this: people can see your public activity on Twitter.  Yes, even when you use your publisher’s official account.  And while you yourself might believe that book publishers go around publicly supporting tweets that denigrate authors from other publishing houses, I have to tell you that that’s not really the way it is.


The Great British Newspaper Adventure Strip

July 31st, 2012 | comics talk

Yes, of course other countries have their own adventure strip tradition.  But I’m British. And this has been stuck in my head since a friend of mine told me he was going to have a try at doing one on the web.  Moving newspaper strip traditions to the web isn’t new either, naturally.  But the great majority of such instances have been in the mode of the comedy strip.  I don’t remember too many instances, and even fewer successful ones, of trying something like this:

Written by Peter O’Donnell, and, in its classic era, illustrated by the magnificent Jim Holdaway.

Newspaper strips were where the great comics artists lived.  GARTH, which I think was originated by Stephen Dowling and Gordon Boshell (some places cite only Dowling), rejoiced in the linework of legends like Frank Bellamy and Martin Asbury.

These all issue, of course, from a time when people read a newspaper every day: by which I mean reading through an entire and single disposable compendium of information.  And once you got through the news and features, you reached the entertainment part of the object, where these lay.  And you did that every day.  So it was possible to do a flavour of serialised storytelling.  Especially when, as in the Bellamy example above, the single strip was a little bit of art in its own right.

Sydney Jordan’s JEFF HAWKE (with, in its classic period, writing by Wiliam Patterson) helps me emphasise something: these strips tended to be a bit weird.  MODESTY BLAISE was, as spy/crime dramas go, a bit baroque and quirky.  GARTH was a time-traveller. JEFF HAWKE was a space pilot who ended up as a sort of unofficial ambassador for Earth in a universe gone mad.  Because British popular culture supported that even in the days of black-and-white.  HAWKE and BLAISE, particularly, were relatively sophisticated stuff.

In the modern day, it seems like a hard thing to pull off.  It’s not just there in your chosen news and information provision.  You’ve got to go out and select it, and you don’t get a big chunk every day.  It actually brings me back to the thinking about webcomics I did back in May, because of the obvious comparison between these shapes above and:

The example above being from Rucka & Burchett’s LADY SABRE.  The above is a single piece.  Each new episode of LADY SABRE is in fact the rough size of two newspaper strip episodes.  But it’s not daily.  It’s Mondays and Thursdays.  In theory, then, one weekday of LADY SABRE provides four days’ worth of newspaper strip content.

The fact that they use the larger block, roughly commensurate with half a US-standard comics page, does let them do things like this:

And that is also suggestive of the larger-sized “weekend” episode you’d see in the States.

This all circles around, really, to the nature of serialised fiction in the contemporary: also, I think, there’s something in here about the ways in which serial drama comics lost their hold on the mass audience by moving into the monthly form.  Weekly and daily is how television does it.  Books and films have their own special nature.  Monthly kind of flops down with magazines, which are disposable in a different way to newspapers.  They’re not a constant heartbeat presence in our lives.

A newspaper-style strip has long been on my list of Things To Do One Day.  I did, after all, get to scratch my Weekly Science Fiction Comic Serial off that list.  It wouldn’t necessarily even have to be in classical strip format.  But a daily strip in that general mode.  Story as pulse.