Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #346

Tue, January 27th, 2004 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

HEADING OVERSEAS

[Three Days In Europe]The new THREE DAYS IN EUROPE trade paperback is an absurd romantic comedy. But, then, aren't they all? It's the unlikely set-up and over-the-top antics filling the book that make it so entertaining. It is unlike anything else out there in comics today, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Jack and Jill (ha ha) are having some relationship difficulties, when each decides to surprise the other with a trip to a different European location on the same weekend. This, of course, leads to more fighting, a brief separation, adventures involving cat burglary, rock star chasing, and fine art. Antony Johnston's story includes beatings and pop music -- of course, it is an Oni book -- and sexual affairs and slapstick gags. The book is all over the place, but that's what attracts me to it. It tries hard to throw everything it can at these characters to see how they react. Weird things happen and weird decisions are made. In the end, one has to wonder how this relationship ever worked in the first place when its two participants are so eager to jet off to another continent to have an affair.

It's the one major bone of contention I have with the series. I don't see any reason for their relationship to work. That makes it hard to root for them to get back together throughout the rest of the book. It makes it hard to think of their separate adventures as being something that is keeping them apart. I'm happy for them when they're having fun away from each other, even though I know it's going to be short-lived. Some of the dramatic emphasis is lost.

There are a couple of astonishing coincidences near the end of the book to tie it all together, but that also fits in with the romantic comedy mold that this book is following. If they ever made a movie of it, you know Hugh Grant's name would pop up early on in potential casting calls. (These days, Ashton Kutcher would have to be considered, too. Ugh.)

Mike Hawthorne's art is perfect for the book. He creates a well-acted and well-designed set of characters to carry the story. The art loses nothing for being reprinted at the smaller digest size. The only unfortunate byproduct of the smaller size is some lettering getting lost in the binding of the book. You really have to open this book wide, sometimes, to see the words hovering near the borders on the inside of the pages.

Hawthorne doesn't clutter his art. He keeps things simple and to the point. The characters are cartoony in the way that the BATMAN ANIMATED series was cartoony. It's realistically drawn, for the most part, with an open style that allows the characters the chance to overact for the sake of the comedy without looking awkward.

THREE DAYS IN EUROPE is a winner for Oni Press, and a winner for greater diversity in comics, in general. Any romantic with a slightly warped sense of humor will find something in this book to enjoy. It's available today for $14.95.

SCENE TRANSITIONS

Warning: The following might be considered incredibly tedious by some. If you're not interested in the disection of the art form or an in-depth look at one aspect of writing for comics in particular, just skip ahead to the next section. If you are interested in all of that and this still bores you silly, I apologize. It's something I need to get out of my system.

Now, where was I?

One panel transition jumped out at me very early on while reading TDIE. Jack is preparing Jill a dinner. At the bottom of page 15, we see Jack running into the kitchen away from Jill while promising her a big surprise. The first panel at the top of page 16 jumps right into the middle of that dinner, with Jill discussing her day at work. The jump really surprised me and caught me off guard. I didn't know why, but I got to thinking about it.

How does one effortlessly transition between scenes, or jump ahead in time without jolting the reader? When there's a complete scene transition, it usually involves a different location and a different set of characters. A scene can be loosely defined as a location, a character or set of characters, and a time. Change any one of those items and you start a new scene. In this particular case, it's a jump in time that creates a new scene.

There are different ways to create the new scene. Johnston begins the new scene with a word balloon starting with an ellipses -- those three dots that trail off or into a sentence. That's a good way to show that we're starting up in the middle of a discussion of some sort. Using double dashes wouldn't work as well, because those are usually used to transition from one word balloon to the next, often in the same panel. Those are just continuation markers. The ellipses give that en media res feel, like you're jumping into the middle of something.

The most obvious method of showing the passage of time is one currently out of favor: the caption box. Putting a little "Later..." or "And so Jack's dinner is served." would be a blatant tip-off that the scene is changed. It is, however, entirely redundant to the art in the panel.

Maybe what startled me about the jump is that we began a new scene without a new master shot. The scenes previous to this in the book began very wide. We open on the exterior of an office building, before pushing in to introduce Jack at work. Jill's introduction begins with the opposite. We start off at a closeup to a piece of art her customer is deriding. The scene ends, however, with an exterior shot of the city and its buildings. That leads into the apartment and the scene for dinner. That scene is two pages exactly, just slightly shorter than the two previous ones. Perhaps the rhythm of a two page scene is already calculated in my mind, and ending it a half page early is what caused me to jump at it? Perhaps it's that we jump to the two of them having dinner with a master shot of the couple sitting at the table, instead of something further back?

Movies do the trick often where you enter a scene with the establishing shot and the first lines of dialogue bein heard over that. Comic books have a couple of similar devices. Sometimes, it can be a balloon pointing inside of a building, usually with the tail coming off the balloon being stunted at the end where it "enters" the building where the person is talking.

The other way is where you find a caption box and a line of quoted dialogue leading into the word balloon on the next panel where the camera pushes in to discover the people you heard talking in the previous panel. Alan Moore did a neat trick with that in WATCHMEN. It was emulated so often in the years following that it became a clich worthy of scorn. I remember the Superman titles of the early 90s being particularly rife with it. Every scene ended with a character finishing a line of dialogue over the beginning of the next scene that would be some sort of ironic commentary or visual pun on the new scene. Lois would warn Clark that he's treading on thin ice, over top a panel in which Lex Luthor was ice fishing, or something like that. It's a nice little segue, but it was vastly overused. Eventually, it died.

Perhaps the jump in the scene didn't jar me for any other reason than that the dialogue didn't match up. The initial scene ends with Jack promising a surprise. I was expecting the next panel to jump ahead to either Jack giving her the surprise, or Jill reacting to it. Instead, we jump to the middle of the meal and Jill talking about something else entirely. There's no continuity there. There's very little segue. The forward momentum of the story is halted while we sit back to get some characterization.

The two panels, visually, are also inverted. In the first panel, Jack is in the background, running away, while Jill's face is visible in the foreground on the left. In the second panel, just post-transition, Jack is sitting at the table in the foreground with his back to us, while Jill is in the middle ground facing the reader. In the first panel, Jack is the focal point. In the second, Jill is. Both times, the person furthest from the reader is the focus. It is only the person who flips.

Having thought about all of this, though, what conclusion did I come to? First, I shouldn't be a writer because I get stuck on this stuff far too much. Second, I think the transition failed because of the lack of carryover in the dialogue. The end of the first scene promises something that the beginning of the second scene stalls out on. The momentum is lost, and the thread of the big surprise isn't picked up on until the next page. That page is used to establish the mismatch of the pairing and how they just don't get each other. It's important, but it would have worked better had it been explained before the scene transition, I think.

Overall, it's a minor speed bump in an otherwise enjoyable book. Don't let my obsessive analysis of one piece of it scare you away from the title.

ODDS AND ENDS

DESPERATE TIMES #0 is now out through Image, returning in the same landscape format as PVP and LIBERTY MEADOWS. I think it's a very funny book, with some laugh out loud observations on romantic relationships, but I can't review it much further than that. I'm listed as an editor on the book, so it would be a blatant conflict of interest. Just consider this a plug to let you all know that it's out there. The next issue is out in March. It's not too late to bug your retailer into ordering more copies.

I haven't read LIBERTY MEADOWS in a while. The 35th issue came out last week, and I decided to dig into it cold. The art is still very pretty. The laughs comes about as often as they do in the daily newspaper strips today, but Frank Cho is allowed to go a lot further into more adult humor. Depending on your tastes, I'd imagine some of it verges on the "juvenile humor" side, actually. Naked Frank stunk in a doggie door in a compromising position hardly qualifies as the height of maturity.

I read the whole issue in about five minutes. Then I put it aside, cancelled my reserve on the title, and vowed to stick with the hardcover editions from now on. After all, if I'm enjoying the art the most on the book, I should pick it up in the format that lets me best enjoy it.

You've probably seen some of the glowing reviews of Darwyn Cooke's DC: THE NEW FRONTIER #1 across the Web since its release last Wednesday. Believe every one of them. This is a beautiful book, and a high watermark for everyone else to aim for throughout the rest of this year. Cooke's art is well stage-managed. The issue reads like a storyboard to a feature film, and not just a comic book. Dave Stewart's colors follow the art perfectly to expose the right levels of detail and add the right amount of depth to every composition. DC: THE NEW FRONTIER will most likely be collected into a trade or a hardcover of some sort when it's complete, but I can't wait that long for the next issue.

DAREDEVIL #56 is the return of Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev, and not a second too soon. The good news is that their time spent away from the series did nothing to hurt their momentum or their work's overall quality. We are propelled a few months into the future with this issue to get a look at how Matt Murdock's dramatic actions in issue #50 have radically changed Hell's Kitchen. Bendis has done more than just tip the applecart over during his time on this title. It's a dramatic shift in theme and content the likes of which we probably haven't seen since Frank Miller's run. It's well thought out, it's likely to be controversial, and it all provides for a good time because you just can't tell what's going to happen next. Just when you think Bendis has taken it as far as it can go, he pushes things ahead a little further.

Also be sure to check out ULTIMATE X-MEN #41, a one-off story from Bendis and artist David Finch. Uncharacteristically quiet by comparison to other Bendis scripts, the story packs an emotional and surprising shock. It's completely accessible for any random reader, too, so don't worry about continuity issues. This one's an amazing turn for the Ultimate Marvel line.

THE MARC SILVESTRI SKETCHBOOK contains some nice sketch work for Top Cow's Hollywood projects, some looks back to sketches we haven't seen since the early days of Image, and various cover layouts and character designs. Silvestri narrates the whole book, which is a good idea, but there just isn't enough here in the end to get me too excited about it.

"There are no portraits of my dogs, my family, or the trees in the backyward to be found here," Silvestri writes in his introduction. "These are all thoughts and ideas for what I do...comics."

At times, I think the family and the trees would be more interesting than the latest thong-clad female character design, or ghoulish interpretation of hellfire and demons. Silvestri spends a lot of time drawing that kind of stuff, doesn't he? It goes all the way back to his X-MEN days drawing "Inferno," I think.

Ironically, some of the drawings in the book have nothing to do with comics, and everything to do with Hollywood. The confusion is easy to make in the land of comics today, though.

I also find it hard to believe that these are from Silvestri's "private" sketchbook," when so many are used in pitches to Hollywood, statue creations, and characters that others will be drawing. Must be a different nuance of the word.

The book is only $2.99, so Silvestri completists and fans should have no qualms in picking it up. If you enjoy Silvestri's art, this book should be right up your alley. There is some pretty stuff in the book, but not enough to recommend it to a broader audience.

UPDATES

I discovered after writing last week's column that the second hardcover volume of THE INCREDIBLE HULK has been out for a month or so now. It seems that I forgot to pre-order it. Thankfully, my local retailer had a copy in stock and I picked it up right away. I'm halfway through it right now.

Also, RUSE is already done, so the amount of reading I have to catch up on there is finite.

Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next Tuesday. Can you believe it'll be February already?!?

Various and Sundry worked the kinks out of its new design this past week. If you're on a Safari or Konqueror web browser, it's safe to come back now. This week's blogging included entries on Legal Sea Foods, the movie EL MARIACHI, more TV on DVD news, a new PIXAR short, early thoughts on AMERICAN IDOL, pop-up blockers, the latest Pac-Man spin-off, and a heck of a lot more.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

Nearly 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page.

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