Pipeline: Exploring "Sergio Aragones' Groo the Wanderer: Artist's Edition"

Tue, November 27th, 2012 at 2:58pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

GROO ARTIST'S EDITION

I'm not adding anything the internet's discussion of any IDW Artist's Edition by saying "This book is big." However, when I read an issue of "Excalibur" afterwards, I'm pretty sure I started squinting.

The "Sergio Aragones' Groo the Wanderer: Artist's Edition" collects issues #96-#99 of the Marvel Epic "Groo" series by Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai, and Tom Luth. Since this is a black and white edition, Tom Luth only makes appearances in large crowd scenes and inside cover gag pages. The four issues comprise the "Wagers of the Gods" storyline, wherein four gods challenge a fifth to have his charge perform the most daring deeds. Groo unintentionally helps out and many laughs are had.

I'm guessing they wanted to present one story for this edition instead of four random one-offs. Sounds like a good idea. I'm not sure this is my favorite "Groo" story, but it does allow for a variety of settings, characters, and situations for Groo. With the larger scale of the gods' involvement, a larger page size is somewhat fitting.

The one concern I did have with the book when it was announced was that it would be thin. Thankfully, my concern was unfounded. These issue of "Groo" run 29 story pages apiece. Plus, all of the inside front cover bits are included, as are all the bonus bits from the backs of the original issues, like the "Li'l Groo" and "Rufferto" one page gags. The letters columns aren't there, though it might be interesting to see a paste-up board presented like this just once. Those were likely made in the Marvel offices and given away to letter writers, thus not available. (Marvel used to do that in those days. I have one from the issue of "X-Force" I had a letter printed in. It's likely the closest to original art I'll ever have in my collection from that series.)

The back of the book includes some nice extras to round things out. That includes eight of the most ridiculously detailed covers they could probably find. Aragones' crowd scenes would often wind up a large splotch of a singular cover back in the original printing's days. This book is the first chance to really stare at all the detail in the art and be amazed at Aragones' skill and artistic patience.

If that wasn't enough, it's followed by seven magnificent opening double page splashes. Plucked from a few various issues, these get to show off Aragones' incredible attention to detail. It's not just the size of the crowds but the scope of the scenes. Aragones lays out some detailed architectures and mechanics here, like the hamster wheel some slaves are powering, or the site of a pyramid's construction, with workers clearly seen on every one of 20 levels, plus the foreground. It's pages like these that shine in this format, and I'm very excited that I got to see them at full size.

You can appreciate some of the artistic tricks Aragones deploys on a regular basis in the series when you see the art at its original size. The biggest one I was able to repeatedly notice is the way Aragones separates the foreground character from the busy background. There's no lack of density in Aragones' panels, so keeping things obvious to the reader is a challenge. Aragones doesn't cheat; he finds way around working simpler.

Here's the trick: He leaves a buffer space around the foreground character. The background just isn't there. Sometimes, he can lay things out so that there's no conflict. Most of the time, he's just leaving a little bit of negative space. Things just suddenly disappear when they get near Groo, and you don't notice it immediately. Your eye is drawn to Groo because it's supposed to be, and that's all you think about. You don't notice the white space.

Here's a good example of it in action:

Here's Groo in a dark cave. There are lots of black areas at the top of the panel, where the ceiling would be. That blackness drops down into the panel, stopping only when it gets to Groo. It's like Groo is the light source in this panel. It might not be perfectly Real World Correct, but it works as a storytelling tool. The eye is attracted to the area of greatest contrast in an image, remember. Here's Groo, the black drawing on the white background area surrounded by solid black areas. Add in the strong foreground creature to the right and the skeleton on the left, and you get your eye immediately drawn to Groo. Good framing, good lighting, good composition.

Aragones adds something extra in this panel sequence:

In this series of three panels, there's no background. It's not necessary, since the background has already been established and we're in tight on Groo. All you can see are his head and arms. The background is a plain white, though the inky blackness returns at the top. So you have a spotlight effectively put on Groo in each panel, but look what else Aragones does: He connects the three panels into one movement by not repeating the black area at the top, but rather by making the three top parts appear to be one continuous arc. With Groo acting off to the left, then straight on in the middle, and to the right in the final panel, there's a beautiful feeling of motion that fits.

Here's a sequence from earlier in the book where some beat-up men are walking through the woods as the Sage watches them pass in horror. Check out how Aragones frames those haggard-looking men. He doesn't just drop out the background precisely surrounding them, but also turns that white negative space into the shape of some vegetation, adding even more background detail without drawing more lines. The ornament atop Sage's staff works out differently, more like it's a light source. (It might be for all I can remember at the moment. . . )

While you're looking at this sequence, also check out the way Aragones has foregrounds, middle grounds, and backgrounds in each panel. In the first panel, Sage is the foreground -- so close that he only fits in the frame from his waist up -- while the beaten man is the middle ground, and the vegetation and trees behind him form the background. He reverses it a bit in the second panel, putting the men up front and Sage in the middle. There's a little bit of grass in the bottom right corner that would count as extreme foreground. It also points out how much Aragones hates to leave corners empty. The corners of panels in Aragones comics are rife with detail, sometimes just decorative. Still, it's a great spot for little details like that.

Finally, in the third panel, some trees make up the extreme foreground, with the wounded men just behind them, the Sage back further still, and the forest in the background. Giving the eye things to see at different distances in the panel helps create the three dimensional look. It also creates the shadowbox effect, where nothing pops out of the panel, but everything recedes into it. That's one of the controversies of the recent 3D movement at the movies. 3D conversion of movies that rely on things actually popping out of the screen all the time get tired and look more gimmicky for just that reason. Most viewers want to see the screen as the glass through which they view the action. They don't want it to be the vague guideline surrounding the most interesting mid-section of the mise en frame.

All of these comic book storytelling "tricks" are not, of course, creations of Aragones. They're as old as comics, themselves. I could easily show you examples of each from various Will Eisner graphic novels, for example. They're just smart bits of comics storytelling that I picked up on as I was reading "Groo."

"Sergio Aragones' Groo the Wanderer: Artist's Edition" is another winner in IDW's series, and something completely different from the rest of the lineup. I'm very happy to see a more humorous book showing up in this format, particularly one so deserving of it. I'd love to see an "Asterix" or "Smurfs" volume like this, too, but I'm realistic enough to not get my hopes on that. For now, this will have to do. I've had the book for a month now, and I never go more than two days without flipping it open to look at some random page all over again. Usually, it's one of those double-page spreads that the eye can't possibly take in all at once.

The cover price is $100, and it's available now through IDWPublishing.com.

(Quick production note: I've tinkered with these scanned images in Pixelmator to get them to look their best for the purposes of this column. The real book shows much more blue line work, white out, and lettering guides.)

I'M ALL OVER THE PLACE THIS WEEK

  • I'm excited to link you to this weekend's edition of CBR TV, which is an interview that CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland did at New York Comic Con with -- me! It's only ten minutes, but I'm very happy with how it came out. We're hoping to make it an annual tradition, unless you beg us to stop.

  • I'm honored to be included in an Overstreet publication. "The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Comics" (published through Gemstone, $19.95) has a section in the back called "Fan to Pro," with interviews with a dozen people who've been comic fans and now do this kind of thing professionally. I'm in the company of Beau Smith, Steve Geppi, and Charlie Novinskie, among others. Not too bad.

  • I've revived my personal blog over at VariousAndSundry.com. In the last week, I've written about the new Wii U, the state of DVDs a decade ago, the new Canon 6D, how big and useless iPod update files are, and a look back at the 'Hypercritical' podcast. (May it soon rest in peace…)
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TAGS:  pipeline, idw publishing, groo the wanderer, groo, sergio aragones

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