Building up Tension
The man wearing the trilby hat in the first frame is already known by the reader to have murdered an entire family. In this scene, he lurks in a shop doorway after dark, waiting for the main character, John Constantine, to emerge from Morgan's corner shop, where he lodges. A little extra twist is added to the scene by the shop sign above the murderer's head in the first frame - the man really is, as it were, a 'family butcher'.
Writers sometimes call these little interlinking relationships between story-elements 'resonances'. They expect that many, perhaps most, of their readers won't consciously notice them -and of course it won't ruin the story if they don't. In graphic narrative such resonances can be especially effective. As an author acquaintance of mine says, it is the sum of all these little things that makes a novel 'sing'.
Put simply, suspense involves making the reader wait anxiously for the outcome of an event. This is achieved here by first setting up the ominous presence of the murderer across the street, then by staging an argument in the shop doorway as a delaying tactic. The following three-frame sequence, in which we see Constantine walk towards us across the street, builds tension because we know he is going to pass very close to the murderer. Only in the last of these do we actually see the killer come out of the shadows.
It was necessary, as the two characters turn into the alley, to show the scene from their points of view alternately. This can be confusing for the reader - especially if, as here, the two figures are similarly dressed. To obviate this problem we make use of a 'marker' - in other words, of an object or landmark that is prominent in each frame and can therefore serve as a point of reference to tell us where we are. In this instance, I introduced the black-and-white striped bollards at the entrance to the alley. You may think you hardly noticed them, but in fact they are one reason why it is easy to know which raincoated figure is which.
In the two pictures at the side of the page, we cannot in the same picture show both the woman inside the house and the man outside it. This time the marker is the suspended ornament, which shows us that the window we are seeing from inside the room in the first frame is the same one that we see from the outside in the second.
Of course, there isn't enough room in this book to cover all aspects of graphic story-telling. So, to round off this chapter, I shall demonstrate by example through the use of the first few pages of another graphic novel involving the antihero John Constantine. Once again it was scripted by Jamie Delano.
It is presented here without any words, except for the title, for here I want to concentrate specifically on the drawing component of the artform. The second reason is that this is not the form in which the story was finally published.
The story concerns Jerry O'Flynn, a big, red-bearded, rumbustious man - one of those larger-than-life characters we have all met at some time in our lives. A local author has used him as a character in a novel and, as time passes, O'Flynn finds himself followed and beset by mysterious figures, who prove to be Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Watson and other classic characters from fiction. They claim that he now belongs in the ethereal world of literary characters rather than in the real world.
As the story opens (see sequence below) Constantine, who
Opposite, top: Illustrations from Sick at Heart f Hellblazer no. 29), written by Jamie Delano. Below: First draft of illustrations for Larger than Life, written by Jamie Delano. [Copyright © D. C. Comics Inc.]
has hitch-hiked down the motorway, gets out of a truck and walks into Northampton. In each successive frame on the page thereafter he is drawn closer and closer to the foreground in the course of his two-mile walk into the town. This device gives a feeling of purposefulness to his journey.
At the start of the next spread he has passed us and is walking through the town towards the residential area. In the foreground of frame one is a shadowy figure who might be familiar to you if you've seen the edition of Treasure Island illustrated by Mervyn Peake. This figure is Blind Pugh.
We owe a considerable debt to those great illustrators of the past who gave us definitive images of the classic characters of literature: E.H. Shepard's Winnie-the-Pooh, Sir John Tenniel's Alice, Sidney Paget's Sherlock Holmes... Always, when one of these characters is mentioned, it is the visual representation devised by the relevant artist that comes to mind. I decided to take this opportunity to pay homage to these artists. Each time a character from literature appeared in the story, I made one of my drawings of her or him a visual quote' from the original illustration.
We now follow Constantine into the suburbs, building up suspense as this frightening figure is sporadically glimpsed following him. Frames 4 and 5 of this spread show one side of a signboard and then the other. We obviously need a marker to forestall any doubt that it is the same one viewed from both sides; here the marker is the crooked sign. Each frame of the top row is
composed with a rightward movement, turning at panel 5 so that the eye is brought naturally to the second row. We follow Constantine to the gloomy old house where O'Flynn lives, still keeping up the suspense with glimpses of Blind Pugh. His sudden rush forward gives us a climax frame on which to letter the title.
Pugh thrusts a paper bearing the infamous Black Spot into O'Flynn's hand, and departs. The image of Pugh on this page is a visual quote of N.C. Wyeth's famous illustration. If you don't notice, it really doesn't matter, of course, but these little touches can add something to the reader's enjoyment of the story. To ensure that the eye easily negotiates the slightly unorthodox placing of this big central figure, we utilize the route formed by Pugh's right arm and his scarf to lead the eye across to panel 5.
Pugh runs in front of a car and vanishes. (By introducing the car as though part of the frame border, I wanted to give the feeling it was 'coming out of nowhere', so to speak.) Since the story is being told from Constantine's point of view, we now follow him into the house.
O'Flynn is portrayed as a dealer in unusual objects, so the big establishing shot of his living room includes a hoard of strange items. As the story will now begin to suggest that he belongs in the world of literature rather than the real world, all the objects in the room are 'not-real' objects-that is, they are objects that exist only in books, poems and the like: Mary Poppins's brolly and carpet-bag, Cinderella's glass slipper, the "vast and trunkless
The illustrations on these two pages are unpublished drawings for Larger than Life, written by Jamie Delano.
legs of stone' from Shelley's poem 'Ozymandias'... all of them resonances.
I have used the first three spreads of this rich and inspired tale of the supernatural both to demonstrate in detail the artist's contribution to graphic narrative and also to introduce you to just a little of the medium's potential. Graphic narrative is a fascinating area for the figure artist; indeed, one could go further and say that it is in graphic narrative that figurative art finds its greatest challenge.
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