Comics are a visual medium, but so often criticism of the medium hinges on narrative, ignoring or minimizing the visual storytelling and unique structures that make comics so different from cinema and photography. We’ve decided to change that up with a feature that we’re calling Anatomy of a Page, in which we explore pages and panels that showcase the language of comics and how the best visual storytellers maximize the freedom of comics in order to tell stories that can’t be told anywhere else. In the latest installment, Austin Lanari delves into the work of veteran Judge Dredd artist Henry Flint, who has turned micro-insets on heavily detailed pages into a signature aesthetic element of his work, culminating with it as a recurring visual motif in the recent Judge Dredd story “Enceladus.”
Enter the magnificent Henry Flint:
There is a general aesthetic belonging to this page that is typical of Flint’s style on the Dredd series. He loves to layer smaller panels on top of larger scenes. By doing this rather than merely juxtaposing, Flint maintains full control of the reader’s sense of where the story is taking place. Rather than relying on the temporal proximity of the panels’ events to establishing shots of locales, Flint is spatially building the page’s events on top of and within the locales themselves. Here is a great example of this from Prog 1942:
The story changes locations from Mega-City One on Earth to a penal colony on Titan. Notice, however, that the locale on Titan is rendered underneath the other panels of the page, with the most salient part of the shot, the ship on which the ensuing panels will occur, framed as a de facto panel in the upper-left. Notice also the clever use of color: Flint didn’t have to draw a ship that had an inside color which was outwardly visible (whether writer Rob Williams scripted it as such is an interesting but ancillary artistic question). Since he did draw the green glow of the ship’s interior in the establishing shot of its exterior, there is an additional give-and-take in the contrasting visuals of the establishing shot and the dialog that occurs within its limits. This coloring choice works aesthetically while cutting straight through any narrative ambiguity.
It’s pretty easy to find examples of Flint using this layering effect: in “Enceladus: Old Life” so far, every single page has at least one overlapping or embedded panel. Therefore, it is way too damn easy for me to get carried away and we should go back and focus on the page from Prog 1944, lest we be sidetracked by several more clever instances of Flint’s style.
The reason I originally singled-out the fifth page of Part Five of “Enceladus: Old Life” is because it is a perfect storm of clear comics storytelling. The bottom half of this page is especially clever.
Chief Judge Hershey getting sliced and knocked off her bike is framed by the aforementioned layered panels of which Flint is so fond. The first close-up of Hershey happens as things go south, shouting at her troops with her helmet securely fastened. After getting sliced and falling, the ensuing close-up shows her without her helmet (and this panel in which she is under duress is fittingly off-kilter).
There were a lot of different ways to show that Hershey (and thus Mega City on the whole) is vulnerable to these monsters. No matter how you draw this page, that’s what it is about: even the Chief Judge can’t hold a line of defense and the bad guys can afford to leave her alive just to mess with her. Q.E.D. the Mega City is screwed. That her helmet gets knocked off is symbolic icing on the cake, since the Judge helmets are the most iconic symbol of order and stability in this fictional world. The masterful thing about this page is that this symbolic moment is not left as some small aspect of the page’s penultimate panel; rather, whether Hershey has her helmet on or not is integral to the page. Flint presents this important symbolic moment by literally framing the climax of this page with the relevant visuals: helmet on, helmet off.
Austin Lanari is a recovering philosopher who can never catch up with any of the goddamn anime he wants to watch. He disgorges comicy thoughts and criticism for Comic Bastards and on his own blog. You can read those thoughts and less on Twitter @AustinLanari.