14 February 2010

An American Batman in London

This weekly Robin has no Robin per se, but it’s all about the original Robin, Dick Grayson, as Batman.

Cameron Stewart, artist for recent issues of Batman and Robin, kindly posted some of his layouts on his blog. Stewart wrote:

Note some of the differences between the layouts and the final printed artwork in the traffic scene. This was my first attempt at it, and I did some revisions to punch it up for the final.
So I’m noting. The major difference comes on page 4 of the magazine, as Batman makes his way through London traffic on Westminster Bridge.

Here is Stewart’s sketch for much of that page. The top panel in its original form shows the Big Ben Tower at the left; that has disappeared from the final version below, probably because it was on the wrong end of the bridge. Omitting that detail allows for a closer image of Batman swinging up onto the bridge from a river boat. We see the biggest change in the second panel. The sketch version shows Batman bouncing from vehicle to vehicle until he lands on a van headed in the right direction. Multiple images of the same character in one panel is one way comics artists have discovered to show fast action over a short span.

In the version below, Batman does the same acrobatics, but Stewart has broken each step into its own smaller panel. I find the action in the original to be more clear, especially on the right side, where below there are suddenly two Batmans in one panel and the more prominent is the one we should read second. (Stewart inserts a visual clue that the rear Batman comes first by having his cape overlap into the previous panel, but that’s somewhat lost in the dark border.)

That said, a black and white sketch is naturally going to be clearer visually than a color version with the usual Gotham/London gray laid over the line art. I doubt the original layout would have been as successful in color. The last of these panels shows another change: Stewart brings us closer to Batman’s face, showing us his characteristic grim determination as he speaks by radio to his sidekick for the day.

Stewart’s second batch of page layouts contains a panel from the same issue in which two characters confront each other. As printed, this conversation has become a bit confused, ending with the new Batwoman saying, “I’m the new Batman.” Stewart explains:
As you can see, the page was laid out with the characters oriented consistently from left to right, but after I’d completed the final artwork I was asked to reverse panel 3 because the dialogue (which is written after the art is completed) required Batwoman to be on the left. I did make the change [electronically] but somewhere along the way the original art file was used by mistake, and thousands of readers scratched their head in puzzlement.

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