16 March 2008

The Dynamic Duo as a Study in Contrast

My last two weekly Robin installments talked about how Robin's skimpy, colorful costume, impractical as it was, provided a powerful visual contrast to Batman's dark outfit. Here's an comics artist making that point more dramatically than my observations.

Writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale collaborated on The Long Halloween and some other Robin-less stories of Batman's early career. Then Loeb proposed telling a version of Dick Grayson's arrival in Batman’s life.

Sale described his response this way:
“But I hate Robin, he doesn’t make any sense, he’s so colorful, Batman’s a loner, he can’t escape the tragedy that shaped his life, blah, blah, blah,” I said.

“That’s the point. You wait and see,” Jeph said.

What he saw, and this is the talent that is Loeb, was a way to filter a Reality through Comic Book Melodrama and find the poignancy, the sentiment. . . . Jeph’s answer lay in the contrast: His depiction of Dick as an extroverted, talky little kid, and the conflicts in personalities that arose from that...made sense to me.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever looked at my work that I love visual contrasts--heavy blacks and thin lines, big panels on the same page with tiny, dense backgrounds and big empty spaces. It heightens the comedy or drama in each scene, and when I realized that the figures of Batman and Robin gave me the opportunity to play with that--big, hulking super-hero and little kid--Jeph had won me over.
No artist has drawn Dick Grayson so small and spindly as Sale did in the resulting story, Dark Victory. (The remarks above comes from his foreword to that book.)

Sale’s contrasts are visible in the book's cover art, up above. It shows Robin and Batman from overhead, the boy's light cape and gloves making a yin to the big man's broad black yang.

And the end of the book offers this climactic panel.

(It's just been announced that Loeb and Sale will collaborate on a new book about Batman and Robin's Marvel counterparts, Captain America and Bucky. Sale will have much less visual contrast to play with since those heroes' costumes share the same red and blue.)

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