06 August 2010

When Did You Last See Them?

Yesterday I explored the authorship of Booth, a well researched graphic historical novel about the man who killed Abraham Lincoln. That was one question the book left me with.

My other question was: Why was this book so hard to read?

Jared Gardner at Guttergeek faults scripter C. C. Colbert for not understanding the comics form well enough to use it to undercut the unpleasant character of John Wilkes Booth. But Gardner starts his criticism with the art:

This is an unpleasant book to read visually: the “evocative” brushwork of the French theorist and artist Tanitoc is often ungainly and terribly uneven, the faces are either indistinguishable or just plain ugly, and the coloring by the talented Hilary Sycamore (Laika, Journey into Mohawk Country) relies on a palette predictably designed to evoke old-timey-ness and which ends up…instead evoking muddiness. It is simply not a fun book to look at.
To that I add that it’s not an easy book to read, either. Not only are faces indistinguishable, but Tanitoc’s word balloons add to the confusion of who’s who and who says what.

Take this panel, for example. The curve in the tail of the balloon at the left suggests that its words come from the balding man looking away from us. But in fact those words are those of John Wilkes Booth, in the muddy green. If I hadn’t remembered that in real life Booth claimed to have thrust himself into the John Brown affair, I would never have been able to interpret this panel.

And here’s another one. Tanitoc has drawn Edwin Booth behind his younger brother, only his shins and feet showing. All the word balloons point to the same area. The balloon at the upper right is meant to come from Edwin, and that at the lower right from John, even though it’s pointing to Edwin’s shoes and not John’s head.

And check the panel at the top of this entry. The first balloon appears to depict words coming from empty space.

I was actually grateful to colorist Sycamore. If she hadn’t kept John Wilkes Booth consistently in green, I probably would have lost him many times.

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