Pages that POP!: "Canto #2" (2019)

Pages that POP! is a weekly feature here at POP: Culture & Comics! Each week, I'll take a close look at one particular page (or a couple of pages) that really do something extraordinary with the comics form! After a month long hiatus, I'm ready to dive back into another amazing example of how comics communicate!

This week's page didn't take long to find and comes courtesy of the consistently incredible Canto (2019) series.

This week's Canto #2 opens by continuing the metaphoric comparison between our titular hero and a so-far unnamed boy knight from Canto #1's introductory fairytale. This time though, rather than simply drawing the comparison through their words alone, the creative team decides to do something that only comics can do: communicate with space and time.

Check out the first two pages of this beautiful three-page sequence below:

"Canto #2" by David Booher and Drew Zucker

"Canto #2" by David Booher and Drew Zucker

First, let's talk about the two tiered set-up that happens on the first page.

Taken out of context, one might assume that the narrative of the comic is doing nothing more than moving away from our reality with Canto, to elaborate on the fairytale story introduced in the previous issue; a way to introduce us to the characters that form the metaphorical framework for Canto's quest. The colour shift from the bright, warm, and bold yellows and oranges in the top tier to the cooler, toned-down blues and purples of the second tier, certainly signal this type of shift, but it isn't until we move to the second page that we really begin to understand the brilliance of what the creative team has done.

On the second page, the creative team splits the narrative of the stories right down the centre of the page, rather then lengthwise as they did on the page previously. This two-columned, three-tier page depicts Canto's reality (with its warmer colours) on the left, and the boy knight's story (completed with cooler colours) on the right.

Here is where the magic of this sequence really starts to happen.

The way that the space of the page is broken up is simple, but stunning. By dividing the page in two columns and three tiers, the creative team is drawing the reader's attention directly to the character parallels that are being created on either side of the page. The scenes depict moments where Canto is mimicking (or is at least incredibly similar to) something that the boy knight is doing on the other side. I particularly like tier two, where our two characters have their backs to one another while they pick a lock in order to continue their journey.

Recognizing these clearly important parallels are easy because of the spatial layout of the page invites us to notice them through their design.

Canto and our boy knight are spatially situated with their backs against each other. In this example, both space and time are communicated flawlessly within the comics page.

Yet, it is also very clear that the creative team wants us to recognize the narrative divide between these two tales, as well. This divide is important because we (the reader) need to recognize that the boy knight's story is not happening in simultaneity with Canto's. With this in mind, the spatial division down the page communicates not a true spatial separation (as in distance across space), but rather a temporal one (as in distance across times).

Remember, the boy knight's story is a legend; an old story; a fairy tale. In issue one, we are told that it is actually the last story left in anyone's memory. Recalling this makes it easier to interpret the ways in which the creative team is using the space of the page (and their choice of colour) to manipulate our relationship with time in relation to the comic. Though there might possibly be centuries between Canto and the boy knight, together on the comics page we can watch their stories being told at the same time, thereby unifying two communicative principles that only comics can bring together.

A story told across time and space, on a single page.

This emphasis on the spatial and temporal distance between Canto and our boy knight doesn't mean that the creators don't also want us to think about what connects them, though. In fact, I would argue that the intentional focus on this element encourages the reader to recognize through the distance exactly how similar they are! That said, the creative team helps out with some very well-placed narration boxes.

The narration boxes (as ripped scroll) function as a literal bridge between both the spatial layout and the temporal narrative gap.

Notice the ways that the boxes (illustrated as shards of paper) connect each left-side panel to the right-side panel? They act as a literal bridge between the spatial divide created by the column layout as well as the temporal gap between the boy knights legend and Canto's current moment. It screams to the reader that we should be paying very close attention to the parallels being drawn between Canto and our boy knight.

And, if you didn't pick up on their more subtle clues, the final page of this sequence should certainly make it clear.

"Canto #2" by David Booher and Drew Zucker

Now, whether the creative team is simply leaning in and emphasizing the Medieval nature of Canto's epic quest, or hinting at something else entirely, is yet to be determined. Personally, I questioned why these little robotically-styled, knight people would be born with hearts in the first place... Could Booher, Zucker, and the rest of the team possibly be hinting about the origin of our favourite new hero? Is the connection between Canto and our boy knight more literal than we are being made to think?

We'll have to keep reading to find out!

Canto #2 is published by IDW Publishing, written by David M. Booher, with art by Drew Zucker, Colours by Vittorio Astone, Leters by Deron Bennett and edited by David Mariotte.

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