Pages that POP! is a new 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!
To say that this week's page jumped out at me would be a bit of an understatement. Bendis & Maleev's Event Leviathan #1 from DC Comics was the first comic that I chose to read this week and from the moment I cracked open the book I knew that I was going to be writing this column about its very first page.
Before I get too deep into the nitty gritty of what's happening and why it's cool though, here's the page:
This page, which is deceptively complicated in its design, utilizes some very interesting permutations of traditional formal comics mechanisms in order to communicate in very innovative ways.
Take for instance its usage of the blockage grid pattern:
Blockages have long been seen by comics creators as a problematic grid design, because it is said to cause confusion for the reader who is unable to decipher whether they should read across then down (left --> right --> lower left) or down and across (left --> down --> right).
Generally speaking, speech balloons can assist to guide a reader through the immediate confusion that might stem from this type of layout by their placement within the panels. In fact, Bendis & Maleev use it in principle (though not in a blockage pattern) later in the comic.
Returning to the page in question though, Bendis & Maleev elect to have the panels be silent, depicting only Batman's descent from the twisted rafters to the ground level of Coast City. Knowing that this blockage pattern may instill confusion in some readers, Bendis & Maleev are sure to provide you with enough subliminal information so as to immediately recognize the reading order.
The first thing they do to assist the reader is design this initial tier of the page as a variation on a paired sub-column (PCS) grid. In a PCS grid, side by side columns establish a temporary vertical reading expectation most frequently by utilizing a long vertical panel first and then stacking smaller panels beside. This is exactly what the creators do with the first three panels of the page.
After reading the first panel vertically, a reader subconsciously recognizes that subsequent panels will require the same interaction (in theory this is called a Z-Blockage pattern, but the term is less important than the effect). Here, the reader moves from the first long vertical panel and, after reading panel two, instinctively moves down to the panel depicting Batman's hand and not the larger panel to the right.
That Bendis & Maleev break the vertical reading requirement after this point through the use of horizontal staggering only emphasizes the importance of the momentary set-up.
The shift from vertical to horizontal reading is abrupt and is meant to replicate Batman's arrival at "ground level". As he was descending from the twisted rafters, Batman's spatial existence was vertical. Once he arrives safely on the ground, however, this is no longer the case and both the spatial design of the comic and the reading requirements themselves must now adjust to Batman's arrival on solid earth.
From this point forward, the reading of the comics page occurs in a strictly horizontal manner. Even the other vertical panel is filled with panel content (a close-up of Batman's face) that lacks any necessary directional reading; it is just a fully-present image. For this reason, the spatial design (though still staggered) becomes much easier to isolate into horizontal tiers:
The final interesting thing to notice is the way that Bendis & Maleev further communicate reading order on this page through their use of colour.
The first three panels (meant to be read as panels one, two, and three) are all coloured with the orangey-yellow glow of the setting sun. Once Batman enters the building, the shading becomes blue tones, separating itself from the first three "lighter" panels in dramatic fashion.
Here, the colour helps to further establish the panels existence as opposing entities; the differences between panels that require a vertical reading strategy and panels that require a horizontal reading strategy. Yellow-Orange is vertical, while blue-black is horizontal.
Overall, this page does some incredibly cool and interesting things with formal mechanisms as a way to prime and prepare readers for their experience in the book! It really emphasizes how important teamwork and collaboration is when creating comics! Writer, Artist, and Colourist must be in perfect harmony here to make this page communicate as well as it does! In my opinion, they nailed it.
Event Leviathan #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev is published by DC Comics and is available June 12, 2019.
More on this concept can be found at creator-theorist Salgood Sam's "Flow, & the Eyelines!" on his Making Comics blog! For a more academic perspective, I would suggest reading Dr. Neil Cohn's (Professor of Language, Neurocognition, and Multimodal Communication at Tilburg University in the Netherlands) "Dispelling Myths About Comics Page Layout".