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!
This week, I want to talk about some neat polyptych designs and how they communicate unity within Lemire & Sorrentino's Gideon Falls #14 (2018). Check out the final page of this week's issue:
Now, if you've been following this series up to this point, you're going to be well aware that one of the techniques that Lemire & Sorrentino manipulate frequently is the page layout and the panel organization. In fact, this issue contains one such example of this manipulation:
Often times, this is done to spatially reproduce the confusion and uncertainty that the characters feel. While it isn't totally made explicit, I interpret this example as Father Burke's mind being bombarded with fifty(ish) years worth of memories/information as he experiences a time displacement of sorts. The images that are seemingly being folded into his mind on this double-page spread are void of people and look like landscapes (presumably of Gideon Falls itself?) meaning that the history he is learning (or perhaps, unlearning) is of the town itself. This reinforces its position of privilege over any other character and the theme of its monumental importance. Again, it isn't all that clear what is occurring here... but, that's the point! And, it makes the pages to come so much more satisfying.
As readers of the series, we've become pretty comfortable with pages that look similar to the example above; ones that completely obliterate any and all traditional spatial organization in favour of a chaotic cluster of panels. That is why, when we reach the first truly traditionally organized page fourteen issues in, it hits us like a stack of bricks:
There has literally been nothing throughout this series to prepare us for such a... normal page layout. Sure, a twenty panel page doesn't happen often, but they are structured in a regular grid, which is something that just hasn't happened so far in this series (or at the very least, hasn't resonated with this sort of meaning). The page is a simple twenty-panel polyptych (multiple individual panels that form a single image), but what it is able to achieve with its design is brilliant.
As we read each individual panel, we begin to build the image of the cathedral in our minds, almost becoming the architects of the page. Panel by panel, the images becomes clearer and the structure of the page visually strengthens the pictorial depiction of the chapel, giving it an element of power and a firm foundation. As we unify the image by mentally constructing it out of the individual panels, we unconsciously assign the building and its inhabitants power.
The page very well could have been a single splash page, but the effect would not have worked half as well and the strength/unity set-up would have been lost. This is where the power of the final page is built.
This week's final "Page that POPs" takes a similar approach to the previous example and is built upon a polyptych. Again, we witness a slow build. Each panel comes together in our minds to form a powerful cohort of faithful men, strong and firm in their purpose and conviction. It also leads down to the man in the bottom four panels; he sits at the bottom of the page, alone, representing the foundation from which these men base their faith. The polyptych design communicates this structure and isolates the Bishop as foundation much like the previous example did with the chapel.
This time though, Lemire and Sorrentino eliminate six-panels (leaving the gutter space totally empty) in order to create a cross shape to the image. The reader knows that we are viewing this scene through a curated/well-manicured lens that has been pre-selected by the creators. There have been parts of the scene deliberately removed so as to cultivate this particular image; that of the cross. Yet, the missing panels mean seemingly little in the grand scheme of the image; the reader can easily forget their existence because the powerful iconography of the page layout obfuscates it so completely.
The cross, of course, goes to demonstrate the commonality between the characters depicted on the page; they are all, presumably, Roman Catholic priests. Yet that isn't the only thing that the polyptych does.
It also takes support from the previous polyptychs from the preceding pages that have all provided it an unconscious strength. Not only are these characters unified in their faith, but they are also unified by the polyptych designs. They are firm and unwavering. The reader should safely assume that each and every one of the individuals within the cross-polyptych will follow the directions of Bishop Burke to their dying breath.
It is powerful, yes, but it is also intensely ominous because it would seem as if "Bishop Burke" and "Father Burke" are the same person.
This begs the question: What has changed over the course of x-number of years for the man who was so confused and uncertain at the issue's beginning to become so staunchly traditional and foundationally strong by its end?
For the answer to that question, you'll need to keep reading Gideon Falls.
Gideon Falls #14 is published by Image Comics and written by Jeff Lemire with art by Andrea Sorrentino. It is available as of June 19, 2019.