Friday, March 21, 2008

The Comics Playoffs - Round Three

The past few posts I've been comparing and contrasting two comics: Gil Thorp and Funky Winkerbean. Both recently featured story arcs about girls basketball teams and the differences in execution have been remarkable.

In case there's any doubt, I'm not trying to say one artist is inherently better than the other. Tom Batiuk (Funky Winkerbean) has a very cartoony style. His characters tend to have very simple and stylized faces, economically drawn with dots for eyes, and a single oval (or line) for the mouth.

Frank Bolle (Gil Thorp) draws much more realistic figures. He uses a thinner line which allows for more detail in his faces. His character's eyes usually consist of two or more lines to depict the outline of the eyelids as well as the pupils. Mouths usually have lower lips, and other facial features (such as cheekbones) are drawn in more often in Bolle's work than they are in Batiuk's.

The purpose of these playoffs is to look at how each artist uses the conventions of the comic strip to tell a story -- and in the process bring those conventions to the fore so that you, dear reader, can better appreciate this artform so many take for granted.

In today's example, each panel depicts a basketball team in the throes of victory (click on the image to enlarge). Which one does a better job?

Bolle shows four girls, pairing off to give each other hugs. Two are looking at each other, and the other two are looking.... um (This Week in Milford has an interesting theory). Well, one's looking right at us, the other a little off to the right.

There are some strange motion lines present that give one pause. Is the girl in the back bobbing up and down? And what's happening with the two in the front? The girl on the right is wobbling her head while the one on the left appears stationary (save for her hand which also seems to be going up and down).

I'm not seeing a victory celebration here -- I'm seeing some bobbleheads hugging.

Batiuk, on the other hand, shows us all five girls of the squad. There's a flow to the positioning of them, too. There's a group of three, and then two -- every girl is connected to another, suggesting the connection of a team. If you look at the faces, your eye is pulled along in a straight line and then rises at the end of the panel.

The game announcer's word balloon begins "Moore gets the three!!!" Is there any doubt which player is Summer Moore? Right. She's the one jumping up, her hand signifying "we're number one." If you look at the faces, your eye is pulled along in a straight line and then rises at the end of the panel for Moore. That eye motion reinforces Moore's leap. We not only see it, we feel it.

Bolle uses motion lines to create action. Batiuk uses the reader's eyes to provide it.

Which artist is the better storyteller? After three rounds, IMHO, Tom Batiuk is the new conference champ.

- Ralph

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