Saturday, December 17, 2011

In praise of Eduardo Barreto, Part 1

Shortly after I posted my last comment about the Phantom comic strip, I found out that Eduardo Barreto had passed away. Barreto was an amazingly talented illustrator. Like many, I first became aware of his art through his work on DC's Teen Titans.

I've written before about his work on the comic strip Judge Parker. His dynamic comic-book style and imaginative compositions (not to mention the way he drew women) revitalized the strip. His art was the perfect accompaniment to the change in direction the writing had taken, and together Barreto and Woody Wilson pushed Judge Parker into the 21st century.

Illness forced him to give up his duties. Eventually he returned to the field doing the Sunday sequences for The Phantom. The Phantom continues the practice many adventure strips maintained of running one story during the week, and different story in the Sunday sections.

To acknowledge the work of this master, let's take a closer look at the last two sequences published before the announcement of Barreto's death. Although it only takes a moment to read, Barreto's craft in telling a story in pictures is worth a second look. (click on image to enlarge)

 In this sequence, note the simple, but effective placement of panels. The top panel sets the scene (Africa) and gives us the two main characters -- the Phantom (in disguise) and Shadow Team leader.

The next panel shows us the Wambesi chief talking with the men. Note the line going from the Phantom's head to the chief's. It's going upwards from left to right, drawing the eye from the speakers of the request (the team leader, through the interpreter) to the receiver of the request (the chief). Note also that the figure of the chief is not only set higher in the frame, but also apart from the other figures, which are grouped together. This isolation and elevation shows his authority.

In the left lower panel, Barreto depicts the reaction to the team leader's words. The Phantom is at left, with all of the Wambesi to the right of him. The eye (always moving left to right) reads his thoughts, and then naturally move to the reactions he's worried about.

The final panel is a real tour-de-force. Barreto pulls back and gives us the Phantom in the exact center of the picture. The team leader and chief are still in their relative positions, so we know where we are. The village is full of detail, but not so much that it clutters the panel. And notice that there's an overall motion to the image. There's still the diagonal line running from the Phantom to the chief, extending downward through the two warriors in red (and don't think it an accident that only those two figures are clad in that eye-catching color).

In front of him is a curved enclosure. The eye moves up the implied line from red warriors to the chief, and come back down and follow the curved line of the enclosure, then pull right to read the word balloon.

Every line is there for a purpose, and the purpose is to further the story.

Tomorrow we'll look at the final panel published before Barreto's death.

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