Sunday, December 18, 2011

In praise of Eduardo Barreto, Part 2

Yesterday I posted an analysis of one of Eduardo Barreto's last comic strip sequences published before his death. Barreto was one of those amazing artists who did such a masterful job that his work furthers the story, rather than call attention to itself. And it does so in ways often unnoticed by the causal reader.

In this last sequence published before Barreto's death, Noble, the head of the Shadow Team is having an audience with the Wambesi chief, explaining his mission. In disguise is the Phantom. (click to enlarge)

In the upper panel, the eye moves from left to right, starting with the caption. Note how carefully Barreto places everyone. The heads of the crowd are lower in the left than the right, pulling the eye along (and also suggesting depth). Noble is in the center, so we know exactly who the caption refers to. The chief is in the right foreground, and between the two is a picture of Noble's hunt -- the Phantom.

All three heads are related, conveyed by the subtle alignment of eyes. The eyes of Noble, the Phantom, and the chief are all in a straight line. The reader's eyes move from speaker, to subject, to audience. Also note Noble's dynamic pose. He didn't just hold up this picture. He whipped it out of his pocket and lunged slightly forward to show the chief. Noble isn't just mildly interested in finding this man, he really wants to find him.

The next two panels are interesting, because they take place at the same time. By laying the panel with the Phantom's face over Noble's scene, Barreto shows what the Phantom is thinking at the same time Noble is speaking. And look at the grouping of three faces. Noble address his man, who has a neutral expression. But on either side of him (and behind him) are two Wambesi warriers looking angry. Although Noble thinks he knows why, the placement of the figures suggests that Noble's team is surrounded and outnumbered by dangerous foes.

The next panel shows the Phantom in a field of white. While it nicely breaks up the page and gives the eye a bit of a rest, it has a more important narrative purpose. By isolating the figure, Barreto has removed all distractions. We need to pay attention to what the Phantom's thinking. It's the dramatic turning point in the sequence, and because there's nothing around the figure, time seems to stop for a moment.

In the first panel on the last row, the action heats up. Barreto uses speed lines to indicate motion. Noble doesn't just point to the picture, he jabs it emphatically. His emotion is carrying him away. This panel has to be read in tandem with the one that follows. In this one, we only see Noble, who's oblivious to what's happening around him. In the final panel, we see the results of Noble's words.

The Wambesi have exploded with fury. In the far right of the panel, you can see Nobel, still talking, unaware of the riot behind him. Not so the Phantom! Look how all the lines sweep the eye from left to right. The line of warriors is closest at the far left and trail off to the right. This funnels the eye straight through the middle of the panel to the Phantom, who's leaning backwards to carry the eye over to Noble.

Noble, however, is in shadow, so while that's the end of the narrative of the panel, it's not the main point. The main point is that the Phantom is facing  a sea of angry warriors.  Because Noble's in shadow, the eye pauses on the Phantom. All the warriors are leaning to the right, as are their spears. But only one is pointed horizontally -- and that one is aimed straight at the Phantom.

In far less time than it takes to read this post, Barreto works his magic. His lines lead the reader's eyes in the direction he wants them to, ensuring they see not only what he wants them to see, but in what sequence and with what weight. There's not a misstep anywhere along the way.

Eduardo Barreto was a rare talent. He'll be sorely missed.

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