"ZEGAS" Discussion & Analysis

Panel Über Alles

With Zegas #2 out from the printer and into the world, I wanted to take a closer look at the super panel breakdown, which I use all throughout the issue.

You’ll recognize the trick, it’s simply one larger image broken down into pieces OR one larger image with characters moving within it . I wanted to take advantage of a double page spread to choreograph Emily Zegas’ body language  through her several moods and locales. The tricky part was making sure the eye was led exactly where it should go. Turns out the heavy lifting is done by the words, the conversations, the thought balloons. The flow goes down the panel , then up the next, then back down, etc.

You can call these my “Marcos Martin” pages. I won’t deny it, he’s been an influence for a while and I’m sure sequences like this were around at the time I was originally cooking my pages up:

Marcos has made a career of leaving his peers in the dust. He doesn’t toy with a layout, he commands it, and no one in contemporary adventure comics comes close to achieving what he achieves on a regular basis. The scene up there is just one big room in one panel, also used in a double page spread. We follow Spider-Man, our eyes being led to the right then back to the left, punctuated by inset panels.


Another main influence on this approach is Chris Ware, another storytelling master who occasionally uses the panels to reflect different seasons, eras, or time signatures. This Big Tex page does it all.

It’s no secret that Ware had been influenced by Richard McGuire and his seminal story “Here”, from 1989…

… but the real godfather of the page-as-map is Frank King and his Gasoline Alley strip.

[Matt Seneca wrote a great piece on King over at his recently defunct column Your Wednesday Sequence. Seneca also tackled the same Marcos Martin scene I was talking about.]


Going over the overblown staging in these pages reminds me of the smaller examples, the panels that are broken into  fragments in order to delay time, build tension, or reveal story details. In We3, Frank Quitely took a Grant Morrison story and took it into visually innovative territory. This modest sequence, however, is nicely paced.

Was it a callback to Harvey Kurtzman, that scene? I’d like to think so. Kurtzman was a true virtuoso of all of these narrative tics and bumps, his war comics being prime vehicles for strong and smart material. These three panels are works of beauty, captions be damned.

This batch, courtesy of Jim Steranko, works well enough but isn’t quite necessary. The image’s story does progress, and the gutter breaks do make the eye start and stop. Steranko was more than capable of managing subtlety,  and this scene certainly  tries to build up a sense of weight, but it still feels like a faint attempt.

Same here (Steranko again). As if mid-air speech wasn’t hard enough to swallow, the gutter breaks seem to be used as mere window dressing. Maybe it was to show that more… panels had been drawn? Steranko, after all, was once nearly denied payment for writing a silent page. Either way, the balance of dialogue and movement can make or break a moment; this one’s a dud.

Just one more dud. Actually, the panel break would’ve been useful if the image actually revealed something, maybe the very thing that’s being explained. I gotta admit, this is a pretty funny out of context scene, but that may have something to do with those tears. Deluxe Format tears.

Here’s a pretty simple but effective Frank Miller shot…

… and here’s another one that justifies the breakdown treatment in a different way. The gutters stagger the eyes one panel at a time while the monologue unravels at its own pace. It’s confident work, and in Miller’s pre-Sin City comics, this type of rhythm is dominant.

Oh, and punchlines. They’re good reasons to break up a panel. Julie Doucet knows the score.


Back to the page as a setting, Gianni De Luca did some incredible, jaw dropping sequences in his time. As far as I can tell, his work was serialized in Il Giornalino. This il Commissario SPADA page is from 1979…

… but his most revered work continues to be his adaptation of Hamlet. Here’s a two page spread from Amleto, from 1976 (the entire story is made up of double page spreads, with a usual change in location per page turn). Click on it and bask in its glory.

I can’t help but think of this John Romita Jr. two pager, perhaps his most imaginative and ambitious sequence yet… and it’s only a walking figure. Such simplicity!

So there you go, a few drops of inspiration on how to stretch and maximize the real estate within an image, a panel, or a page or two. I’m not sure whether the reader should be made aware of such mechanisms, but some of these pages are too bombastic to ignore or be taken passively.

I should shut my yap. Let the work speak for itself and all that, right? Case in point, click away:


Buy Zegas #2 online or directly from me this upcoming weekend, in case you find yourself in Portland’s own comic-fest Stumptown!


UPDATE: Criminally Left Out

Thanks to Marc Sobel for reminding me of this great scene by Jaime Hernandez. 

I don’t recall Jaime using this method very often but when he does, it is spot on (from Love & Rockets #29, “Flies on the Ceiling“, 1989). Calling him a master storyteller isn’t enough, so let’s just agree that the guy’s a genius. Thanks for the reminder, Marc!


Discussion & Analysis Music Is Involved

Small Fame: Paris Is Burning

It took director Jennie Livingston several years to complete her debut film, the great 1991 documentary of the underground 80s New York City drag scene and its ball culture, Paris Is Burning. That timeline makes sense given Livingston’s level of care and attention to detail, as well as the difficulties of funding and finalizing such a controversial project. Touching upon the black/latino gay & transgender community is a huge undertaking in itself; developing a narrative for mainstream consumption couldn’t be anything but challenging.

In documenting ball culture, Livingston gives her subject matter the room it needs to address the details of this specific environment, but she peers just long enough to respect its boundaries. It’s a direct piece of work, reflecting on the participant’s lifestyle with little to no fanfare, no ambiguity. It’s a blunt mix of glamour and dirt and style and sweat. You can easily imagine being cramped up in those tiny NYC apartments in the middle of the summer, but you’d be too busy hanging onto every word coming out of Pepper LaBeija’s mouth to notice.

In a move that will surprise no one, I drew correlations between ball culture and the comics scene I deal with. It wasn’t my intention to do that – I enjoyed the movie on levels that have nothing to do with comics – but I noticed a couple of faint philosophical approaches that can be applied to our clubhouse. It’s a testament to the small group pulling together in order to move forward. That’s the Hallmark version of it but it doesn’t make it any less accurate.

Plus, any movie that starts with Noel’s freestyle classic Silent Morning automatically wins.

The film opens up with a father’s admonishment, “You have three strikes against you in this world… You’re black and you’re male and you’re gay. You’re going to have a hard fucking time. If you’re going to do this, you’re going to have to be stronger than you’ve ever imagined.” Paris Is Burning isn’t a mere portrayal of New York City drag in the 80s, that’s the obvious byline and it’s almost cheap to describe it as such. The real story is about being part of a subculture within a subculture. Despite or maybe in response to those three strikes (and other express concerns such as poverty and AIDS), this community developed its own nurturing, albeit competitive, social pool.

Gender roles and sexual identity operate as more than expression. It aims to reach for truth through an outside role. I don’t assume to know anybody’s motivation, nor do I want to describe it in blanket terms, but the members of this community do whatever they must to feel comfortable in their own skin, sometimes within roles that aren’t easy to hide, roles that shouldn’t be hidden to begin with.

The issue gets more complicated when you take gender identity issues and factor in the class rule of the times. Reaganomics didn’t cultivate an atmosphere that was kind to the poor, and although the glitz and the grime mingled in select club scenes, class crossovers were transient affairs. Fortune was not the domain of minorities, which makes the individual dreams expressed in Paris more fantastical than one would normally imagine. Whether it was dreams of fame or living a “regular” family life, they were always tempered with the more immediate thrill of shining at the ball. Dorian Corey put it best, “No magazine is gonna run up a cover of me if I go to a premiere. But it’s still a fame. It’s a small fame, but you absorb it, you take it, and you like it.”

Small fame is a version of something that’s just a placeholder for what we all want on a primal level, to be loved and accepted and recognized, and it may be too much to ask for. We may feed that longing for acceptance with cheap, empty dosages of pretend interaction, but it’s only because we need to feel something. If you press the issue, you’ll discover that Big Time Fame calls out to the worst in people, making them do deplorable things in the name of something that promises to love them back. As for people in the moment, though, like me writing this and you reading it, we look to reward ourselves by way of looking for proof that we are indeed loved. I’m still not quite sure if that’s an ugly thing or not.

Fame, how can something that has been cheapened still have so much power, and yet it never really meant anything?

Waiting to be famous is one of the subtexts in Paris, which in some regards isn’t unlike the Decline of the Western Civilization Part 2: The Metal Years directed by Penelope Spheeris. As far as movies that should be in print, you cannot find one more deserving that Decline 2. I clearly remember almost every featured band was shamelessly upfront about wanting nothing more than fame. The heartbreaking thing about Decline 2 is that you saw these future failures being unreasonably confident and sure that their success was simply a matter of time. Believing in yourself is one thing, but buying your own bullshit to the point where it’s probably masking some deeper damage is the stuff of sociopaths. There is something weird and sad about looking back knowing those bands’ trajectory, how they never made it within their own genre, and how that genre itself barely made it at all (Spheeris brilliantly ended the movie with a live Megadeth performance, perhaps as her final contrarian statement on the matter). That bulletproof certainty can cripple the people without the ability to call themselves out on their ridiculousness, and that’s the difference between those metal bands and the queens from 80s New York City.

Those attending the ball knew where they stood, as shaky a position as that was, and that small corner meant the world to them. It was a corner that went through many changes in a small amount of time, the way a vibrant and dangerous neighborhood makes room for a safer, richer citizen.

The spirit of that corner changes as it could no longer addresses the same concerns. But the fact that even the purest and most exciting of scenes will evolve into something arguably less magical makes it that much more special. It’s a thing that happens in the moment, and it’s usually gone by the time you notice it.

Those that make up the small world of comics may get genuinely excited about projects and creators and events, but it doesn’t come free from its own set of nonsense. Every art form has its fair share of problems, but I think comics are too small to survive this continued assault on ethical concerns, a treacherous value system, and a steady supply of self promotional delusion. This can be summarized as baby drama, especially if you throw in petty backbiting, but it still messes with our enthusiasm and stunts our growth.

It is the last thing I want to do, to compare 80s gay minority conflict to the troubles in comics, but the immediate connections I made were that both of our tiny worlds are made up of fragile egos driving an art form that’s punctuated by blips of innovation. I sensed joy and achievement in witnessing those ball competitions, especially knowing that poor kids had assembled gowns out of scraps just to shine for a night. Cartoonists want to shine in that spotlight as much as the next, but it stings when that spotlight is considered useless by the majority of those inhabiting that same small world.

It’s possible that we’re just desperately grappling onto something that’s shrinking, something that promises little more than diminishing returns. How can we expect our very own corner of the world to nurture us in economical and artistic ways when it clearly isn’t built to do so?

Therefore, all we’re left with is our own relationship to the medium. We have to dig deeper and find out what our little corner means to us on a personal level, outside of baby drama, outside of small fame. We can’t put any stock into those things that suck our enthusiasm dry. We have to ask ourselves what the point of all of this is, and then have the courage to be honest with the answers we come up with. We may not like them, but our survival as participants in this unequivocally complex medium rests on it.

Paris Is Burning, it’s a beautiful and brutal film. I can’t stop thinking about it. I would’ve been fine watching it once and tallying it as a movie I liked, but it wasn’t built for such passive treatment. It speaks to a larger thing that’s made more potent in context of the underdog.

“I always had hopes of being a big star. As you get older you aim a little lower and say oh, well, you still might make an impression. Then you think [you’ll leave] a mark on the world if you just get through it, and if a few people remember your name then you left a mark. You don’t have to bend the whole world. I think it’s better to just enjoy it, pay your dues. If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high… hooray for you.” –Dorian Corey

Discussion & Analysis

Reyobinks: MoCCA 2010

I’ve always more or less enjoyed the MoCCA festival, but I’ve never walked away feeling as if though I had been through a completely gratifying experience. The reasons for that are unimportant right now, but they are in direct contrast to this year’s experiences. I met as lot of new cartoonists, caught up with the familiars, and bought/glanced at tons of cool new work.

Art & Illustration Discussion & Analysis

Almost an Attempt

(Mix CD cover I did as part of a set.)

Discussion & Analysis

Reyobigs: Moore documentary & Some Retrospectives

(Warm up drawing I did for a cast of characters I haven’t worked on in a while.)

Art & Illustration Sometimes I Like Stuff

Reyobigs: Night Business, comics prison & my pure love

A few days ago, I bought some comic books and I felt so strongly about them that it compelled me to write about the experience. The first comic wasn’t great, to tell you the truth. Halfway through reading it, my suspicions were confirmed: what a load of horseshit. This low level, “bad ass” poseur drivel strikes a pose SO HARD that it shatters like crystallized mulch. I hated myself for giving this cliche ridden gem the benefit of the doubt… but what’s one to do? I had to try it out. Check it out for yourselves. Just go to your local comic shop and ask for — for — uh, I can’t believe it. The name escapes me.

Thankfully, I had apparently been saving the best for last. I’m sure you’ve seen the commercial or read all of the praise the book’s been getting, but NIGHT BUSINESS totally made my night. The creator behind it all is Benjamin Marra. You can say that Marra’s using “bad ass” tropes as well, but the thing that separates his work from the previously mentioned shitty comic is that Marra actually has a sense of humor. Equal parts old school Paul Gulacy and Faust’s Tim Vigil, Marra’s making his comics on his own terms with a dedication that’s pretty admirable. Thank God he’s not waiting around, hoping for a publisher’s permission to start his comic. And thank God he’s using newsprint. Oh, and wish him a happy birthday today, folks!