October 13, 2010

Organized Chaos

Rafael grampa is easily my favorite artist working in comics right now. His impeccable character design, page layout, coloring, typography, and storytelling make every single page of his first complete book, Mesmo Delivery, a rival to the work of any great master of comics. I will break down each of these elements through a 5 page segment from mesmo delivery, followed by examining his character design for his upcoming book Furry Water.

Page Seven
Two truckers pull up to a gas station/diner to take a break from the long haul they have been on. This is the first time we are introduced to the setting where the majority of the story takes place and Grampa opens with a cropped close up of the sign crowning the station. We get a sense of the scale of the story about to take place. This close up is mirrored nicely by the close up of the ‘big boy’ style statue next to the door. We get the scale of the story, but grampa is also letting us know that hes just having fun. We are about to be taken on a ride through this weird world. He sticks with a downshots for the whole page except for the last one. This also gives us the sense of bigger things taking place.

Page Eight
This is one of my favorite pages from Mesmo. Sangrecco (elvis looking dude) leans back, relaxed and almost falling asleep. Later in the story he’ll be lopping heads, but for right now Grampa lets us think that he’s just a lazy dude, letting the big guy do the work for him. Rufo gets out of the cab and heads into the store. The final shot on this page is, in my opinion, one of the best panels in any comic ever. Heres why: We are lowered to ground level. This is important because the rest of the story takes place at ground level until Sangrecco leaps from the top of the truck later on in the story. Also, he alludes to the fact that there is some greater structure to this world, some machine turning the gears hiding just underneath what we perceive. Much later in the story he shows us more of the greater workings of the world when the devil himself watches Sangrecco drag bodies into the truck.

Page Nine
By this point Grampa begins to really show what he can do with texture, pattern, and typography. In the back of the ‘Mesmo’ trade you can see some of the practice he did to draw the signs and lettering for mesmo and it is all researched very well. Grampa comes from a graphic design background and he brings his past and future together marvelously in this book. The way he crops every panel is beautiful. I especially love the way the “standard” lettering on the window frames the bald guy with the moustache. Grampas use of spot blacking to draw focus is also particularly evident in this page. Gorgeous.

Page Ten
This splash page is a perfect example of grampas coloring to study. It is my personal opinion that color should complement the line art and not overpower it. Grampas use of color in Mesmo is one of the best examples of giving the line art more power rather than weakening it. They let the line art breathe while still completing the atmosphere and tone of the story. Grampa uses almost no gradients, and instead uses texture in his colors to show light and shadow.

Page Eleven
The way characters move through the environment in Mesmo looks effortless. Rufo enters, speaks to the bartender, and then heads to the bathroom. We see this entire sequence as though from the point of view of the townies at the table, and so in the last panel we return to see their reaction to this stranger who has invaded their space without acknowledging them, and even though he is in the background for the whole page we can already tell that the bald man with the moustache is sizing up Rufo.

In 5 pages Grampa has set up the environment, atmosphere and personality of the characters in his story, all with delicate subtlety. He has also set us up for the conflict to begin in the next 5 pages. His storytelling is unbelievable in its power and nuance. This is all not to mention the insane brushwork and visuals of the book. There is not a single panel that doesn’t hold our interest visually, but more importantly he does not waste panels. He makes the necessary actions and shots beautiful to look at and keeps us wanting more. Rafael Grampa is a modern master of comics. He has already gained notoriety having only published one book. While Mesmo is short, only about 60 pages, it is also concise, never wasting even a single panel while at the same time never rushing any action or piece of dialogue. It is difficult to even compare him to people who have come before because his style represents such a unique vision of what comics can be.


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