I studied the supplied page of artwork from Will Eisner’s “The Spirit” and considered the following questions:
What does the first panel establish in terms of place and atmosphere?
The use of black for the sky and the street light establish that the story is taking place at night. The weather is clearly very turbulent, with the duo of heavy rain and strong winds. The streets are deserted, probably due to the time of day and the storm. These factors, combined with the phone ringing and the low viewpoint, add to a gathering sense of unease about what is taking place in the room at the top of the building.
How does the page progress from panel to panel?
The reader’s eye is drawn to the combination of the sound effect emanating from the room on the top floor of the building and the yellow lighting in an otherwise predominantly blue panel. In panels two and three we move towards the source of the ringing and the resident of the building is clearly established by the hanging sign. In panel four the ‘camera’ passes through the window to show the interior of the room.
There is continuity from panel to panel as the angle of the viewpoint does not suddenly flip direction and the colour scheme remains the same, but the dominant colour changes from blue to yellow in the interior scene.
Once at the end of the page, the reader can return to earlier panels to look for clues about what is happening, for example the paper blowing in panels one and two looks very similar to that in the room in the fourth panel.
How does the use of sound effects inform you what is happening in each panel?
The use of the sound effect ‘ring ring‘ draws the reader’s attention to the focal point of the first two panels. As it continues over two panels it establishes the fact that the phone is going unanswered, even though the lights are on, and this adds a sense of apprehension, especially when combined with it being nighttime, the setting and the atmosphere already established in the first panel.
In the third panel the ‘ring rings‘ become more shrill as we move closer, the reader’s eye is drawn to the source, the telephone, before moving to the left of the panel where there is a ‘bang‘ in a dense cloud of smoke or dust.
In the fourth panel the ringing continues in the background as the reader is confronted with the scene inside the room and two puffs of air on the left side of the panel, which could suggest a door being closed or someone (the perpetrator?) leaving in a hurry.
How is the effect of weather created and used to add atmosphere?
Rather than drawing streaks of rain, which could obliterate some the other details, the heavy rain is shown by the the vast amounts of water running off almost every surface in the first panel, along with slanted lines of white in the black of the night sky. This continues in the next two panels with the runoff on the roof/windows plus the impact of raindrops is shown hitting the surfaces, which reinforces how hard it is raining.
The wind is depicted by the angle of the lines in the night sky in the first panel and the swinging movement of the hanging sign between panels one and two, along with the papers been blown around in these.
Storms, particularly at night, are often used in story telling to establish a dramatic atmosphere – they are often a bad omen for the events about to unfold .
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