Today, as I finished John Byrne's NEXT MEN series (actually having read "Aftermath" before part 2 of "Scattered"), I felt great joy and sadness -- I know how this 15-18 year series finally resolves, but I was sad it was over. The final installments of the story were quite gripping. I found myself sucked into the layers of time travel trajectories and cared how Bethany-1, Bethany-2, etc. and the rest of the gang would fare. In fact, the art seemed quite secondary to me -- the writing stands out for the way it carefully connects to other storylines. One of the most satisfying time-travel stories I've read/experienced in some time.
I then picked up a new arrival to the PSU library: Aizôhan's MIZUKI SHIGERU SAKUHIN-SHU (Omnibus Mizuki Shigeru), volume 1 ("Ikai he no tabi" [Trip to Other Worlds]) and was happy to see it included the 1965 story "Terebi-kun" (TV Kid), which Kôdansha published in their Bessatsu Shônen manga magajin
(Special issue of Boys' Manga Magazine) -- a career-changing event for Mizuki that finally garnered him a wide audience and the power to get the works he wanted to draw published without worries. (See the television show Gegege no nyobo
[The Gegege Wife
]. After having read Byrne, I found a similar vibe in the storytelling. Although their works are apples and oranges, one thing that connects them for me today is their handling of moment-to-moment panel work (I'm thinking of Scott McCloud's description of the six types of closure in Understanding Comics
Byrne's work about time travel quite conspicuously uses a variety of closure in the way it depicts the flow of time. After reading Mizuki, who uses very minimal techniques in this early work -- in fact, I don't he goes for any of the more sophisticated techniques McCloud discusses, such as #5 aspect-to-aspect (mood) or #6 non-sequitur -- it seemed to me that Byrne, like Mizuki, relies a lot on moment-to-moment or action-to-action sequences to keep the reader engrossed in the story, guaranteeing that their stories will be true page-turners. (For Mizuki, he desperately needed a hit that would have Kodansha's customers clamoring to have more of his work printed in their magazine; for Byrne, who says in the preface to "Scattered" that he had time to "push things around, and trimmed fat, and set myself down to be my most cogent and straightforward, and twenty [issues] shrank to eleven, and then ten, and then nine." ("Introduction," Next Men: Scattered
, IDW: 2011, Vol. 1). Taking that into account, then the moment-to-moment panel layouts would have been, in my mind, the "fat" that an artist shrinking down a story would cut. Instead, these moment-to-moment panels become quite significant and useful for the story and its structure. One has to acknowledge there are a lot of talking heads and moments of exegesis -- this is a very word-heavy graphic novel -- but there are also moments of pure visual storytelling.
For example, issue #38 features Tony Murcheson's ultimate revenge on her slave masters by liberating Abraham Lincoln from John Wilkes Booth's bullet at the Ford Theater. It's been a hard road for Tony -- once she was scattered to Civil War America, she had been repeatedly flogged and suffered great personal losses. Now, with her .45 caliber pistol, she will create a new America where Lincoln will continue to make the United States an even better place for black and white folks. But the bullet, Byrne shows us, has to reach Booth first.
The top three panels are subject-to-subject layout, shifting the focus back and forth from Tony to Booth and Booth's last action (showing his resolution) leads in the next moment to Tony's pulling the trigger, and then, in the final bottom panel, to the next moment (or two) where the bullet hangs in the air and we pull each word (and moment) out of time with Tony's "What" "the" ["hell?"]. So, these last two panels shouldn't be genuinely called moment-to-moment transitions because they encompass probably 4-10 seconds of time. In fact, Byrne cheats here. He uses intra-panel time in that last panel -- there is closure happening within the panel itself as we connect the dots, er, words of Tony's bewilderment. Byrne often does this in his drawing. It allows him to have multiple things happen in the same of one panel, effectively supercharging the panel with action and tension.
There are other moment-to-moment transitions in the same issue are not "super-charged" (TM?) and can be seen as simple McCloudian moment-to-moments. Take for example the time travelers intrusion into Jasmine/Shakespeare's time as they interrupt the Lord's Prayer by freezing time: top panel's long train of speech; middle panel's moment of silence as time is stopped (a moment nonetheless!); and bottom panel's waving hand in front of a face to show that, yes, outside time has stopped.
Another quick example shows true moment-by-moment sequences with Bobby the Scientist's demonstration of how the time travel suits can now quickly morph or switch into the costume of the era the time traveler is now situated.
When the time travelers discuss time travel mechanics, time (i.e., the narrative) usually slows down to a moment-to-moment format. Far from being annoyingly talky, Byrne's description of future technology is quite interesting and seems to have quite a bit of pertinence for the larger narrative themes. But it does slow down the action. Nonetheless, there seems to a balance.
That brings us back to the "re-take" in Tony's assassination of Booth. It was interrupted by the time travelers in the previous example. Now we see how the time travelers can erase moments (sub-moments) of time -- Tony's resolution to kill Booth as represented by her bullet. These future dwellers have the ability to make time nearly stand still. Byrne has had to demonstrate this several times throughout this issue in order to have the structure of the text reflect the power of the time travelers (who are, in a sense, authors of time, like Byrne). What is most satisfying is that Tony, one of the strongest characters in NEXT MEN, breaks the slow crawl of time and speeds it up with a action-by-action sequence -- McCloud's #2 or second category of panel layouts -- that satisfyingly changes the narrative. Far from preserving history, she will change it. Before she kills Booth again, she has to punch out Gil, who stands in her way.
Let us not forget that NEXT TIME is a rousing adventure first and foremost. I recommended the last three volumes of IDW's NEXT MEN (Scattered Vols. 1 & 2 and Aftermath). Even without knowledge of the earlier Next Men stories, this collection of three books stands alone as one of the best time-travel stories.
Moving on to Mizuki and TEREBI-KUN, well, what's the connection again?
One of the things I love about Mizuki is his later geki-ga (dramatic pictures) work. Read Nonnonba
and Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths.
In those stories, there are amazing examples of Mizuki's ability to juggle time between panels and sometimes intra-panel that show a true master artist. McCloud's #5 aspect-to-aspect and even #6 non-sequitur can be seen in Onward
-- where you see Mizuki create rifts of time and also rifts of narrative judgment that allow the reader to linger and ponder on the nature of violence. "Terebi-kun" though is nowhere near as sophisticated. In fact, I tried to count any examples of advanced closure in the story (such as #5 or #6) and couldn't find any -- not even (#4) "scene-to-scene". The story is pretty much a play-by-play of moments in the life of a Tokyo school for the children who can see a young boy able to appear in television ads and shows, take what he wants (usually chocolate and ice cream), and enjoy them (with the characters or announcers totally oblivious to his presence). The story asks a question to its young readers, "If you had the power to pop into the tv and enjoy the food and drink advertised there, how cool would it be?" (Rhetorical question: very cool.)
Mizuki in the story uses very short, almost moment-to-moment panel transitions, but it is better to call them action-to-action as they encompass the carrying out of an action (Terebi-kun appears, takes X from advertiser, and then eats or drinks it.) However, he does move into pure moment-to-moment transition when he has Terebi-kun explain the magic of how he first moved into another realm, that is, how he unlocked television space.
The frantic would-be thief, cracking the safe of time, switches the tv channel back and forth (click click click, kacha kacha kacha
). This is one of the coolest scenes in the comic where we feel the fun of turning the channel (as any kid in the 60s, and certainly any kid who still had a channel-knob tv like me in the 70s). Anyone who argues that comic-book sound effects are passe and do nothing for comics will have to explain to me how you could do this same scene with out the breakdown in moment-to-moment time and not add the cool CLICK CLICK CLICK.
A bit later, Terebi-kun explains how it became more natural for him to simply flatten out his form to pass through the pixels of the screen. These are action-by-action or subject-to-subject panels, but, like Byrne, we have a intra-panel moment-to-moment (moment-within-moment) action of Terebi-kun's form flattening out fu-wa-fu-wa-fu-wa and then slipping seamlessly into the television suru-suru-suru.
Lastly, I suppose there is a #5 aspect-to-aspect (mood) panel layout in the story -- showing a bit of fun and sophistication, if we allow that, in this panel, there is a panel (the tv screen) within it. We see the larger panel of the empty room (zabuton cushion) and then see Terebi-kun resting in the tv (for who knows how long) and then we move back out to the larger panel to consider how long he's been in the there. Pretty clever of Mizuki. A mark of his genius that he would later use and not just toss away like he does here.
Wow. Originally I thought this would be a quick write-up, but it got much longer. After all, it was just about moment-to-moment panels in Byrne (2011) and Mizuki (1965), but I guess moment-to-moment panels are so primitive and unsophisticated after all. I always assumed that aspect-to-aspect panels showed the heights of comic creativity, but I need to rethink that -- maybe the simplest moment-by-moment displays of story can be quite difficult and carry quite a bit of narrative punch.