Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be looking at four writer/artist duos, as voted on by you, the readers! This week features Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips! Today’s page is from Sleeper “Season Two #10, which was published by DC/Wildstorm and is cover dated May 2005. This scan is from Sleeper volume 4: The Long Way Home, which was published in 2005. Enjoy!
As Sleeper moved on, Brubaker cared less and less about getting everyone up to speed on the first page and just dropped you into the mix – swim, damn you, swim! I don’t have a problem with that, but I just thought I’d mention it. So on this page, we get two people talking that we probably already know, but if you’re just picking this up to have a look-see, you’d be lost. Deal with it, suckers! So the guy with the scar and the bad eye is Lynch, and the dude walking into his office is Slayton. They’ve discovered that their “old friend” is “one of Tao’s fuckin’ finger puppets,” which is never a good thing. Lynch has known this for a week, and Slayton wants to know what he’s going to do about it. They discuss vaguely some dude named Cole, and then it’s on to the next page! Readers of Wildstorm comics who might pick this up randomly will probably recognize Cole as Grifter, but that’s not terribly relevant. Like yesterday, Brubaker is creating a mood of tension and anticipation, making us want to turn the page and find out more. I certainly think he succeeds, but you might not.
Phillips is still using the scattered panels to good effect, although this page is structured more like a traditional page, with a clear flow across it. He doesn’t place a splash page behind the panels – the black underneath Lynch in the first panel bleeds into the black above Slayton in Panel 6, mitigating the use of a border between those two. This kind of page layout makes this feel more “cinematic,” I think – the panels don’t flow like a page, but like jump cuts, as Panels 2 and 3, flashing on different information on Lynch’s desk, makes clear. Phillips is really relying on readers to know how to read a comic book page at the bottom – when Slayton asks Lynch what they’re going to do about it, the logical place to go – especially because Slayton is pointing at it – is the panel connected to it and beneath it, but that would be wrong. We’re meant to go back to the left side of the page, read that, and then finish with the close-up of Lynch. Obviously, if we go to the close-up first, Lynch’s words make no sense and we know where we’re supposed to go then, but it’s not the best way to lay out the page. Phillips didn’t need to tweak this too much – if he had separated Lynch’s close-up from the panel above, we could easily decipher the page. That momentary confusion is somewhat annoying.
This is two years after yesterday’s page, and you notice that Phillips is already evolving toward his current style. His lines are a bit more rigid, his figures are a bit more defined, and even Cole’s hair in Panel 3 looks less free-flowing and more etched. This is part of Phillips’ move toward more abstraction, and we can definitely see it here. Carrie Strachan is the new colorist, and she drenches the page in black, lessening the impact of the rendering on Lynch’s jacket, for instance, so that it doesn’t look as “soft” as when Aviña colored it at the beginning of the series. It’s interesting to see the changes in Phillips’ art, because it’s not that big a change incrementally, but it does lead to a current style that’s noticeably different from a decade ago.
Next: Brubillips moves to Marvel! It doesn’t stop them from putting out good work! Find more Marvel comics in the archives!