Refining Sami Basri’s Fine Lines
Power is still not restored, so my wife and I celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary today by hoping for the gift of electricity. But… no luck so far.
I first worked with Sami on a trio of “Witchblade” issues a few years ago. He was good then. He’s even better now. The first step of Sami’s working method is the creation of the extremely tight layouts you saw yesterday. Because the layouts are so tight, Sami actually blows up the approved layouts and inks — traditionally, not digitally — directly from them, refining as he goes. There’s no true “pencil” stage for the art, saving both time and energy (a huge boon in the deadline-intensive grind of monthly comics).
Sami nailed the storytelling on the first set of layouts, and editor Brian Cunningham approved them as is, save for a minor note here and there. On page 3, panel 4, for instance, you can see Voodoo’s position was changed from standing to kneeling.
Sami is employing the same clean, fine-line style that he used for his previous DC assignment, “Power Girl.” It leaves a great deal of room for the colorist to complete the artwork, a task made considerably easier when the colorist shares the same studio. Sami and colorist Jessica Kholine are both members of Imaginary Friends Studios in Jakarta, Indonesia.
I think these are beautiful pages. But “pretty” is not the primary goal of comic art. The primary goal, of course, is to tell the story. Meaning that the reader should have a sense of what happening on these pages even without balloons telling you what’s being said. That’s all on the shoulders of the artist, to convey the actions and emotions of the character. In short, it’s acting.
That’s a term I hadn’t really associated with comics until I heard it from artist Barry Windsor-Smith on a visit to his studio years ago. He was referring to the body language and facial expressions of the characters — the stuff that makes them seem like real people, that makes you believe in the emotions they’re experiencing. Drawing two hulking brutes pounding the snot out of each other is relatively easy compared to the subtle range of human expression and body language.
In the first two panels of page 3, Sami perfectly captures the attitude of the female agent, Jessica Fallon. She’s closed off, almost belligerent. Her dialogue will add a subtext to the scene that will be paid off in later issues. Also of note on page 3 are the male agent’s sunglasses, which are a conscious choice. The sunglasses recur later in the issue as kind of a bookend to page 3. There’s a recurring motif of mirrors and reflective surfaces throughout issues #1 and #2, a symbolic reference to Voodoo’s ability to be more than one person.
Repeated panels, like the ones at the bottom of page 3, are a cinematic storytelling technique I learned from Jim Starlin, though it’s something that goes all the way back to Eisner. Alan Moore is a master of the technique, especially in “Watchmen” and “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.”
Pages 4 and 5 offer some really nice acting from the waitress. Despite being an incidental character that only appears for two pages, the waitress should feel like a real person, not simply a prop who shows up to deliver some necessary exposition. Sami also does a nice job of framing and camera movement, especially on page 5. Panel 2 of page 5 is a slight low-angle shot, letting the reader see through the eyes of the agent. Panel 4 of page 5 is a bird’s-eye view — not the easy drawing choice, but one that provides a nice contrast to the other panels on the page, keeping the visuals from getting static.
Page 6 follows Agent Fallon, moving the action outside and giving her a spotlight scene that fleshes out her character further. Page 6 also serves the purpose of establishing the exterior door to the strip club, a location that reappears on the final page of the issue.
It’s not an accident that the bottom tier of panels on page 6 pulls in progressively tighter on Fallon. The sequence reflects Fallon’s inward focus, as she obsesses on her own problems rather than on her surroundings. The smoking is also a character indication, a reference to Fallon’s self-destructive tendencies that will become increasingly apparent in future issues. The cigarette lighter also reveals a clue about Fallon’s past, though it won’t become apparent until you see the inscription added in the lettering stage.
When all of these elements work as they’re supposed to, the audience probably won’t notice many of them on an individual basis. But everything works together to form an overall impression, catching you up in the story and dragging you through the issue.
Tomorrow, Jessica Kholine’s amazing color work. Your jaw will drop.
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it’s pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes “Artifacts,” “Witchblade” and “Magdalena” for Top Cow, “Voodoo” for DC and his creator-owned title, “Shinku,” for Image. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com