Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Joëlle Jones, and the comic is 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, which was published by Oni Press and are cover dated October 2006. Enjoy!
12 Reasons Why I Love Her is Joëlle Jones’s first major work, and it’s impressive how good she is already. So let’s take a look!
It’s a measure of how good Jamie S. Rich is as a writer and how good Jones is as an artist that this comic works at all, because Rich – probably not deliberately, but who knows – makes his two main characters, Evan and Gwen, not very nice people. I mean, they’re okay, but Rich manages to convince us that they fall in love with each other even though neither seems all that nice to the other. And Jones draws them wonderfully, giving them a “We’re in our twenties” vibe without being too overbearing about it. She uses nice layouts occasionally, too, as this one shows up early in the book, when Gwen and Evan are on a date (the book is told out of order, so they’re already past their first meeting). Jones gets the entire dinner and the two of them leaving the restaurant onto the page, slowly leading us from the upper left to the bottom right. She does it well, too, without being too obvious about it – In “Panel” 1, she has Evan on the left, but then she rotates our point of view so that Evan in on the right in Panel 2, where he can motion for the check and lead us to Panel 3, where he helps Gwen put her coat on. In that panel, even though Gwen is looking at Evan, her body is still angled to the right, which is the way she would stand if he were doing that for her. Then, in Panel 4, Jones gives us a triangle with the wide end on the right, and Evan leading us off the page as he signals for a taxi. It’s all well done. Rich trusts Jones to tell the story without words – if we were looking at this page in isolation, we could guess that Evan is a traditional dude – Gwen isn’t looking at the wine, so Evan is choosing for both of them; Evan pays the bill; Evan helps Gwen put her coat on; and Evan signals for a cab. Without any context, we can assume that Evan is this way, but when we consider the pages before this, where Gwen gets Evan flowers as a joke, we can understand why he’s doing this. Rich doesn’t comment on that, letting Jones do it herself.
We also see her style, which is somewhat angular and relies on thick border lines, which is not uncommon for many artists. Jones already shows that she’s quite good at facial expressions and body language, as Gwen looks a bit askance at Evan in Panel 3, and Jones tilts her body away from Evan in Panel 4. It’s part of the nice subtle wordless conversation the two are having on this page, which blows up on the following pages.
Yes, there’s some nice cheesecake on this page, but let’s check out some of the other stuff that’s going on. As we already saw, Jones knows what she’s doing with regard to faces and bodies, and I love Gwen in Panel 1 – she’s cocking her hips seductively, but Jones’s more angular style helps create a feeling of awkwardness to the pose, as if Gwen isn’t really sure that’s the way to do it. Jones puts a few short lines on her cheeks, which to me implies blushing, as again, she’s not sure if she’s being seductive or not. (It’s possible that we’re supposed to believe that Gwen put on some make-up to help in her seduction, but I like my interpretation better.) The fact that Jones draws Gwen’s hair up in a not-very-seductive bun seems to imply her awkwardness as well. In Panel 2, Jones draws a nice “duh” face on Evan, with the raised eyebrows, the pinpoint eyes, and the tiny blob of a mouth, as he’s flabbergasted that this woman wants to have sex with him. I don’t know how deliberate it is, but the fact that his face is almost level with Gwen’s breasts is humorous, too. Panel 3 is interesting – Jones cuts off the characters’ faces at about mouth level, which makes them less “human,” as we can’t see their expressions, although Gwen does have a wry smile on her face. This makes us focus on their bodies, the clothed one of Evan and the skimpily clad one of Gwen, and it’s a weirdly disturbing image, as this is the only time in the book that Gwen is not clothed as much as Evan, and it seems to diminish her slightly even though she seems to be controlling Evan’s hormones. It’s very strange. Meanwhile, the set-up is mundane, as it’s not surprising that Evan and Gwen aren’t close together yet, as Gwen just appeared, but the gap between them seems like foreshadowing, given that we know the romance doesn’t work out. I’m probably reading too much into it, but I can’t help it!
Jones uses a lot of different materials and alters her style in the book during some of the vignettes that Rich drops in there, and we see that here, as she uses watercolors when Gwen is being introspective. Her lines are still thick, but a bit messier than the other examples, and she’s using a lot of blacks on Gwen to set a somewhat gloomy mood, as spring hasn’t actually arrived yet. Her minimalism creates a more impressionistic tone, which makes the page more nostalgic and more of a reminiscence. It’s cleverly done.
Evan sort-of jokingly asks Gwen to marry him, which makes her angry, and we get this exchange. Once again, Jones does really nice work with the interactions between the two characters. The hatching on Gwen’s face in Panel 1 now indicates anger, as she’s convinced that no one who is married is happy, and then she continues to freak out by placing her hands on her ears and looking away from him. Evan turns it into something more playful, and Gwen responds by giving him an evil look before softening and smiling contentedly. Jones does a wonderful job with this conversation, because it feels like a real chat – Rich’s dialogue works well, but the way couples try to defuse potentially dicey situations by changing the way they act and react is tied into body language too, and Jones does that very well. She remembers to draw Evan’s hand moving toward Gwen’s midsection in Panel 2, which could mean he’s trying to tickle her or just reaching for her waist to give her a reassuring embrace. His corny grin in Panel 3 eases the tension, and then Jones changes his mood to more serious in Panel 4, which calms her down completely. They’re back to their usual banter, and the crisis – for now – is averted. It’s very nice work by both creators working well together.
Here’s another vignette, where Gwen talks about her dreams, which show her future. Jones doesn’t change her style too much, but it’s interesting that the blacks she uses seem to give her drawing some more heft – the man with the camera seems more solid, while the thick folds in Gwen’s clothing give her a presence that “regular” Gwen … doesn’t exactly lack, but needs to work on. Jones makes her more mature, just by giving her earrings (“regular” Gwen doesn’t wear earrings, it seems), a cigarette (which seems strange, as “regular” Gwen doesn’t smoke and it’s odd for people to take up smoking that late in life), more stylish clothes, and tighter hair. It’s really nicely done, and shows again that Jones knows what she’s doing.
Gwen tells inappropriate jokes, and Evan (I guess, although we never see the person to whom she’s speaking in this vignette) takes her to task for it. This is the second of the two pages in the vignette, and Jones focuses on Gwen’s face the entire time. It’s a marvelous sequence, because Jones doesn’t have the benefit of an actor moving her face around, so she has to draw it. She uses loose and sketchy lines – just another slight style shift – and shows the many moods of Gwen tremendously well. She’s seriously wondering what the problem is in Panel 1, totally dismissive in Panel 2, wry in Panel 3, coyly thoughtful in Panel 4, philosophical in Panel 5, and adorable (as she notes) in Panel 6. Jones just moves her eyes and mouth to express all these emotions, and she does such a nice job with it that we can imagine a resigned shrug in Panel 5, for instance. Gwen doesn’t have large eyes all the time, but for this, her eyes need to be larger, as they help convey most of the emotions. So Jones opens them just a bit more, making her irises a bit bigger, drawing us into Gwen’s orbit even more. It’s a wonderful sequence.
This is a flashback to Gwen’s youth, so Jones goes a bit more “kid-friendly” with the art, giving Gwen those huge eyes in Panel 2 and simplifying her design, most notably her hair. Jones’s line is a bit more curvy and bit less detailed than the present-day work, which is neat, as well. We still get nice designs, but when we look back, the world seems more simple than it is as adults, and even though Gwen is getting in trouble here, it seems like things are more black-and-white – you do something wrong, you get punished. The world of adults is much messier.
Gwen and Evan’s meeting is saved until the end of the book, and we see some of it here, as Evan asks her out for coffee. Their banter is fairly typical in today’s world, where everyone is clever, and Jones does nice work with Evan’s somewhat goofy smile in Panel 1 and his cock-eyed grin in Panel 3, but the way she draws Gwen is very interesting. Most of the time – not all of the time, but most of the time – in the book, her hair is up in a ponytail or bun. In their first meeting, it’s down, and it makes Gwen look a bit more fresh-faced and “cute” as opposed to maturely attractive. The barrette in her hair heightens that look a bit, as well. It’s probably not too deliberate, but the juxtaposition between this Gwen and the Gwen that we see for almost the rest of the book is interesting, because it seems to imply that she became jaded rather quickly in the relationship, even if it lasted quite a while. I’m not sure why Jones made the choice here to draw her with her hair down, but it’s an interesting one.
Jones kept working, doing a few things here and there, until her next big project with Rich, which I’ll take a look at tomorrow! Come back and check it out, and be sure to have a gander at the archives!
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