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 You Have Killed Me, which was published by Oni Press and are cover dated August 2009. Enjoy!
You Have Killed Me is a pretty good noir tale, and I like noir tales, so I'm kind of well-disposed toward it. But the story (by Jamie S. Rich, like yesterday's entry) isn't the issue here - it's all about the artwork!
Rich and Jones hit all the noir tropes in this comic, which doesn't make it bad, just familiar. Jones, however, does nice work with the tropes. One of the odd problems with the book is that Jennie is supposed to be a redhead, but usually we don't see that - she and her sister look like blondes. On the page prior to this, Jones simply draws her hair with no shading, but here, we get the implication that she's not a platinum blonde, as Jones uses a little bit of thicker hatching to give Jennie a darker color. It's too bad it's not evident more often. C'est la vie.
This is still cool art, as we see some of the things we saw yesterday, but Jones has changed some things for the tone of the book. She uses some more blacks, which isn't surprising, and she does extremely cool stuff with patterns. She lays down a tight cross-hatched pattern on Mercer's suit, the diagonal cross-hatching on Jennie's glove (which is interesting because she doesn't really try to make it look like she's wearing even thin gloves, but the pattern takes care of that), the dotted pattern on Jennie's dress (which seems to be cut from a larger piece of fabric, if that makes sense), the tight dots on Mercer's floor (broken up by the light streaming through his door, which is very noir-like), and the Zip-A-Tone in Panels 2 and 3. Jones uses patterns very well throughout the book, and this page is a good example of it.
(By the way, that's my blood on the page. As I was scanning this and looking through it, I failed to notice a cut on my right pinkie finger, on the outside of the knuckle. So when I turned a few pages, I brushed against the pages and got blood on them. I saw it before too much damage had been done and put a Band-Aid on. Luckily I'm not planning on getting rid of this book, because that would be unpleasant for whoever happened to get it. I guess when I die after being rich and famous for writing the best X-Men run in history - you know it's going to happen, Joey Q! - they can auction this off and use the fact that my blood is on a few pages as a selling point. That could happen, right?)
Jones uses photographs only on a few pages in this book, but as I noted a few days ago with Michael Golden's work, when it's in black and white, it seems to work better than in color. I guess that's New York in the background (I don't think the city is ever identified, but I haven't scoured the book to see if it is), but the presence of the trolley right behind the car evokes San Francisco to me. Anyway, the black and white fits in well with the rest of the story, and it's kind of neat in a limited role. Plus, there's more Zip-A-Tone, which is always fun.
We get some terrific work here, as Jones does really good work with the details in Panel 1, including the beautiful, tiled floor and the scratches on the walls and columns, implying the seediness of the setting. Jones is using more spot blacks in this book (which makes sense, given the subject matter), and Mercer's pants are nicely inked here. In Panel 2, Jones puts black over the punk's face, which is a nice touch. There's a scratchiness to the pencils, too, which is neat, as it again adds to the seediness of the proceedings. Jones splatters paint in Panel 3 to simulate blood, which is a common thing in comics, but it usually looks pretty cool, and I think it does here, too.
Unlike yesterday, Jones's figures are a bit smoother - she still breaks out the sharper lines occasionally, but her faces are a bit rounder and her lines not as thick. She's still very good at character interaction - we can assume Jennie, as a femme fatale, is playing Mercer somehow, but Jones draws her with a soft, trustworthy face, so that we're not totally sure she's evil. Jennie's face is a bit wide, with large, soulful eyes, and Jones leaves her face unadorned, so that her beauty is less cruel, which is would be if Jones gave her higher cheekbones. It's a pretty clever way to make Jennie less of a typical noir woman. Jones doesn't forget to show us that Mercer armed himself before he opened the door, because he's a hard-boiled private dick who doesn't trust the dames! Notice that Jennie's hair is not hatched all that much, making her more a blonde and less a redhead.
As all good noir tales, You Have Killed Me is fairly talky, without a ton of action, but occasionally Jones gets to draw some things more exciting than Jennie's latest outfit, as we see here when Mercer visits the race track. Jones's lines get looser to show the flow of horses streaming by, and her use of horizontal speed lines helps hide yet also define Jennie in Panel 2. Jones draws her nicely, though, with her hair whipping around her face and her eyes locked on Mercer's, and the Jones tilts Panel 4 upward to the right, turns even the horses into parallel horizontal lines, and uses a scream to lead us to Mercer, who turns away, distracted (by a death, as it turns out). Jones uses a lot of solid blacks in this book, as we've seen, but I like the fact that for this scene, she goes with grayscales to blur things a bit more, implying the speed of the horses even more. It's a clever choice.
This is a simple scene, but Jones still nails it. Mercer looks at himself in the mirror until it fogs over completely, and Jones slowly becomes lighter and sketchier until Mercer disappears. It's really well done. Plus, the "coloring" on the mirror is really nice, too. It starts off mostly white with a little bit of Zip-A-Tone, which gradually takes over until the only white is some splotches of what looks like gouache. It's a neat way to show the passage of time and how lost in thought Mercer is during this scene.
Jones probably could draw unattractive females, but why would she? Plus, it's never a bad thing to have Sexy Librarian show up - everyone digs Sexy Librarian! Sexy Librarian (the poor woman never gets a name) gets great hair, as Jones draws that big curlicue on her forehead, and Jones gives her hipster glasses because of course she does. Jones also shows that Sexy Librarian knows that she's sexy, so she poses just a little bit while she's being tough with Mercer, because she knows he's probably a typical male idiot who will do anything if a woman sashays a little bit. Jones, again, uses patterns really well, as Sexy Librarian naturally has a plaid skirt on. Give it up for Sexy Librarian!
There's so many noir tropes on this page that I'm surprised that Humphrey Bogart doesn't make a cameo, but that's okay, because once again, Jones draws the hell out of it. She gives us the nice big chunks of black that turns the shadows into oppressive blocks, she stripes first Mercer and then the wall with light streaming through the Venetian blinds, and she doesn't forget the clunky phone (as you might recall, I love rotary phones and own one myself), the gun, the alcohol, the cigarettes, or even the cheesecake calendar on the wall behind Mercer. I love the lightning bolts emanating from the phone in the final panel, showing that it's ringing. It just seems angrier than writing "ring." There's nothing too revolutionary about this page, but it shows that Jones has a good sense of the entire genre, and isn't afraid to flaunt it.
As the action heats up at the end of the book (not that it does too much, but people do get killed, so there's that), Jones gets a bit sketchier with her line work, which seems deliberate to show how much is falling apart. We see a good example of that here. At this point in her career, no one expected Jones to be able to draw big, smooth superhero battles (nor is there any indication that she'd want to), but she does give us some nice action. Mercer's pose as he throws the pitcher is perfectly reasonable, and he's not terribly stiff as he does so. Jones draws the trailing water across the page well to direct our eyes from left to right, leading us to the stack of Panels 2 and 3. While Jennie is facing the "wrong" way in Panel 3, it's a good way to face her, obviously, because she's pointing back toward Mercer even though he's in a different panel. Plus, the fact that she's pushed up against the right panel border makes us move that way anyway, even if she's not facing the "right" way. Jones uses slightly thicker but looser lines, as the shattered pitcher in Panel 2 is just a collection of almost random shapes and thick lines, while Jennie's hair in Panel 3 is loose and unkempt, a contrast to how she's been presented so far, and Jones gives us a messy explosion from the gun barrel. Neither of these people, it seems, are used to violence (even though they've both done violent things), and it seems to unglue them a little. It's a subtle touch by Jones.
After You Have Killed Me, Jones began to get a little more attention from other publishers, and she drew a two-issue story in Matt Wagner's Madame Xanadu (which I thought I owned, but don't) and some other stuff. I might show some superhero work tomorrow, but I might just jump to something else. We'll see! In the meantime, you can find some more nifty stuff in the archives!