Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Moonshine 3, originally released December 14th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Drew: I remember my third grade teacher expressing regret at having sat too close to the stage at a magic show. “I could see how every trick was done,” she said, oblivious that her complaints were describing what I always wanted. To me, the “magic” of a magic wasn’t in suspending my disbelief, but knowing that they were doing something that isn’t magic right before my eyes, and I still couldn’t see it. Suffice it to say, my love of seeing the strings in art — of appreciating the thought and care that goes into those strings — runs deep. The best artists, like the best magicians, hide those strings in plain sight, such that people like my third grade teacher regret noticing them, but finding and celebrating effective uses of even the simplest techniques offers an entirely different set of pleasures. As Moonshine continues to develop its relationships in issue 3, I’d like to turn to the storytelling mechanics that make this series so remarkable.
What better place to start than page 1? Artist Eduardo Risso packs a remarkable amount of structure into six seemingly straightforward panels:
Risso is making a number of clever choices here, but I’d like to focus in on a key one: direction of motion. In a vacuum, we (western readers) read every panel from left to right, so left-to-right motion is seen as progress, and right-to-left motion is seen as regression. Thus, it’s typical for heroes to move from left to right, and for villains to move from right to left. This page largely bears that out, with the obvious exception of panel 2. Why is Lou running opposite to the direction we see him running in throughout the rest of the sequence? I have three readings, and I’m honestly not sure which one I find most compelling.
The first is that this reversal of direction is to emphasize that Lou is running from an unseen monster. That is, he’s not making progress, so he shouldn’t move in the direction of progress. Moreover, simply showing him fleeing, using the screen direction to highlight the absence of his pursuer, accentuates the suspense through that panel. How can we know if he’ll make it if we don’t even know where the monster is?
The second is that Risso clearly structured this page to direct our eye. Every panel on the lefthand side of the page directs our eye rightward, and every panel on the right directs our eye back down and to the left, preparing us for the next line (with the obvious exception of that last panel, which stops cold). It’s hard to deny just how effectively this sequence directs the eye, taking full advantage of the eye’s natural path across the page to create the effect of motion.
My third reading is that this second panel is meant to align Lou with the monster. If we think of the righthand column as the monster’s domain — or of leftward motion as monsterly motion — that second panel suggests that Lou is the monster. That reading is further bolstered by other compositional elements, namely Risso’s use of silhouettes and the color blue. Look at the interlocking yin yang pattern when we group based on those characteristics:
Indeed, it’s difficult to divide up this page in a logical way that doesn’t conflate Lou with the monster. Which, of course, makes sense given the rest of the issue.
Between the end of that nightmare and the end of the issue, it’s easy to suspect that Lou himself might be the monster. Or one of the monsters. There’s a hint here that Holt’s moonshine might make someone a werewolf, which could obviously implicate lots of potential monsters, but it sure seems like these subjective trips we’ve taken with Lou cast him as guilty of something. Of course, as we’re just starting to get hints of his past, it’s entirely possible that that something has nothing to do with werewolves.
Patrick, there’s a ton to unpack here, and I barely made it past the first page. Writer Brian Azzarello is walking a careful line of ambiguity regarding Lou’s drunken misadventures (that scene with Delia is about as cryptic as can be), but he’s also introduced some new ambiguity surrounding Lou’s past. Are you enjoying all of these questions, or are you starting to want some answers?
Patrick: Nah, man: fuck answers. Who needs ’em when the questions look this good? In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that ever learning whether Lou is a werewolf, or just a frequent black-out drunk, might be tipping Risso and Azzarello’s hand too much. Werewolves are traditionally metaphors for man’s more unsavory appetites, and the disparity between what they want during the day and what they want at night is where the real drama lies. The same is true of alcoholics. Which one is literally true in this particular case might just be immaterial.
But I’m glad you started with that first page chase sequence. Obviously, it shares some visual similarities to Lou’s more prophetic dream at the end of the issue, including using a brilliantly limited color palette and obtuse black backgrounds. This also plays into the structural genius of the issue: while the meat of this story takes place between these two nightmares, the first dream shows the past while the second dream shows the future. For someone reading the eventual Moonshine trade, that might feel kind of wonky, but from the perspective of the monthly floppy reader? We get past, present and future holistically presented in one tight package.
Plus, that closing sequence is dope as hell. I always look for which panel in the issue Risso decides to sign (there’s always one), and I’d swear that he picks the most emotionally resonant pages, as if to underline their importance. In Moonshine 3, that panel kicks off the prophetic dream.
After the muted colors used by Risso and coloring assistant Cristian Rossi for the majority of the issue, that giant red wave appears almost electric on the page. There’s also the curious inclusion of Lou’s shadow in that panel – where the hell would the light be coming from that he would cast such a shadow? You only have a second to ponder that question before your brain catches up and recognizes that the shadow is actually a gun, and Lou’s standing on the end of the barrel.
The final page makes Lou’s eventual massacre-of-everyone-by-shooting-them all the more explicit, and maybe underlines the idea that Lou’s monstrosity is not contingent on whether or not he turns into a wolf at night.
And all of that rests in a couple pages on the edges of this issue. The moment-to-moment storytelling offers just as many twisted insights into the psyches of the characters and over all social structure of the town and Joe’s criminal empire. Lou gets his orders to take on a partner under the lazy arc of Duckie’s stream of urine. Lou slips out of his B&B without being seen by the suits, but the little girl living there watches him leave. Constable Kelly tries to stop Lou, but only gets “no” out of him, while a pair of Bolt kids effortlessly commandeer Lou’s car and redirect to him the funeral. All of these beats challenge traditional structures of power — specifically crime and the law — and place the actual power in the hands of children. Or, consider Lou waking up in Delia’s home, assuming he scored the night before.
Even with his “I probably got laid last night” swagger, Delia shuts him down in the simple course of her day – killing a chicken. Risso and Azzarello have never shied away from this kind of show of violence before, but it’s so effective in illuminating the power dynamic between these two characters. And of course, it’s the exact opposite of what Lou thought it was.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?