Feature Panels Orient the Action in Extermination 3

by Drew Baumgartner

Extermination 3

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Tony Zhou’s Every Frame A Painting channel might just be my favorite outlet for analysis of visual media. Zhou tends to frame his videos very narrowly — such as the “How to do Visual Comedy” video excerpted above — but the lessons can be applied much more broadly. Which is my half-explanation for why I chose that particular video to kick off my analysis of Extermination 3 — not because this issue has anything to do with visual comedy, but because artist Pepe Larraz does such a brilliant job inventively eschewing lazy visual conventions.

A lot happens in Extermination 3. That’s hard to assert as a neutral fact — every writer bone in my body is compelling me to put either a positive (“jam-packed!”) or negative (“overstuffed”) spin on it — but since I’m interested in something other than pacing, I think we might be better off dispassionately quantifying “a lot.” This issue features 20 speaking characters (and plenty more named characters with no lines) across five locations over what amounts to a relatively short period of time. More specifically, the issue intercuts between those five locations, for a total of 14 cuts in just 20 pages. That’s roughly a cut every one-and-a-half pages, which means there straight-up isn’t room for exterior establishing shots or location chyrons to orient us.

Instead, Larraz relies on large feature panels on each page to help cue us in to where we are and who we’re with. There’s no archetypal example here — exactly what those feature panels contain (and even where they sit on the page) depends entirely on the situation — but this one should give you a sense of what I’m talking about:

Cyclops is sick

In this case, Larraz gives us something close to an establishing shot, featuring a clear sense of location and all of the characters in the scene, but in other cases, we might just get a single figure, or even a closeup of a face.

Where I’m most impressed with the clarity of these feature panels are the sequences where we have a mid-page cut, where there’s extra room for confusion if the cut isn’t made 100% explicit. True to the grammar he’s already established for the issue, Larraz simply throws two feature panels on those pages, one on either side of the cut to help orient us:

BAMF!

There are a few other elements helping us keep things straight — Marte Gracia’s coloring helps distinguish these locations with distinctive lighting, and Larraz’s own parallel construction (and big white gutter separating the two scenes) all play important roles — but it’s those feature panels (prominently displaying characters we already know are in two different locations) that seal the deal. Fascinatingly, that work happens before we consciously read the panels themselves. In this case, we see both panels immediately when we turn the page, but don’t put them in context until their respective places in the narrative. But we still take in the information about who and what is in each of these scenes, priming us for these cuts before we even get there. In effect, Larraz is relying on our own imaginations to create the establishing shots for these cuts.

I don’t mean to oversell the clarity of this technique — there are a TON of characters in this issue, and a reader might understandably lose track of who is where — but it worked like gangbusters for me. Those cuts happen so smoothly, there almost invisible, which is particularly impressive, not just because this issue jumps around so often, but because Larraz manages them in such an inventive, narratively satisfying way. It’s a masterclass in how to do an issue with so many cuts.

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