The link between movies and comics is a strong one. Even without the obvious bridge of their wonderful merging in animation, they share numerous qualities.
Both are visual storytelling mediums, and share a common concern with establishing shots, close-ups, framing a scene, conveying the spatial relationship of characters one to the other and other elements of essential visual continuity from scene to scene.
Both involve the element of time and of visual compositions that change over time.
Both have a “director’s” viewpoint, and the impact of choices of lighting, contrast and visual mood cannot be understated in the effectiveness with which a story is told.
Storyboards, which are used to plan movies, television and animation, are in essence a from of comics.
It’s not surprising then that there is crossover between the two fields; a number of comics artists and writers have moved into the fields of film and television and visual development artists have ventured into comics.
Marcos Mateu-Mestre, who I have profiled previously, has moved back and forth — he started as a comics artist for newspapers in his native Spain, moved into production design for animation and is currently a visual development artist working at Dreamworks.
In his excellent book, Framed Ink: Drawing and Composition for Visual Storytellers, which I reviewed here, he applied his expertise in both fields to create a superb framework for narrative illustration.
In his new book, Trail of Steel – 1441 A.D., Mateu-Mestre places those skills in the service of a graphic story about mercenary soldiers in 15th century Spain. The artist provided me with a review copy.
The storytelling, as you would expect, is dramatically cinematic, conveyed in Mateu-Mestre’s wonderfully fluid drawing style. He has an uncanny ability to combine precision draftsmanship and free, energetic rendering. I’ve spoken before about the delight I take in his drawing style.
The real highlight for me, however, is his mastery of tone. To say that the drawings are in black and white and grays is to miss the point. Here is a story told in both subtle and dramatic value contrasts that would not have been as effective if rendered any other way.
Mateu-Mestre uses value here in much the way skilled film directors use black and white film in many classic movies, creating a mood and atmosphere that would actually be difficult to achieve in color. These are images in which color would be a distraction and actually lessen the impact.
He has posted some images from the book on his blog in which he plays with the application of subtle colors to some of the pages (images above, second from bottom). As much as I like them as images and interesting experiments, I much prefer the panels as presented in the book.
Even though this is a story, students of comics (and visual storytelling in general) could consider Trail of Steel effective as a continuation of the lessons in Framed Ink — a textbook use of cinematic comics storytelling and the application of light and dark in narrative illustration.
The book is appended with a few notes on process, preliminary drawings and thumbnail page layouts. It is available as both a European style hardcover album (the best format for comics, IMHO) and a trade paperback.