Making The Panel Work For Its Supper: Chin Music #1 by Steve Niles and Tony Harris

Tomorrow sees the publication of Ten Grand #1 by JMS and Ben Templesmith, published by Image. I talked about it here. A private investigator in an undetermined city being hired to deal with crime, demons and angels, under the surface.

Well next week, Image also publish Chin Music #1, featuring a man in Chicago dealing with crime and demons, under the surface.

But they approach comics in remarkably different fashions.

Ten Grand goes for the private dick potboiler, given a rich, oppressive and depressing location that could be anywhere, events superseding the form. Gutters are black, you can’t see the borders, the panels burst out from the darkness in standard rectangles. Lit from behind.

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Chin Music goes to the past, Chicago during the prohibition with Ness and Capone, but also Ancient Eqypt, giving the comic book temporal layers, reflected in the use of the comic book form. Here, the panel borders becomes objects of art in and of themselves, less borders but frames, there to spotlight, to isolate, to highlight characters and events as specific points, stringing them together in the book like an album. Just as the comic has magical symbols, so the very panels seem to take that structure on. They change depending on the time period they are in, reflecting contemporary styles, but always working as a narrative. The comic takes its time as well, moments are slow and detailed, where Ben Templesmith blurs, giving impressions, letting the reader fill in the grimness in their heads, Tony Harris brings it all out in sharp detail, an almost pornographic obsessions with flesh in forced perspective, and then hangs the results almost above the page. It’s similar to what Jae Lee achieved in Before Watchmen: Ozymandias, but with more obvious uses of design. There’s even a touch of the superhero, suddenly and unexpectedly, yet a natural progression of sudden bursts of action.

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The comic treats its moment of schlock horror with the same reverence it accords to slow moments of bullet being slowly carved. Events being recorded, preserved, lingered upon, with the horror of the voyeur who can’t look away. Even in that, and especially given the moments of slowness in some parts of the comic, it also finds incredibly efficient and inventive ways to move the narrative on at a lick of a pace.

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There’s a relatively simple narrative I can grab in Ten Grand. But in Chin Music, there are disconnected scenes, set centuries apart, but beautifully strung together. I haven’t a hell of an idea what’s going on but, right now, I don’t need to. I’m looking forward to discovering more.

Enough chin music, I’m going to go and read it again.

Chin Music #1 by Steve Niles and Tony Harris is published next week by Image Comics.

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