Sunday Page: Ann Nocenti

Every week on “Sunday Page” an author has to choose a single page from a comic book. It could be for sentimental reasons o for a particular technical achievement. The conversation could lose itself in the open water of the comic book world but it will always start with the questione: «If you had to choose a page from a comic book you love, what would you choose and why?».

This week we speak with a name that made history in the superhero genre, shaping characters like Daredevil and Longshot: Ann Nocenti. Like her Wikipedia page says: «Nocenti is particularly noted for her outspoken political views. Some focus on the status of women in society, as well as the role of government in Nocenti’s work, particularly during her run on Daredevil, which caused conflict with editorial».

chiaroscuro ann nocenti david mazzucchelli

I think in all my years of writing so many hundreds of comics, this one is one of my favorites and means so much to me… Chiaroscuro, a story I did for Marvel Fanfare. I have a deep affection for this tale. I wrote it a long time ago, and memory is a treacherously dubious thing, but as I recall, the story was inspired by my grandmother Josephine. She was religious, but more important she had a buoyancy to her spirit. She had a hard life as a farmer’s wife, but it was easy to get her giggling. The story evolved from thinking of her, to thoughts of an old woman alone with her fears. Not just her fears, but others telling her she should be afraid of her own age and frailty. Afraid of climbing up to pick an apple she desires. Afraid of the TV news, of driving her car, afraid of her own kitchen appliances. The way I write stories is to let an idea percolate in my mind for awhile, so that it takes on its own life and begins to tell me where it wants to go.

The character of Angel is not angelic, he’s an irreverent, spoiled, rich. So this was also a way of distilling him to how he might appear to others, stripped of that cavalier attitude. To do this, I had him be asleep for most of this story. Josephine can project on to him what she wishes… how she sees angels, but at the same time she is bit dotty and was just reading about biblical angels, so is Angel all in her imagination?

David Mazzucchelli beautifully shows the essence of this story on the first page, with a fallen angel. He alludes to the context with some barely seen images of battle. I used biblical verse both to describe the real battle, and to segue into the introduction to Josephine reading the Bible. Mazzucchelli brilliantly captures the essence of Josephine by placing that huge fan in the foreground, looming ominously and overshadowing her, threatening her, showing that the world is a scary place for the elderly. Mazzucchelli introduces her with a simple graphic—the flowered dress, the wrinkled face. He uses a thin and thick line contrast in the inking that is extremely effective. He reduces some panels to simple shapes that sometimes, graphically, remind me of Hank Ketcham’s work on Dennis the Menace.

Even though Josephine’s world is scary, Mazzucchelli adds an “uplift” to many of the pages, in the lines and sometimes in the last panel on a page. He’s an artist with incredible range, his graphic novel Asterios Polyp is one of my favorites. He is a genius at the comic art, and he took this simple story and lifted it someplace transcendent.

Was Mazzucchelli’s choice to go with a more design-y and cartoony style or did you talk about it?

I don’t remember why Mazzucchelli chose that style. Maybe it was a style he just felt like trying out on something at the time, or the lightness of the tale suggested a breezy style. Marvel Fanfare, as an anthology comic, was a place to try out new artists or off-beat styles. Sometimes an artist or writer needed work while they took a break between bigger monthly gigs.

The lighting is great. I like a lot the way meaning is conveyed. For example, the wallpaper with the roses. From a distant, it looks like fallen feathers, so it seems like the meeting between Josephine and Angel was a matter of destiny. And I really like the visual distinction between the two: she’s chubby, soft, rounded. He’s thin, edgy, with features that could cut a tree.

Every page of this tale has beautiful balance, and to me the beauty of page 12, beyond the sense of light and other things you mention, is in the romance of their first glance, in that last panel. The story has been building to that moment, and that panel really is the lovely climax of the tale.

The ‘what happens after the fight’ theme was a fresh idea – I think it was around that years that Marvel published Damage Control, about a company specializes in repairing the property damage caused by conflicts between heroes and villains. But Chiaroscuro may be the first time that comics developed that idea.

I was an editor at Marvel at the time, and there were sometimes conversations during story meetings about the fallout from big events. It’s fun to have Hulk smash things, but what about that car he smashed? Who owned it, and who paid for the damage? There was a big event going on in the Marvel books, some kind of X-Men versus Magneto battle in the sky, and Angel is injured and falls. I wondered… where did he fall to? And if a beautiful man with angel wings fell in my grandmother’s yard, what would she think? So this story was a way to take a moment from the greater Marvel Universe, and zoom in on it in a very personal way, and tell an “everyman” tale.

Well, I have just another stupid question that has nothing to do with this, but I must ask: have you seen the Daredevil show?

I did like it, quite a bit! Kingpin stole the show, but he usually does…