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 question: «If you had to choose a page from a comic book you love, what would you choose and why?».
This Sunday I’m out with Liz Suburbia, award-winning cartoonist behind Sacred Heart, Cyanide Milkshake, and Egg Cream. Her work has been described as «rich, eye-catching, and incredibly fluid, but it never feels overly-belabored or obsessive. Each panel on each page has clearly-discernible goals, and Suburbia meets them by means of smart choices rather than through tedious OCD-esque process».
I’ve never been a big reader of superhero comics, aside from a brief love affair with the X-Men when I was teenager. However, in my mid-20s I worked at a comic shop for a few years, right around the same time I was beginning to draw and self-publish comics of my own. It was a pretty big, well-stocked store; we had a lot of customers, but I still had a lot of down time to read and familiarize myself with the huge variety of comics we carried, so I ended up reading a lot more DC and Marvel comics than I might have otherwise, and discovered there were even a few I actually really loved. This page is from a Catwoman story by Ed Brubaker, who I was familiar with, with art by Javier Pulido, who I had never head of before- probably because he only really seems to do superhero comics. Seeing his art for the first time, I felt like someone physically grabbed me by the head and shoved my face into the book. I just loved it more and more the longer I looked at it.
Interesting choice for an artist like you, not really associated with superhero comics. Could you talk about what got you hooked?
Now I’m having a crisis of conscience! It would have been better to choose something different maybe, but here we are. I’d been revisiting this book a lot lately because I’m gearing up to finally start drawing my next book, and I always go back and look over the work of as many of the artists I like as I can during these times. Pulido’s work is so striking in this story arc – it’s really economical in a way that sets it apart from so many other comics in this genre. Matt Hollingsworth’s colors really serve it well too, they’re not over-rendered in that typical way that’s so eye-searing to me. Maybe it’s my artist brain that’s drawn to this sort of more minimal approach to lineart, rather than my audience brain… when I’m swept up in the story I love to be overwhelmed by detail and spectacle like anyone else. But when I’m really studying artwork, something like this, where every line and layout is carefully chosen and nothing’s wasted, is every bit as thrilling to me, because I know it’s so much harder than it looks. I feel like this page is an especially good example of that. I also like it (and this story) because it’s all about relationship drama! There’s a lot of that in my next book so it’s good to study up on good ways to communicate that kind of thing visually.
So, after reading this issues did you want to dig deeper in the series, or in the superhero genre in general?
Well, I kept reading Catwoman comics for as long as I worked at the store, along with a ton of other titles (superhero and otherwise) that I wouldn’t have normally, because I could do so for free. My boss encouraged me to learn as much as I could about everything we carried, and there was plenty of free time on the clock, so I was basically getting paid to read comics! These days I don’t keep up with DC or Marvel at all, but there are artists whose work I’ll pick up a cape comic for, for the sake of studying and enjoying. Pulido also did some art for Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye series, and I have those issues. My friend turned me on to the Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz run of New Mutants, which is another good one. Sienkiewicz always blows my mind. Frank Quitely’s work on New X-Men, too. I think that’s about it.
I like how Pulido draws her in a very empowered pose, the dialogue tells us that he has the higher ground, but the drawings show that she’s won’t have it, the only concession she will make is the tear. I wonder: are all these things on purpose or it’s just me reading into it?
There’s enough going on with any well-done display of human emotion that all kinds of little subtleties like that can be read into it- it takes a lot of intuition to put on the page. I think your reading totally works! The poses are doing so much heavy lifting in this sequence, especially for how little facial expression is visible. I tend to rely on facial expressions a lot in my own comics but it’s important to remember that people emote with their whole bodies, their choices of words, even their lack of expression (as Catwoman’s stiffness and stillness in the flashback part of the page show here, exactly as you pointed out).
Did you learn anything from this page as an artist or your love for this page is purely from a reader’s point of view?
I took the book home from the shop (it was damaged, so my boss let me have it for free) for artist reasons, but I do still enjoy the story a lot. Mostly because it’s less about superheroics than it is about relationships and trauma, as this page exemplifies. As I mentioned above, the subtractive quality of the linework is something I’m always trying to learn from- it takes a lot of confidence to make so few marks on the page when you’re trying to communicate something this complex. It’s also jumping back and forth in time- we’re seeing a flashback of Catwoman’s friend-with-benefits breaking up with her, wedged into a sequence where she’s acting out in response to the breakup. The colors help sell the time change too, warmer for the reckless, action-packed present and cooler for the sadder, more static past. I really like the repeated panel as well, of Catwoman’s face in shadow, where the only difference is the tear, even though you can tell by the hair and the shadows on the neck that he didn’t just Xerox the same panel and paste a tear over the top. I think my favorite part, though, is the fragmentation of her face: we can’t see her eyes in the flashback, where she’s all in turmoil, but in the present they’re all we can see, big and bright and blank. It’s just doing such a good job of visually depicting the inability to get a handle on your feelings. I like it best when art works in total service to the emotions of the story! It’s like the entire reason I read comics.