Oct 10, 2013

Techniques and Tricks: Thor Worldengine

Thor: The Dark World is coming out soon, so all my articles for October 2013 are about the God of Thunder! Some call it OcThorBer, but I'm just gonna call it Thor Month. This week, we're talking about...

Techniques and Tricks in Thor: Worldengine
by Duy

Travis has talked  about Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato's Thor four-parter, Worldengine before, taking an in-depth look at the contributions of each creator, from Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato to Marie Javins and Jonathan Babcock. I can't really do a much better job of describing their synergy, so I'm not even going to try — just go read his piece — so what I'm going to do now is talk about why I like Worldengine so much.

For me, Worldengine is an execution-over-idea piece. That means I wouldn't go so far as to say that the plot and ideas were absolutely brilliant (your mileage may vary), but I would say that the execution and storytelling were handled masterfully. The creators all communicated with each other on this story, and the end result is really a very beautiful-looking product. Mike Deodato, known in the 90s for being given to excess (in terms of skin, muscle, design, and whatnot), manages to rein it in here just a little bit and channel those energies in the most appropriate moments. As a result, he was able to showcase some of his storytelling, compositional talents. Mostly, I find that these are particular techniques that when done well, they really work for me.

Let's take a look at some of them.


Gutters are awesome things. Imagine, just by introducing a space in the middle of a picture, you can change the way the reader perceives how time flows throughout it. And when you put them around an entire splash, like a frame, like in this page of Thor and the Enchantress in a post-coital cuddle?

It highlights the moment, and to at least one reader (me, if you're being dense), it makes it last just a bit longer than it otherwise would have if the frame didn't exist. "Relief," as in "bas relief" in sculpting, is the best term I can come up with for it.

Unconventional Directions

We're taught to read left to right and up to down, so I get impressed when someone breaks or comes close to breaking that orientation without confusion. This page of Thor and Amora comes close, with the three inset panels moving in a clockwise direction.

Placing the panels close to each other is important here, and the visual connections also help. Thor's blond hair moves right into the upper left, with the blond hair, and his bracelet moves right into the bracelet on the lower left panel.

I imagine that composing a page like this isn't easy. If Deodato had done it with even a modicum of sloppiness, people could easily mistakenly join up Enchantress' head and butt there and she'd look like a dwarf with a giant head.

Unobtrusive Fonts 

This one's on Jonathan Babcock. Travis counted at least nine different typefaces in this book, and none of them are obtrusive. To be honest, there are a very few instances when I notice lettering — and most of those times, it's when it's done badly. I think lettering is an "invisible" art, meaning it works best when you don't notice it's there and it just blends into the story. That's what happens in Worldengine. Each font is appropriate for its function, and I never gave any thought to them until it was pointed out to me.

Angled Panels

Deodato loved doing these. (Maybe he still does; I haven't really read anything he's done post-2000.) To amp up tension, he'd draw panels at an angle, but he'd also rotate the contents. So it wasn't just a differently shaped panel; it was a panel rotated towards you in some way. It's a good effect that simulates the third dimension.

Windows and Doors as Panels

I don't even really have an explanation for this one. I just like it when windows and doors are used as panels.  I go into it more in-depth here, but in that article, I highlight instances in which they actually have an explicit narrative use. I can't say Deodato's use of it here was all that necessary, but, like I said, I'm a sucker for it.


Ah, polyptychs. The act of inserting gutters into one picture to control both the pace and direction in which the reader's going. I'm a sucker for the polyptych. In the rare times I feebly attempt to create my own comics, I find I try polyptychs more than any other technique. I just love them. They do to one image something that can only be done in comics.

And then there's this page, where Deodato uses three polyptychs and twenty panels.

So much effort was put into Worldengine and I think it's a highlight of the 90s. Sure, it's full of 90s elements, but it's a case where they were utilized to serve the story. Warren Ellis wrote it in such a way to highlight the skills of his collaborators, and they made the most of it.

Also, the hardcover has a reprint of the first Enchantress story, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, which is fun. You can get it here:

And for more Comics Techniques and Tricks, click here!


Rick Diehl said...

Duy, first rate article, but I have one basic issue to get past. Deodatao might not be the worst artist of the 1990's, heck some of his Wonder Woman stuff looked pretty good. But the art on that Thor story was just terrible. It resembles some of McFarland's worse Infinity Inc issues its so bad.

What I saw as a decent story was more or less ruined by the pure awfulness of the art.

JV said...

Worldengine was my favorite Thor story for a long time. Ellis and Deodato had great synergy together (which they were able to recapture in their Thunderbolts storyline). It was a bit of a radical take on Thor, Ellis took away the faux-Shakespeare lingo, darkened the title character and his mythos and retconned Asgardians from gods to highly advanced aliens whose technology was mistaken as magic (pre-Thor movie). Great stuff, it was just too bad that Ellis left after 4 issues and most of the story/concepts developed were dropped, not to be revisited for a long time.

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