I read these comics while sitting on a park bench, under a comfortably warm sun, class behind me, with college girls in short shorts and retro sunglasses passing by, and still, even with all these pleasantries, this Lobster Johnson mini series felt like the most important thing I could partake in at the time. Looking back, this was probably a pathetic reaction, but I’d like to think I gained a little mental stimulation from the experience. Plus, I have all summer for girls in retro sunglasses.
Aside from the pulpy spirit, Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand sports a wonderful tempo and evenness which seems overwhelmingly welcoming. The comic comes off as an item comfortable with what it is yet neither is the book afraid to reach for achievement, carrying the standard Mignola mindset which is aware of craftsmanship and structure. There’s a script here that drives the story in a very determined, episodic fashion with character development clearly in concern, but I’d say it’s the work of Tonci Zonjic who really shapes this Lobster Johnson tale into a comic book worth owning.
Zonjic’s work on Who is Jake Ellis? puts forth a tone of Jason Bourne espionage and a Moby soundtrack song by mixing sexy blacks with saturated colors. In fact, I’d maybe say most of his work on that project was more tone-centric than anything, and while I’m not suggesting one attempt is better than the other, this work on Lobster Johnson chisels out a more technical focus by relying a lot of the artwork’s impact on panel composition and raw storytelling.
Take the base panel on the above page for example. Your eye starts out with the charging Native Americans, jumps to Lobster Johnson, flows to the gun, follows the bullets into the other Native American, and you follow the shot Native American’s falling arm to the fleeing couple, ending the story contained within this box. Or, something like this:
What’s odd though is that I read this work on the same day I listened to an Inkstuds interview with cartoonist Frank Santoro, in which he discusses how most budding comics creators are so obsessed with style that they lack the skills to construct and maintain a simple narrative. Reading these issues, and then hearing that interview, really reminded me of the comic book artist’s true mission: moving the reader’s eyes.
We live in this era where surface appearance matters so much we forget about the mechanics. I’m guilty of this quite often as I enjoy falling victim to aesthetically charged elements like style and color, and while it’s important to possess unique examples of such things … a story needs a storyteller. Zonjic exemplifies such a thought in Lobster Johnson, and I think some of that focus may come from the script itself because, if you look at it, a majority of Mignola’s books work on the basis of mechanics and grinding gears rather than spunk or sexy spy swag. Zonjic’s illustrating this book rather than making it look cool. He’s telling the story, first and foremost.
Yet, while all of this is true, he does possess a style – a style that evokes certain well known cartoonists like Alex Toth or Sean Phillips, yet while the aesthetic pleasure resides present in the work, Zonjic doesn’t sacrifice anything for it. He’s blended both attributes of his art together for a full effect. I must admit though, Zonjic’s line really hits me. I love the way it blends to what’s contained within it, especially on his figures where the blacks of an arm fold or something mash with the line, making it appear almost nonexistent.
As I did pump up the notion of attitude over mechanics in a previous blog post, I must say, well-functioning mechanics can certainly hit a sweet spot and push a comic beyond common muck. I like that such a thing can remind me of the time and work put into a comic book. The visibility of the artist’s storytelling can really, almost, connect you to that moment when the lines were laid down at the drawing board, and the thought was first thunk.