One of the things I still get a lot out of the old Rob Liefeld X-Force comics I read as a kid is how dynamic his pages were. Particularly the first say 7 issues—which I think are a sort of rock start testament to the efficacy of his approach within the genre. It is actually interesting to look back on these pages now after the things I’ve talked about with Crepax’s page layouts, particularly in his Anita series. Because these Liefeld comics use the same sort of power X-Y axis approach to their most dynamic pages. And really, for probably a lot of the same reasons in terms of their audience.
One of the most effective things Liefeld does, and he does it a lot in these early X-Force issues is this sort of power vertical panel on the left side of the page, and then smaller vertical panels sort of falling up or down in parrallel. There’s all kinds of weird motion effects this produces reading them. The above page uses this vertical panel to play into those smaller vertical pink rectangles in the background the second panel—which combined with the coloring produces this fade out effect for this last page. I also dig how the bottom of the second panel is drawn but not the top. The sense of play in these early issues is pretty terrific, and in some respects reminds me of sort of a toned down version of the fun Brandon Graham has with his comics.
I mean tell me that fun isn’t being had here? This is a two page spread that you have to turn the book sideways to actually read, and Stryfe is actually perching his foot on one of the panels from which he is speaking. And again, notice the use of the vertical panels here. There’s a power in Liefeld’s usage of them. They are like exclamation marks on a page. The composition is actually very much an exclamation mark in shape. The way the far right panel squares of color angle back down toward the center of the page—and go behind Stryfe creates this twisted depth of the panels—because we have stryfe in front of/on the lower panels—but the top right panel actually intersects between Stryfe’s shoulder and cape. That’s freaking crazy. And a lot of fun. I love that kind of thing. Like on a technical level it’s bizarre and wrong—but on another level it’s bravado, experimental, and surreal. And it plays with the flatness of the page and the panels. I think if you saw these comics as they were in Liefeld’s brain—they would almost be these weird hyperdimensional objects that you could move into and out of concurrently. The thing they remind me a lot of is this one page in Blaise Larmee’s tumblr comic:
These early X-force comics presage .gif comics, without actually.
I mean this kind of image is just beautiful. Again we see the vertical panel/exclamation mark setup on one side or the other—but in this kind of layout it’s minimized for this hard square that is again…behind one of the preceding panels—even as the characters are ahead of both panels. Just through how he is placing his panels he is creating depth and dimension and time for his characters to move through. And that hard square line holding in a set pattern that the characters pose over is a whole other kind of dynamic comic making shit that I will get into in the next part of this series. But seriously, you don’t see much of this kind of thing anymore. People ran so hardcore away from Liefeld—but characters popping out of and through panels is something you SHOULD be doing in an action comic. It’s something you routinely see in japanese action comics. But, I think for largely editorial reasons, it’s been excised from western comics to the degree that it should exist. I mean it should exist even more in western comics, given how compressed the action in our comics is. You need the few moments you dedicate to action in these comics to hit hard. They need to bang. Page design like this is the kind of thing you would tear out of the comic and hang on your wall.
Oh and lest you think Liefeld wasn’t at all cognizant of these choices in layout. Yeah. Exclamation marks. This stuff is pure comics.