by L. Nichols
Over the past couple of years, I’ve kept an eye on various Act-i-vate projects out of curiosity. Honestly, I have a really hard time reading anything at-length and in-depth on the internet, so I use sites like Act-i-vate more as a way to gauge if I might be interested in purchasing something if and when it’s published in a paper form.
Of all the work on Act-i-vate, Michel Fiffe’s work has always caught my eye and really intrigued me. I find his style and use of color particularly exciting. So when I saw the first issue of Zegas at Bergen St. Comics (I was super bummed to have missed the release party!), I just had to pick it up.
It’s been a while since I’ve been so excited about a comic that I re-read it immediately after finishing it the first time. The first reading was, for me, affirmation of my curiosity. This book really did have what I have been looking for. The second reading, I started to notice and pick apart smaller things: the way he uses the language of comics, the use of color to draw the eye, the page layouts. Yes! This is what I have been hoping to see more of in comics.
There is a post-apocalyptic theme in the first story. Look at the way the black cloud covers over the words in the first two panels of the page above. Look at the way there is a simultaneity of bodies in the second panel. Their mouths are moving but she is not hearing anything. A great way to capture the feeling of doom/dread and how it obscures the immediate. She (the narrator) acknowledges this feeling in the third panel, but we’ve already felt it with her! Fiffe does an amazing job of switching between expression/subjective/feelings and depictive/objective/observation. This is where comics, as a medium, can shine!
I particularly loved this chase sequence. The color builds as the excitement builds. Also, the glowing and bright color captures the feeling of an arcade, especially with the way some of the colors glow past their borders.
Choosing to break with panels on the second page of the chase and instead show multiple instances of the same people in the same space makes sense here. You simultaneously get a feeling of the space as a whole and also their movement through this whole. This format adds to the feeling that maybe this all happened a little too quickly for the people in the arcade to understand what’s going on. It’s a confusion with several defined moments.
It’s Fiffe’s use of comics, his visual understanding of emotional impact, that makes me really excited about this book.
This is the first page of another story in the book. More moments of simultaneity. The top right of the page, Fiffe turns what might otherwise be a boring and static panel into a somewhat odd moment of two things happening at once. There’s the motion of handing her this object as well as the motion of him standing up and her putting on her boot.
A little further down, there’s the close-ups of his mouth as it swells in an arc around his body writhing on the floor. His discomfort is clarified because we know what’s happening to his face. Expression and explanation simultaneously given. The final panel on this page brings everything to the climax. He can’t breathe. Bright red dots add to the emotional impact here. Colors climaxing as the action does on this page.
On this page, I love the use of the smaller panels around the image of the man’s face/neck and the zig-zag liquid coming out of it. The result and what led to the result. You can’t help but see it all at the same time. You know what’s coming. The man’s face looks horrified. My face looked horrified as I realized what was going on. Again, Fiffe shows that he understands the impact of visual choices on emotional response.
Really, guys, I could pick apart this book page by page and still find things to be excited about! Fiffe understands comics, how to use them to get the response he wants. I want there to be more of these books in print simply so I can be more excited about buying comics. Most times I go to the comic store, I’ll look through things and, just, nothing will grab me. And it’s not that I don’t want them to. I do! I want there to be more things I might like! I so desperately desire comics to grow and change and expand, for there to be genre on top of genre and a strong showing of more “literary” works (you know, literary works that maybe don’t involve sad old white men). The other day I had this visceral ANGER that I can go to my bookshelf and decide to read Milan Kundera, Haruki Murakami, Vladimir Nabokov, Dave Eggars, William S. Burroughs, George R. R. Martin, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charlaine Harris, Herman Hesse, William Carlos Williams, Ted Hughes, Dostoevsky, etc etc etc etc fucking etc., but I can’t go to my comics shelf and find the same density and variety of work. I want this for comics. That is why I keep making comics. It just seems like it’s taking so long for us to get there.
So many things I see available for me to buy seem static and like they’re just rehashing what has already been done. Granted, there has obviously been enough around to keep me excited about comics and the potential of comics as a greater medium. Fiffe seems like he’s trying to figure out what comics can potentially do. And the fact that he’s doing this stuff now, not 10/20/30/60 years ago, is pretty damn exciting. I can’t wait to see what is to come with Fiffe’s work.
If you’re anything like me, Zegas is well worth the time and money. Go read it.
(ps, if you’re a creator as well as a reader, pay close attention to how he uses color, abstraction, and the language of comics to create emotional impact on top of the narrative/words. There’s far more there than I touched on here.)