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An Exercise in layouts

with thanks to Paul Renaud for his suggestion

First version (1976) :

Second version (1996) :


The comparison between opus 2 and 43 is quite instructive : you only have to look at these pages from the first version and the second one to understand what I mean. I have drawn the composition lines in the two pages. And if one can say that the layout of the first version was already quite interesting, the second version is, to my mind, even more powerful.As you can see, in the first version, two main lines intersect on the figure of the witch (who appears on this page for the first time). That's logical, since she will be Strange's adversary in this story.

But there are also two other vertical lines which connect the panel with Strange's face in the upper half with the last two panels showing the witch in the lower half. Lastly, there's a angle which open from the oval at the left of the lower half toward the last panel, the full appearance of the witch.

As you can see, whether this was done consciously or not, this page has a good layout, but the coherence of the white lines could be improved. That's what Russell did in the second version.In the second version, two main lines intersect around the center of the page, which is always a good idea, as a lot of great painters will tell you.

Besides, the little white lines going from upper left to lower right correspond to the first main line (and to the direction of the vines in the panel of Strange's face) , which shows a remarkable coherence in the layout as well as an economy in the use of composition lines. In fact, the general direction of these important lines - at least, if you read from left to right as Westerners are prone to do - is the face of the witch in the last panel, the culmination of the page.

Moreover, look at the panel in the lower half with Strange stuck in the mud : in the second version, his whole body is stretching towards the oval through which the sorceress is appearing, whereas in the first version, his body was more contorted. The other main line, which goes from that panel (lower left to upper right), has a correspondence in the direction of the little panel with Strange's face in the upper half of the page as well as in other shorter lines : for example, the one given by the position of the witch's body in the second lower panel. None of that was not true in the first version. Once more, this version is far more coherent.

If the angle is the same as in the first version, the last two panels partake far more of the rising of the emotion in that scene : in the first version, the body of the sorceress was squeezed in the last panel but one, and the last panel was made large enough to show her whole body, whereas in the second version, the last panel but one leaves more breath to the body language of the sorceress (and what a body language that is, reminding us of the great vamps of classic cinema), and the last panel is saved for a close-up of the face, thus ending the page on an very ominous note.It is quite clear that the second version is more powerful emotionally speaking, and at the same time more sparing with the composition lines. Everything in the second version adds to the coherence of the layout : the directions of the panels, those of the bodies, and even the volutes of waves and vines. All this proves, if need be, that Russell has beautifully managed to integrate his fine-art influences (this kind of volutes reminds one of Art Nouveau vegetation) with the solid storytelling he's deservedly known for.