Friday, October 25, 2013

The use of colors and space in Fires by Lorenzo Mattotti


Heads up, for some reason it's not posting some of the pictures I uploaded. Please have some patience and I'll fix this as soon as possible.

I love when comics are conscious of colors and how they can add a new dimension to the story and structure of a comic; Fires is one of those comics. I would say that the colors and how it occupies the space its in is essential for Fires to work. Without it, the whole story and its characters fall apart. You don't see that a lot in comics, where it's not the words or the characters or the pictures that tell--they do in Fires but it's not dominate--but it's the color and the use of space that tell us everything. With this post, I just to do a small breakdown on how color, the space it occupies and the shape of that space works in Fires.

A bit of a synopsis on the comic. There's a mysterious island that the inhabits the Archipelago. When ships or vessels enter the parameter of Saint Agatha, the mysterious island, they are mysteriously destroyed and nobodies knows who or what is doing it. To understand this, warship Anselm II is sent on a reconnaissance mission to survey Saint Agatha. Absinthe is a Lieutenants in the ship and it is through him we see the island and it's inhabitants come alive in a Lovecraftian nightmarish way and becomes a clash between Anselm II and Saint Agatha.

When we first open the comic we see a beautiful lush green island with a bright blue sea surrounding it. From a corner, we a see a small warship that's colored in a dark purpish, gray tone that makes it look sickly and pale and stale. Mattotti sets up for us the players right there, what they look like and an small insight at their personalities; lush beautiful open island against a small, ghoulish looking "warship". That back and forth between colors, size and space dominates Fires.

Next page we get a view of the sailors and the warship they live in. We move from an expansive panel to small restrictive panels. We see the purple, gray, muted use of colors mixed with the small panels to portray a staleness and rigidity of the ship and it's inhabitants. On the distance we see the bright  lush colors of the island threatening to overtake them and the panels change to a landscape. These change of shapes tell us that the island is more free and open. It's trying to luring the sailors away from the ship to live in it's lands uninhibited. And all that attracts Lieutenant Absinthe and like a virus, it invades him and starts to change him. Now, the island may only truly attract one person, but the other sailors aren't completely safe from the lure.


When Absinthe and a handful of other sailors row to the island and start exploring, something about them changes; it's a subtle change and it's the color of their clothing. The clothing changes from a gray, darkish green to a bright luscious mixture of green, red, white, yellow. The freedom of the island is slowly invading them, trying to change them bit by bit.  The panels change from small to bit, the space the colors inhabit are free to flow wherever they want. Hell, even the linework of Mattotti changes from a structured line to abstract and flowing.

Colors and space are used here to either give freedom or to take it away, to convey the beauty or ugliness. Now do you get a picture of why colors are so essential to this story. And it's through those sharp contrasts between the players that Mattotti is able to successfully convey a deeper meaning that enriches his story. The lifeless ship enhances the color and mood the freeing island. The battle between the dark muted colors vs the bright lush colors help Mattotti convey the nature of the island in a fuller and subtle light. Mattotti continue to does all the way till the end where they finally battle each other.




As you can see, with such conflict within the comic, it has to come to an end, a clash; Mattotti does this masterfully. You see the dark muted warship and sailors attacking the island. When they attack, it's violent battle of colors. Just look at the first panel of the first battle image I posted. See that abstract thing, that's the battle of colors. A mixture of dark and lush, going at each other. See that a battle again, even more vivid in the fifth panel. This is a battle to the death,. Through these pages, we see a vicious battle of colors, going at each other. Not only are we seeing a battle of colors but a battle of  images. How far can Mattotti push his images until they fall apart into complete abstractions, when they no longer mean anything to the reader? How far can he push his linework combined with his experimental use of color and space? This is more than a battle of island vs ship. A battle of color, pictorial dissonance, pushing the language of comics until it all falls apart on you.

Fires is an amazing and experimental comic as you can see. It is a standard that all other comics should strive for. Well, comics who want to use the language of color and shape to tell a story. I can't recommend this comic enough. This is a comic that all comic fans should read and study.  It's a comic that pushes the medium into new and different territories that we rarely see. And hopefully, we start to see new creators playing with different languages in comics, taking them to new and exciting places and hopefully us with them too.

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