Mesmo Delivery (2008), page 24 panel 1. Drawn by Rafael Grampa.
The comics career of Rafael Grampa is incredibly exciting for a bunch of reasons. First and most obvious, dude makes really good comics and it's nice to have another talented artist in the ranks. Second, he's one of a crop of new creators who've bypassed the rigid genre forms that have restricted the comics form for so long. His sole major work to date, the feature-length Mesmo Delivery, hits you first with frothing blood 'n' guts 'n' urine, native to the depraved side of underground comix, but it's no less puffed up by the pop hyperbole of shonen manga and the high-craft kinetics of mainstream superheroes. What really gets me about Grampa, though, and I'd guess I'm not alone in this, is that he comes from a comics tradition that's very much outside our own, one that we haven't seen too much of in the States -- one we can't know what to expect from yet. He's from Brazil, a country which boasts its fair share of popular American-industry artists, but not one that's really been "revealed" to us yet. Ivan Reis and his countrymen mainly draw superheroes like Jim Lee meets Dave Gibbons, and while that works it's doesn't get your knuckles white like seeing some foreigner taking a cockeyed look at things and then singlehandedly reassembling the comics grammar we're used to.
Yeah, Grampa -- his stuff hits like an atom bomb, rude and loud and sweaty, full of the banging rhythm that only comics can hope for. The guy's a brilliant artist, as even a cursory glance up top will attest: his eye for composition, honed by time in the animation trenches, is formidable, packing a massive amount of information into the panel without crowding anything and managing to keep each visual element crisp and distinct, perfectly readable. What strikes you as a barnstorming moment of insane confusion, figures sloppy with body language and all squashed together, reveals a deep consideration once you pick it apart a little. This panel is full of action and reaction, taking in a big gulp of time rather than just freezing the frame. We get the yawning arc of the roundhouse swing in the speed lines behind the fist; the point-of-impact crush 'n' splat in gut churning hi-contrast detail; and then the stunned reactions on the faces of the witnesses. And the drawing itself keeps up the act, with hog-wild Wolverton/Jack Cole bigfoot cartooning gone over with the finest and most meticulous of pen lines, pulling a nauseating amount of greasy detail from the figures and making that popped face really scream. It's a bizarre, visceral meld, not illustration and cartooning but cartooning and cartooning, two split-off branches of the same trunk lashed back together with blood vessels and electrical tape.
But as good as the drawing is, it's equally interesting to dig through what's behind it. First and most obvious is the truly grody subject matter: we see guys who look more or less like this hitting each other a lot in comics, but it's never been this way before. I can't help but see this panel as a punky nod to Jack Kirby and his ilk, artists who drew this same picture a million times but never dared to go into its consequences, stopping short of blood and bits of brain with starbursts and impact lines. This, Grampa tells us, is what comic book violence really looks like, this is what a Kirby-muscled man swinging full tilt can do to the human body. Not only does it slap pretty much every tame fight comic in history across the face with an unanswered gauntlet, it finally brings the grit, the wild overstatement and battering force of comics into the action itself, stamping an exclamation point onto something so many cartoonists have failed to actually cartoon: a dude punching somebody smack in the face.
And none of this is even to mention the bravura formal elements of the panel. Letterer Rafa Coutinho is every bit the master of his craft that Grampa is, and the two work in a perfect tandem here that no American action comic since the advent of computer lettering has been able to touch. The innard-red, Western-movie SPLAT in the top right corner is what draws the eye, for sure, but Coutinho really gets into it, dropping the BAM of the fist's initial contact with the face in behind it in a cool white that makes the red pop even harder. Then there's the loosely scrawled WHOOSH hidden behind the barreling arm, acting almost as a second set of speed lines, and the twin AAAHs in orange to add a final element of chaos to the frame. Just as well-considered is the sickly shade of yellow underlying everything, a far more effective and individual choice than the typical red or white of impact, and one that also gets at the pit-of-the-stomach disaster in the moment. And through all the innovation, Grampa uses the old forms like a pro. Speed lines, blood plewds, sweat droplets, dust kicked up by boots: it's all so alive with energy, but just as clearly marked with Grampa's unmistakable style as everything else in the panel.
A final note: there's an in-story reason why the ducking-down guy's one fist is bigger than his head, but one of the most important facets of good comics is that sometimes artists make up reasons to draw awesim shit. So don't even worry about it.