Batman: The Animated Series title sequence storyboard (1992), panel 30. Bruce Timm.
Well, as long as I'm claiming things for the comics medium, why not talk about storyboard sequences? Put any decent "art of the film" book next to any uninspired action comic and you can see how deep the similarities run. Storyboards are comics, no doubt, progressions of drawn pictures that create narratives as they go. Actually, in some ways they're a lot more artistically advanced than the average comic: the lack of words and impetus to create a totally comprehensible visual sequence forces the medium's artists (who often moonlight in comics or vice versa) to really knuckle down in a way so many of the monthly-release hacks don't. There's no conveniently captioned exposition to explain muddy blocking, no in-story context the artist can lean on to clarify a hard-to-parse sequence. The context of storyboards is the context of film itself: a constant flow, no gutters, with every second as important as the last and without comics' single-unit panels. When we read comics one panel can dazzle us for minutes on end before the next one mystifies us and takes us right out of the story. In film, there's no stopping, and the storyboards have to reflect that as they create it.
Of course, there are some places where comics definitely have it over storyboards. The very meta-story experience that film's continuous flow can't really create is comics' bread and butter: the action is always planed open, picked apart, sanded down to its constituent parts, and how we put those parts back together is completely up to us. (Anybody who's read Brian Chippendale's book Maggots will know what I'm talking about -- why do we always read the damn things left to right and down the page, anyway?). Comics can counterpoint or comment on their action as it occurs by simply playing out two scenes over the same page (movies have split screen but ugh, what makes Warhol's "Chelsea Girls" such a drag to get through is what makes Alan Moore's stuff sing). Comics can speed up and slow down time way more naturalistically than movies ever could by simply putting down a gutter and drawing the next thing that happens, whether it's a millisecond or six hours later. (Zack Snyder's attempts to do such things with slow motion film kinda make me seasick when I watch them on the big screen.) Comics have the whole page, the whole issue, the whole book to play out their formal experiments, while storyboards have to limit themselves to the screen-shaped panel that stands in for their final destination.
Still though, look at this panel! Bruce Timm's drawn some fine comics in his day, but interestingly, the full page that set former animators from Rafael Grampa to Jack Kirby free has always constrained him. In his comics, Timm by and large sticks to the grid, any camera motion occurring between the frames. But in his storyboards, where everything that happens on the screen has to be telegraphed and diagrammed first, and where the page, as it were, has no edges, Timm doesn't have to worry about eating up valuable real estate with weirdly shaped, distended showcase panels like these. This virtuosic study of Batman in motion is exactly the kind of thing we need to see more of in comics -- a severe bending of form to function, a panel composed like nothing we've ever seen in order to sell its subject harder than we've ever felt it.
The first thing that pops out at you is the part that doesn't make it to the screen: that big white arrow. It's less an artistic element and more a functional one in the animator's-guide storyboard context. This is simply how Timm indicates why the panel's shaped that way and what the camera's doing in it, so of course it's the most important thing for the production team to see. But in the pure-art context, the this-is-a-comics-panel context, it just busts out and rips. I've talked about arrows in comics before, but this one takes the cake as far as pure dynamic force goes. Its size, its arch, the way its holding lines disappear at the very end -- Batman isn't just jumping, he's blasting forward with tremendous power. I wish comics would step up a little and really own arrows the way Timm does here; polite little directional indicators are all well and good, but this one gives the action so much weight, not to mention a definite axis, all in one element.
There's also a fluid, deeply organic use of subdivision at play here. That clean diagonal lurch is definitely a product of work done outside the traditional comics medium, dictated by a movement up and to the left, the exact opposite of the direction our eyes go when we're following a story on a page. But it works so well, the movement plotted out from beginning to end by that strangely gorgeous shape, its stages captured as if by a strobe camera in three kinetic moments. That last panel at the top wouldn't necessarily code quite right if we were reading it in a book, but thanks to Timm's composition and our foreknowledge that this is all going to the screen, it works perfectly. Timm imports film's ever-progressing context to his static drawing, using one image to depict a flow-through sequence of time rather than a single captured instant. What's most striking about this panel is how far out of the formula it breaks, not just in terms of what it's doing but also in how different from the typical rectangular "screenshot" storyboard drawing it is, and how well it works despite that. This is the kind of story-enhancing, deeply visual gesture we should see so much more of in action comics, an artist breaking out of the usual mode to really sell something.
Then there's the drawing itself. It owes just as much to the storyboard format as anything else I've mentioned -- this is clearly "not for print", lacking any of the crispness or high-gloss finish of Timm's comics. It's more akin to a layout panel, a sketch done to explore an idea before the final realization. But that's exactly the charm of it: free of the impeccable mannerism of Timm's finished art we can really feel the foundations that underpin his drawings. Batman is a cold and springy mass, almost pure shadow, rimlights dramatizing the exaggerated curves of Timm's figure-drawing shorthand. There's so little anatomy at work that it might as well not be here at all, but what we do get is a primer in Bruce Timm gesture, Bruce Timm simplification. A ridiculously compact, curve-backed crouch, followed by the soft arches of hugely exaggerated leg calf muscles. Then the shadow takes total control. The minimal shapes of the buildings form a perfect, stagey backdrop, but they're also lovely cartooning in themselves, and everything's polished to a fine dark glow by Eric Radomski's gray tones. The thing almost looks like a film still if you blur your vision right, the deep focus of the washes straight out of the deepest noir. Not for print in comics, maybe -- but for comics to study over, for comics to learn and incorporate. One day, hopefully, they'll all do stuff like this.