Descender #2: Everything Counts [Close Read]
August 21, 2015
In this page from DESCENDER #2, Lemire and Nguyen eschew panel borders entirely, creating a page that's fair to call collage, while still maintaining a left-to-right, top-to-bottom reading order for the page. You can draw an S from the first "panel" to the last by following the word balloons, and not an inch of clarity has been sacrificed on the page.
There are a few remarkable things on this page. For context, we're viewing TIM-21's memories, as he is booted up for the first time by his creator, Doctor Jin Quon. Nguyen lays out this page in an interesting way, rapidly shifting points of view and position between each depiction of the characters. The large Dr. Quon on the left is positioned as if he were working on the TIM-21 who is speaking with the small drawing of Dr. Quon in the middle of the page. At the same time, we see a close-up on TIM-21's head as Dr. Quon makes adjustments while he activates the robot. The lowest row features two head-on shots of the characters as they speak with each other, their emotions made plain for us to see.
The effect of all this is that the scene has a hazy, dream-like feel. It's a series of moments drawn so that they blur together, and Nguyen's soft palette in this scene pushes that feeling even further. TIM-21 is hesitant when discussing himself, as seen by his pause when quizzing Dr. Quon and stutter when saying his own name, but concrete when it comes to explaining what he does. There is texture there, something worth examining in the context of the book.
Dr. Quon's questions have a soft, parental tone, which fits TIM-21's status as a companion for human children. TIM-21 must be, for all intents and purposes, a believable child in order for his role to be fulfilled. Considering the arc of the book—in the first issue, robots were outlawed after a tragedy and TIM-21 woke up years later, igniting a minor race to control him—Dr. Quon's actions and tone say a lot about what kind of story Nguyen and Lemire are telling in DESCENDER, and what kind of character Dr. Quon really is.
DESCENDER works because everything is geared toward telling the best story possible, and the result is an experience that is unlike one you'd find in any other medium. No matter the story, no matter the genre, comics creators consistently find inventive ways to tell stories, taking full advantage of the fact that comics are an extremely flexible art form.