Nightworld: A Genre Blender For Everyone
September 11, 2015
Setting is as much about style as it is about the place and time a story takes place, especially in comics. How the comic looks further defines the setting, and has a huge effect on the level and type of engagement a book gets from a reader. Consider Scott Snyder & Jock's WYTCHES, which is set in the "real world." Matt Hollingsworth's colors give the book a shifty, paranoid feel, one that enhances the story of the book. Or Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard's work on THE WALKING DEAD, which is steadfastly realistic, a perfect match for the lack of supernatural phenomena and emphasis on the zombie apocalypse being the new reality for those characters.
In NIGHTWORLD, the setting is straight out of gothic horror, but with a twist. Plenilunio, the main character, is prone to slow walks through the shadows and soliloquies in the moonlight. His lover, Lidia, sleepwalks through his castle, a constant reminder of his own shortcomings. Plenilunio is more super-demon than traditional demon, with his two-tone mask, flowing cape, and slick color scheme. As the story progresses, we're introduced to normal humans, young and cool demons, and arch-devils who are more casual in their approach than your traditional representatives of Hell tend to be. The story blends b-movie melodrama with Kirby acrobatics and gloomy horror, a curious mix that manages to be funny, dark, and darkly funny, often on the same page. The characters are drawn in a mix of classic heroic and horror styles, and move around gloomy nighttime locales like castles and woods. At the same time, characters occasionally pause to have conversations on the interstate with tracksuit-clad demons. NIGHTWORLD doesn't defy genre classification so much as it embraces it, pushing its disparate elements into a cohesive whole.
The storytelling techniques used in NIGHTWORLD vary, but Leandri generally sticks to variations on 6-panel and 9-panel grids for most of the pages. These layouts are common in comics, thanks to their clean compromise between density and clarity. You can do a lot with these grids, and they provide a rhythmic structure for each page that's very easy to follow. When Leandri deviates from the grids by merging or further separating panels, he's drawing your eye to something that requires greater attention from you, the reader. "This is important."
The grid has another purpose, too. How do you make the out-there feel familiar enough to hook prospective readers? You ground it, just a little. Leandri's grids are familiar to comics fans, especially those who grew up on superheroes. They're easy to read for anyone, thanks to the big panels and steady layout. The grid grounds the story because it isn't distractingly busy, and by grounding it, it makes NIGHTWORLD approachable.
There's a delicate balance there. If it's too grounded, the comic loses its vibrance. If it's too out there, the comic could lose your attention. Leandri's tightly-controlled visual style and McGovern's bombastic scripting strike a perfect balance in NIGHTWORLD. The comic is an action-packed ride, one that never fails to lean into the fact that it's a comic book and provides a challenge without going too far. You have to pay attention, but you don't have to work for your dessert. It's simply there, on the page, if you open yourself to it.