Wake-up Call: Form, Function, and Feels in Skulldigger + Skeleton Boy #5

I love revelatory comic book moments. As comic fans, we each have our own personal tastes and reading habits, but we all share these kinds of experiences. Be it a page, panel, or double-page spread depicting the climax of an epic battle or the quiet death of a beloved character, we all experience transcendent moments that make us *feel* something. Joy, sadness, catharsis, triumph, spite, shock, admiration, anger. They are the moments we rave and rant about to our comic book buddies at our local shops. The moments that make us shout, “Holy *insert your favorite expletive here*!” out loud or in our heads. The moments that remind us why we love comic books in the first place.

I know I’m stating the obvious here, but, as a visual medium, comics draw us into their worlds using words and pictures. And it’s those very words and pictures that create the emotion-eliciting moments we love. Writers and artists craft these moments with a painstaking amount of time, skill, and love of the medium itself. We don’t often think about the hours the writer spent outlining arcs, scripting the scenes, or tweaking that epic one-liner. Or the days the artist(s) spent thumbnailing each page, composing the characters, or carefully selecting the colors. Every page our eyes absorb was meticulously planned, penned, and penciled with the grandest of intentions.

Now, am I suggesting that we should be thinking about all the time and effort that went into creating every single comic we read while we’re reading it? Not at all. Especially considering that the entire goal of the countless hours of hard work spent by the creative team is to create an engaging story into which we can disappear.

However, as a writer, every time I come across one of those revelatory moments, I put on my meta-critical comic nerd goggles and ask myself, “How? How did that moment, that page or panel or sequence, do that?”

I recently experienced one of those moments reading Jeff Lemire and Tonci Zonjic’s Skulldigger + Skeleton Boy #5. So, I immediately doubled-back and re-read the two pages that had stirred the response and asked, “How?” It was a quiet scene. There were no big character revelations. It didn’t contain some satisfying payoff to a long-seeded setup. And there was no epic, mid-battle hero pose. So what was it? Then, it hit me like a Vince McMahon reaction meme, and I found myself elated by the answer.

It was the craft of the pages themselves.

I find that, when we experience these moments (and I don’t think it should come as a surprise), they are usually the product of the writer and artist(s) working together in near-perfect synchronicity. A badly-written scene doesn’t feel as impactful even when beautifully drawn, and a poorly-drawn page can distract from even the best plotting.

In these two pages, Lemire’s writing and Zonjic’s art together had created this wonderful scene of pitch-perfect visual storytelling. So I’d like to discuss the “How?” behind it and why I think it’s such awesomely-effective storytelling. 5

Very little is required to understand what is happening in these two pages, but here is the basic setup and the pages themselves: After obsessively worrying about an orphaned boy she believes was kidnapped by the violent vigilante, Skulldigger, Detective Amanda Reyes has finally rescued the kid, now going by Skeleton Boy and acting as Skulldigger’s sidekick, after acting against her boss’ orders and momentarily incapacitating Skulldigger. In this scene, Detective Reyes is calling her girlfriend, Theresa, to update her on what has happened.

Two things to note. One, I don’t know the details of Lemire and Zonjic’s collaboration, so I don’t know which of the decisions and choices on the page can be attributed to either creator. And, two, all of the elements I discuss are interconnected and function collectively. Without one, the others would not function, and visa versa.

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  1. Spoiler warning: light spoilers for the main plot of Skulldigger + Skeleton Boy ahead.

  2. Spoiler warning: light spoilers for the main plot of Skulldigger + Skeleton Boy ahead.

  3. The wash-out background of the first and last panels reinforcing Reyes being lost

  4. Reyes and Theresa’s contrasting hairstyles implying their temperamental differences

  5. Spoiler warning: light spoilers for the main plot of Skulldigger + Skeleton Boy ahead.