Monday, September 19, 2011

The differences between Alex Toth and David Mazzucchelli's Batman


One of my all time favorite comic works is the Miller/Mazzucchelli Batman; Year One.

The two of them have created a visceral, realistic action/drama depicting the beginnings of a legendary costumed crime fighter.

The thing that makes this story different from all other costumed crime fighter stories is that in this one there is a strongly believable motivation behind the over-the-top action and silly long johns. To go along with this believably realistic story is believably realistic art by David Mazzucchelli. Miller and Mazzucchelli first worked together on Daredevil; Born Again.

While in Born Again Mazzucchelli used a more elaborate, detailed style, in Year One he simplified his line work for a more impressionistic style.
In the past I compared Mazzucchelli’s Year One work to that of Alex Toth, and the way that he uses very simple lines and heavy blacks to create a striped down, short hand style of art.
Upon closer look at the two artists work I discovered that their similarity was only on the surface. When looking at the structure of their images it becomes clear that their approaches couldn’t be more different.
Mazzucchelli's approach is pretty strait forward. When the panel requires a wide establishing shot, he gives a wide establishing shot, and when he needs an action shot, he gives a full body action shot. Toth on the other hand loves to mess with the point of view. In the last 2 panels of Toth's page 6 of Batman "Death flies the Haunted
Sky!" written by Archie Goodwin, Toth shows Batman drives up to a fire using a very far off shot, a little car in a black landscape.
When given a similar opportunity, Mazzucchelli chooses a pretty strait forward approach, showing a medium shot of two cars in the night.

While Mazzucchelli's shot is pretty obvious what is going on, Toth makes you work a little bit to figure out what you are suppose to be looking at. It seems that Toth like to make the viewer reach for the understanding. Another example of Toth making the viewer work is in this panel where the viewer has to visually go over the plane in the foreground in order to get to the people talking in the background. The viewer even has to imagine the expressions on the peoples faces.
Another good example of Toth's visual style is this middle panel where the people are obscured by the silhouetted figure in the foreground.
For comparison I looked for an example where Mazzucchelli is making his pictures vague, causing the viewer to work. I found this page from Part 2 of Batman; Year One.
In this sequence, Batman is somewhat obscured from the viewer. In the first panel he is shown from behind, ducking down next to a car, and in the next 2 panels only his hand is shown, while the rest of him is off panel. As readers, we insinuate that it is Batman because of the captions showing the thoughts of Bruce Wane/Batman that we have become familiar with by this point in the story. While Batman is slightly obscure in these panels there is a reason for his hidden presence. It accents the stealthful nature of his mission. So while Mazzucchelli uses this obscuring technique to accent a meaning in the story, Toth does it for no other reason than effect, or for it's own purpose.



















So I mistakenly thought that Toth and Mazzucchelli were very similar, I now realize that it's mostly on the surface, because there visual language is actually quite different from one another. Toth likes to challenge his readers with panels that you have to work a little to get the full meaning, while Mazzucchelli gently and sweetly leads his readers. I wouldn't say that one is better than the other, they're just different.

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