Focus on Pain

*What’s on my mind? Pain boxes.

I suspect you’ve seen a pain box, even if you haven’t heard the term (unsurprising, since I may have just made it up) - it’s when something dangerous or deadly is happening in a comic, generally involving the potential or active infliction of pain, and the very locus of violence, the center of pain, is ‘boxed’ off by the comics artist in a square or circle or some sort of shape, and filled in with a deep color (usually red) that stands out from the rest of the page.

Pain boxes.

I first became aware of their existence in Desolation Jones, where J.H. Williams III and José Villarrubia used them to extensive effect as part of their overall visual scheme. This week, pain boxes appear in two different comics: The Immortal Iron Fist, in which the title hero is slashed across the knee by a giant robot (and Matt Fraction is now up to three consecutive writing credits on entirely separate comics featuring giant robots, which may be a record), and the book reviewed below, in which a hungry zombie’s mouth is circled as it lunges toward a helpless infant in the page’s foreground.

Pain boxes. Where did they come from? What are their plans for humanity? What hamburgers do they like to eat? These are the most important questions facing the world, so if anyone has any insights on the origins and development of pain boxes in comics, please feel free to post below.

Zombies Vs. Robots #1 (of 2)

Far be it from me to denigrate the still-current thing for zombie comics; at this point, they’re as much a staple of horror comics as they were of horror film in the period just following Dawn of the Dead. But I have to confess that the only reason I picked this thing up is artist Ashley Wood, who has that special tendency to still somehow pop up in unexpected projects despite being a fairly well-known ‘name’ creator. Or maybe I’m just not reading the internet from the right angle.

Zombies Vs. Robots appears to be something of a all-around IDW Publishing lark; Wood provides all art and design, while IDW Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall writes and IDW Co-President Robbie Robbins aids Wood with the lettering. Ryall and Wood have consistently worked on IDW’s horror magazine Doomed, both together and separately, so the project seems like a bit of a recharge effort in between issues, and perhaps a way to limber up before the launch of Wood’s latest ongoing comics effort, D'Airain Aventure, which will sport writing by Ryall and regular Wood collaborator T.P. Louise. This will be IDW’s third current ongoing Wood comics series, accompanying the dormant Popbot and Lore, and actually I don’t think Wood is quite finished with his art duties on the Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty licensed series either. This book is only two issues, at least.

And as far as these things go, it’s good work. It’s really only a horror book in the loosest sense, as Ryall’s script is far more interested in the situational absurdity of the premise, which involves various types of robots working to protect the final human baby on Earth from hordes of ravenous flesh-eaters. Many lovely brands of robots are introduced, a perfectly absurd backstory is presented (it involves time-travel), a zombie or two gets squished, and nobody knows what to do with a crying baby.

I’d be useless to get any further into the plot, since it’s so obviously not the point here. The point is Ashley Wood, and he won’t disappoint readers ready for him to do his thing. I mentioned a few weeks (months?) ago that Wood has finally managed to attain a perfectly pleasing balance between the hazy atmospherics of his personal style and representational clarity of storytelling with his work in Doomed, and that style is carried forward here in a more expansive space. Wood’s character art is now scratchier than ever, yet solidified and expressive. His backgrounds are often a crazed concoction of jagged lines and zippy dots, but they do coalesce into surprisingly clear environments. Sequences are marked off by simple color schemes (this is a color book, though you might not even realize it from Wood’s segregated uses of hue), there’s occasionally over ten panels on a given page (it goes up to thirty), and yes, there’s still the occasional jump into all-out smeary mood, for one special splash in particular. As a comics art showcase, a show-us-what-you-can-do forum, Wood demonstrates his ample skill, a more beguilingly diverse one than some readers might have expected from his earlier works.

A good-looking book, with IDW’s expectedly high production values. The type of book you can buy on an impulse, thinking the cover looks nice, and probably have that impulse rewarded by the similar aesthetics of the inside.