I’ll be honest with you, I did not recognise that the artist who drew the graphic novel Monsters, that I read last year was drawing the Bizarro comic. Bizarro has slowly grown on me mainly because I am falling in love with the quirky expressionism of the main character and the warmth of his relationship with Jimmy. All of a sudden it became clear that the clear lines and exaggerative features were hallmarks of the wonderful Gustavo Duarte.
Monsters was a series of three silent stories infused with humour and dashes of terror scattered throughout. The sheer simplicity of the work and the clarity in which Gustavo draws is mesmerising. The page above is a lovely juxtaposition of sheer tranquility amongst a lifetime of shelved adventures. The elderly gentleman is tall and thin, but slightly out of proportion to provide emphasis. His age is shown by the longevity of his beard and the extravagance of his eyebrows whilst his slender arm is gently stirring his alcoholic beverage. The whole page works incredibly to show the life he has led and the trinkets of his journey laid out crisply behind him. There is so much to explore and enjoy as you note the monsters he has captured in this very story together with classic arcane hunter artefacts: The stake and vampire skull, a voodoo doll, a photos of him greeting and alien, capturing a yeti, showing the loch ness monster, a venus fly trap and the Necromonicon. My favourites are Michael Jackson’s glove and Kermit the Frog but you can also notice some effects of Duarte’s Brazilian heritage such as the Jules Rimet world cup and the Cross. The fine detailing and pertinent recognisable parts of these ornaments are so precise that despite them being so small, they are instantly familiar. This is an artist that knows how to express himself and the life of his character, all on one page.
The ability to show movement and emotion without a script demonstrates how powerful his pencils are. Each aspect of the characters including monsters is well rendered and he tweaks these ever so gently to convey the plot. There are no real motions as such but starts and finishes. The letterbox panels below show how everything is still except for the part of the scene that needs to move. There are no dynamic lines because the changes in position are clearly demonstrated. The sheer size discrepancy shows how enormous the monster is and how strong its movements are.
Applying these attributes to a superhero comic with a unique dialogue to say the least is not such a stretch. The ability to single out features of a character is essential to producing a humorous exaggerative effect that is essential to this Bizarro comic. Jimmy has giant ears and nose with some rosy cheeks on a slender and rather angulated frame, whilst Bizarro is just massive with a thick neck with greyed out stretch marks giving the appearance of clumsiness. He is essentially drawn as a giant rock monster, almost clunky when he moves. They are well balanced aesthetically to accompany the odd couple relationship Corson has developed. The colours go a long way to show the clear differences in shape and size of Bizarro compared to Superman and the characteristic ginger hair and freckles of Jimmy. When you add in the exaggerative refined curvaceousness of the female characters, there is further contrast to be had.
Zatanna is very slight and slender but her frame is used well to show her physical gestures. In the example below it is almost obvious what she is saying without having to read the words. The lack of backdrop details aids in this communication and preserves the clarity of each panel and allows focus onto the movements themselves. You will note that often they are coloured simply with one colour but it is actually unnoticeable as you are engrossed with the motions of the individuals.
Though the use of letterbox panelling is limited in this book, there are moments where the stillness of characters effects the desired movement. If they are timed correctly with the correct expressions then they become quite amusing, such as Bizarro falling into another dimension. Often the rapport between Jimmy and Bizarro is shown through facial expression between one another, whether it is a stupid grin through teeth or eyebrows raised to the skies.
That is essentially the key to the comic: slapstick humour. Both Jimmy and Bizarro are an entertaining duo on adventures into the ludicrous giving Gustavo Duarte an arena to play on his imagination. He has to achieve one thing and that is to show Bizarro enjoying himself with great naïveté and clumsiness and Jimmy to try and control him and press the seriousness of the situation. The actual plot matters very little as each issue has carried on regardless of the one previously, but the relationship is all-important. And if you can make it as funny as possible then this will be a comic worth reading for a long time to come.