Imagine having powers. Imagine having to hide them, or imagine being used for them. This is only a small part of the world created in DEMO. DEMO displays just how much you can learn from the art of a comic. Of course, the story is very important as well. Yet, DEMO, written by Brian Wood and illustrated by Becky Cloonan, truly shows how integral art is to telling the story. The most astonishing aspect about the way the art style changes with each issue is that the same person illustrates every story. DEMO is a true testament to the talents of Becky Cloonan and her ability to work with different stories.

Two brilliant creators came together to make DEMO, the series of comics that serve to prove art’s place in the story of comic books. You may recognize Brian Wood from his many indie comics as well as his contributions to X-MEN. You also may recognize the name Becky Cloonan from THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS and GOTHAM ACADEMY. These two creators are very talented in their own rights, but when they team up, a unique thing occurs.

On DEMO

DEMO is a series of comics that focus on people with extraordinary abilities, and while every comic deals with some kind of superpower, none of the characters are superheroes. Each installment focuses on a different set of characters and a different story unrelated to previous issues. Each of these comics, despite their length, provides a different kind of story in relation to people with superpowers. These characters are simply people trying to get by in life, with help or problems from their powers.

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Since each of these stories is different from each other, it is impressive that the artistry reflects that. The art for each issue is slightly different, each change in style is made to better represent the plot and tone of that story. These differences in illustration serve to help the reader become closer to the story emotionally, and they serve to enhance the experience of reading the comic. They do this by translating the subtextual elements of the story. These artistic changes include monochromatic tones, line weight, and the cleanliness of the line.

Sketchbook Style

The stories contained within DEMO have different levels of chaotic elements to them. Becky Cloonan changes her drawing style in response to each level of mayhem presented. That is to say, the more chaotic a story seems in writing, the more disarrayed the drawing style. The stories with clear plots and events will have clean lines. The lines appear so neat that they seem to have been created in a single stroke as opposed to many smaller ones. Some stories within DEMO present a high level of chaos shown when Cloonan’s style of illustration becomes more sketch based.

DEMO
Image Courtesy of Dark Horse

The reader can see chaos represented through sketchy lines best in the very first issue of DEMO. “NYC,” the story of a clumsy escape from a rough life, definitely possesses elements of mayhem. Cloonan uses very few clean lines to support this. Almost every line has some sort of line branching off of it or serving to accentuate the thickness of a line or shadow. Even the clean lines presented within the issue are slightly separated from whatever line they need to connect to.

For example, in “NYC,” the line of the male protagonist’s hand is ever so slightly disconnected from the line making his arm. This kind of style in illustration is highly reminiscent of what one might find in an artist’s sketch. The sketchy quality of the drawing lends uncertainty to the tone of the story. This visual presentation of the tone makes the reader feel uncertain of the outcome of the story. The translation of visuals to emotions is an ever present element of DEMO.

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Putting the Lineart on a Scale

The line art of DEMO changes from issue to issue. It changes in terms of cleanliness, as previously mentioned, but it also changes in terms of weight. Line weight is the thickness or thinness of a line combined with how dark the line appears on the page. This quality of drawing can be indicative of many things, including emphasis on specific details. In the case of Cloonan’s art in DEMO, the line weight changes with the morbidity of the plot. Essentially, the darker the story, the heavier weighted the lines.

For example, the issue “Bad Blood” deals with death and impermanence. Therefore, the lines are very dark and thick. Even the detail lines, such as the chin hairs of this story’s male protagonist, are thicker than the detail lines of issues like “Emmy.” The weight of these lines makes the reader feel the ominous quality of the funeral. The lines are thick and dark, yet there is little shading; this allows the reader to feel that something is going wrong.

In “Emmy,” the reader sees a child’s desperation in a world far too simplified. The main character simplifies the world into what happens and what doesn’t, what she can do and what she can’t do, and so on. This lack of complexity, in terms of view, efficiently removes morbidity and replaces it with hopelessness, and sorrow on the part of the reader. This hopelessness is translated by Cloonan into the thin clean lines that make up the issue.

Dark Tones for Dark Tones

A different aspect of the illustration in DEMO that has proven adaptable to the story is the shadowing. The shading for each issue ranges vaguely from great amounts of very dark shadows to shading so light that it appears to be detail lines. The shadowing even goes so far as to obscure faces and body parts at times, although, this only happened in stories that presented almost excessive use of dark tones. This extreme darkening of the illustration can be traced back to themes of desperation present within the issues involved.

Special Edition: NYC 2015: Becky Cloonan and Karl Kerschl Interview Part 2

In “Breaking up,” we see both heavily weighted lines and heavy shading. Even in the first three pages, dark shadows are beneath the characters’ eyes. Throughout the rest of it, shadows encase the characters’ bodies and the backgrounds. These shadows bring feelings of great upset. When reading, I felt a definite sadness. This matches the patterns of desperation. The plot focuses on a couple breaking up after desperately trying to make the relationship work, while the art shows an influential use of shadow.

DEMO
Image courtesy of Dark Horse

In “Pangs,” we see similar patterns. Shadows provide the shape of the main character’s face, rather than detail lines. Shadows surround him throughout the issue. All the while, he tries to soothe his urges and become a normal person. The shadows appear most during his lowest points, which may arguably be his most desperate. These moments, however, are definitely his most disturbing points.

Demonstrating DEMO

What drew me to reading DEMO was my familiarity with Becky Cloonan’s work. What kept me reading was the immense sadness and empathy for characters that each issue elicited. I could see the many themes, and each of them made me feel either uncertain or sad. Regardless, they deeply upset me. A story is only worth reading if it elicits strong emotion. The themes alone gave me strong feelings of sadness; to see them represented visually gave it even more effect. Since the effect was so great, I couldn’t help but appreciate the story for what it did to me.

Since DEMO is a series of very different stories, it only makes sense that the art for each issue is different as well. The art presents sketchy lines for chaotic themes, heavily weighted lines for morbidity, and dark tones and shadows for desperation. The use of different art styles affects the emotional output of each comic. As the art is capable of evoking such emotion, it is clear that the art is key to the telling of the story.

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