Given that storyboard artists use comic panels to help the director visualize the film that they’re creating, I imagine your involvement with Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse was pretty goddamn satisfying.
To be able to see your work so faithfully and imaginatively brought to life up on the screen has to be a blast for someone whose work, while essential, is so often blunted by editorial decisions, budget constraints, and the sad truth sometimes there are technical limits to how effectively some things are visually portrayed. Even in these days of robust CGI there are still images on the page that still fail to translate to the screen.
Thankfully none of these difficulties affected your contribution to Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.
Layered on top of a movie that is sharply directed, well cast, and just a whole lot of fun, is a visual aesthetic that manages to create the sense of a moving comic book. This may not seem that difficult, comics and film are both visual mediums after all, but it’s still a needle that hasn’t really been thread, at least up until now. Akira came close, but was still a cinematic experience, sublime but fundamentally a film adaptation, rather than a merging of the two forms. Thor: Ragnarokwas a close approximation, but the fact it was live action undercut something essential to comics; namely the limitless possibilities inherent in a medium where imagination is the only boundary.
The magic of well executed comics is how they manage to engage you, and your imagination, the same way as reading, while giving you strong visual cues. It’s in the gutters (the space between panels) that you have to fill in the blanks, so there is this constant interplay between you and the comic, rather than the largely passive experience of watching a film.
Somehow—and I imagine there are going to be a lot of essay’s on this topic—Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse managed to echo the same sort of interaction. I’m not technically astute enough to pull it apart in one sitting but it felt like the editing and the savvy mix of visual cues (things like thought balloons bracketing the voice overs, the primary colour pallet, and even a neat trick where the central focus in a particular scene is in sharp relief to characters who seem deliberately blurred in the background—which has the effect of directing attention in a way that slows down the otherwise frenetic pace) was a breakthrough innovation.
Watching this film felt like six year old me reading Kirby/Lee’s “Annilihus in the Negative Zone”—eyes wide and barely able to contain myself from skipping ahead. It was such a pure, unadulterated experience. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse didn’t feel at all contrived or cynical, rather it was the expression of a bunch of creative types trying something new. I was watching something I had never seen before, expertly rendered by people who have a clear understanding of both mediums and seemingly no other agenda than trying to successfully marry them in a way that combines the strengths of both.
I haven’t had this much fun or so throughly disengaged from my usual remove while watching a movie in a very long time. And while that might harm the value of my critical engagement some, I was perfectly happy to let that slide in this case.
Watching Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse was easily the most rewarding experience I’ve had in a movie theatre this year, if not the last decade or two (Mad Max: Fury Roadbeing the only exception). I hope it was the same for you, because this is definitely a movie where the joy in experiencing it simply as it happens far outweighs the value of trying to pick it apart. That will happen anyway, probably exhaustively, over the next weeks and even months. And that’s as it should be, but I recommend everyone just allow it wash over you the first time out, because it’s worth the effort.
Thank you for this unexpected gift.