Rachel's Favourite Comic Page: A Fractured Grief
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Francesco Francavilla & Jack Morelli's Afterlife With Archie #3 (2015).
My favorite comic page can be found in Afterlife with Archie #4 or in the first volume of the series. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s story sees iconic comic characters Archie, Betty, Veronica and their family and friends try to survive against the zombie apocalypse. I say ‘against’ because the zombies are not the only threat to these beloved characters’ lives. The zombification of the characters’ loved ones heightens the emotions of the characters and forces them to be cloistered together into uncertain spaces. It is within these spaces that the reader sees these characters, for decades associated with light-hearted humor and childish archetypes, commit dark deeds and hold violent secrets. Afterlife is a truly gothic tale, made all the more so by Francesco Francavilla’s artwork. His black pages allow the colors to pop, making violent acts and contorted faces appear all the more graphic and horrifying. The effects of the story and artwork create a pressure-cooker, with the reader is waiting on tenterhooks for the next revelation, the next violent act. The suspense builds up until it must burst under its own pressure. This page, where Archie Andrew mercy-kills his zombified father, is the most powerful explosion in the whole series
The tragic act itself already elicits pathos by the it very nature of a teenage boy needing to kill his father. However, the horror and tragedy are further heightened by how the action is presented. Francavilla utilizes the full page, allowing Archie’s frame to dominate the space. The heightened size correlates to a heightened sense of drama. The page is divided into a grid 5x3 grid, creating 15 panels overall. This grid, meant to symbolize order and conformity, contains a scene that is anything but, and makes it all the more uncomfortable and tense for the reader. These are also the same feelings experienced by Andrew. The reader relates to him as he feels his emotional turmoil, made clear by in the multiple perspectives illustrated on the page.
Within this scene, four perspectives in time are fractured and condensed onto a single page, each viewpoint symbolized by a different color. These viewpoints, from the top left, are the third-person view of Mr. Andrews and Archie above the corpse (in light purple), the perspective of Archie’s father as Archie looks down at him before striking him with a baseball bat (blue), scenes from earlier in the comic showing halcyon moments between father and son (in yellow), and the physical actions of Archie beating his father to death (in red). Despite being different perspectives and even moments of time, the panels are unified visually by the presence of red in each, whether that be the full panel, spatters of blood or Archie’s red hair, or details from Archie’s sweater. This detail encourages the reader to unify the different perspectives, and understand that they are occurring concurrently. The reading of this page requires an attentiveness and labor that elicits both emotion and a realization: the four perspectives illustrated are Archie’s simultaneous perspectives.
This can be inferred by both his presence in every panel, as opposed to his father’s mindless reanimated corpse, which is never seen, and by how Archie is portrayed in the blue panels. Unlike the other perspectives, which fit Archie and the scene he is within into a single panel, the blue-hued section of the grid contains parts of a larger whole. While each panel is dependent on the other to show the complex structure of Archie’s grief and the depth of the tragedy, the blue panels require more of the reader, as they must piece together the whole. When the reader does this, they reveal the face of a crying, broken boy. His body and face take up most of this page, and with them, his pain and memories. Archie is experiencing all of these perspectives and nuanced feeling, from remembering past joys to the objective reality of the blood literally on his hands. The page shows a character associated for generations of readers with uncomplicated, unabashed joy, silliness, and fun suddenly take on the layered horror of committing an inhumane act for the right reasons. The horror and morality of Archie’s actions are neatly contained in the only words on the page: Archie’s declaration of love for his father, first thought in a narrative box and then aloud by Archie as he swings the bat down on his father’s skull. It is a chilling final goodbye for Archie, and a reminder to the reader of the narrative potential and power of comics.
This is my favorite comics page because of how beautifully it is constructed, and the emotion it elicits as both a stand-alone page and within the narrative-at-large. It illustrates grief and mourning in such a way that the reader becomes involved and complicit in constructing that grief. The fracturing of time and space, one of the strengths of the comics medium, is used beautifully here to make a beloved childhood character feel new, mature, and sympathetic. Seeing this page always reminds me of the emotions I felt upon first seeing and then reading this page, and why I love comics.