Oh no! Computer troubles! Yep, I won't be able to post scans again until the weekend at earliest, so I had to go with an (ugh) internet image from a (ugh) popular artist. At least I eventually found this one. I initially told myself "no Ware or Kirby" when I started this series, but sometimes one of those two is the only artist who you can find your favorite panel of theirs. Oh well.
Acme Novelty Library #7 (1996), page ? panel 6. Drawn by Chris Ware.
Though Ware got famous for Jimmy Corrigan, I think his peak as a visual cartoonist came a few years before that work's conclusion, with the Rocket Sam strips in Acme #7. Ware's got an incredible way with color: his hues, whether in bright or subdued arrangement, never fail to catch the eye. That said, though, his stuff tends toward making drab things glow: witness the choruses of grays and browns in his cityscapes, or the soft, faux-newsprint of his Walt & Skeezix covers. However, there's a free, uninhibited side to Ware the colorist as well, glimpsed sporadically in his designs for the Krazy Kat books, and full-bore in Rocket Sam. Maybe it's got something to do with working on "genre" material, but Ware's typically measured, gentle palette gives way to psychedelic blasts of chroma that only the thickest of ink lines seem able to stand against. These colors are designed to be noticed before the drawing underneath them is, necessarily reducing Ware's drafting to ultra-simplified shapes, the milieu in which I think he functions best as an artist. (I'm not a big fan of his contemporary work, which seems to be moving by degrees toward realism.)
But despite the buck-wild vigor of the colors, there's a considered aspect to them too, a sense of perfect control that gives energy plenty of space to exist without upsetting the overall aesthetics. Even the color choices display great taste; pink, green, and blue isn't the most obvious choice for an animal-killing scene set on an alien planet, but it works better here than anything else could. Same with the inexpressive, rounded, almost manga-ish forms of the characters -- rather than stifling the panic of the moment, they give it free rein. The monolithic robot's brutal slaughter of the placid, defenseless deer could have been a simple act of body against body, but here it becomes a crime against a savage, utterly alien nature (perfectly evoked with the bizarre green linework at the edges and the mechanical dot matrices overlaying the art). It's a scene so dislocated and disturbing and pitiful that you don't know whether to burst into tears or throw up, so what comes out is a laugh.
That's the intent, of course: the Rocket Sam pages are gag strips, expertly paced, brilliantly conceived, and (obviously) gorgeously drawn. This panel is a punch line, with all the impact of a brain-splattering bullet. In that context everything gets a little clearer. The bright colors are there to hit you hard, to drench you in life's beauty a little before it all comes crashing down. And maybe the simplified drawing is there so we don't see too much, so we force out a chuckle instead of a sob. Making light of man's faculty for utter evil isn't what people think of when they think "cartooning", but it's certainly one of the form's highest functions. And of everyone who ever drew a page, Ware is probably the best at it there ever was.