Neonomicon is the latest and apparently last comic by Alan Moore, with art by Jacen Burrows. It’s rather brilliant, and it reveals a lot you might not know about comics. Most of the issue’s pages have the same layout: four wide frames with black borders. There’s a bit of variation, but most of the characteristics are the same throughout. After a one-page prologue, the issue opens with a full page illustration that mirrors this general presentation: the windscreen of the car forms a horizontal strip, a screen for a separate plane. Note that the page is bordered; the prologue isn’t. As such the reader automatically understands that what is shown on the page spreads beyond the page’s edges. Far beyond. But with regards to function, the opening pages ease the reader into the issue’s claustrophobic layout. How many panels can you see here? 1? I can count 5. Or 11. Or 14. There’s something very strange going on in this comic: let’s investigate. So we’ve established a kind of, well, let’s call it “Diegetic Panelisation”. Taking things further, let’s look for rectangles with a similar aspect ratio to the frame. On page 6, we have a very Silence of the Lambs-esque interview scene. Can you see how, from the centre expanding outwards, there are bigger, wider rectangles until the panel frame itself is included? Now watch. Next panel. Tighter composition. Closer to the panel that is the screen. Next panel. Tighter composition. The frame is taken up entirely by the screen. What’s going on then? In the famous painting titled The Treachery of Images, René Magritte explored something revolutionary. A pipe. Subtitle: This is not a pipe. And indeed this is not a pipe. This is a painting of a pipe. Well, actually that’s wrong. This is a photograph of a painting of a pipe. On a screen. At 30 frames per second. Likewise, this is not a cat. This is not a Cthulhu. This is not a creepy guy. And comics share a dark secret with many of the arts This is not a 3-dimensional space. This is not a 3-dimensional space. In fact, this dome is damn claustrophobic. Surrounding the setting, it contains, traps its inhabitants. Sound familiar? Neonomicon is determined to reveal the true nature of comics. Its panels are designed to fuck over your brain. In this example, two walls form our panels. Yet where you’d usually expect shading on one of the walls to differentiate it, there is none. Instead we’re taken out of the scene and made aware that we’re looking at a single frame with a vertical line (or 5) up it. Lines which crash into the horizontal borders. This is not a 3-dimensional space. This is a 2-dimensional drawing. I don’t know about you, but that scares me. We’re blocked by the wall panels. We’re blocked by the ceiling panels. We’re blocked by the floor panels. No escape. We’ve seen how other things can be panels too. This board is one. In the next panel, it actually becomes part of the framing, making its breathing space even tighter. Moore and Burrows are determined to fuck with our sense of a 3D space. Watch the arrows. 2D infiltrates 3D. Of all these types of panel, the most dominant (other than the comic’s very framing) is the wall. But — Wait, let’s backtrack. What exists in a comic book panel that we wouldn’t see in real life? Speech bubbles. Speech bubbles exist within the frame, yet independently of it. They’re free to spread across it as they like. A few pages into Neonomicon, they start to spread over the border of the frame. Unlike characters and objects, they have the privilege of escape, to be able to present themselves directly to the reader. This allows for some rather exciting options. In this scene, the Feds prepare to raid a club. They speak to their undercover cop with a radio connection, signified by the bubble’s special border and lack of pointy thingy. In a movie we’d hear the message, but understand that the civilians in the background couldn’t. Next page, we’re shown the same type of bubble, but reading it confuses us. It doesn’t sound like something a cop would say. We compare the bubbles to notice the subtle difference (the new bubble’s text is italicised) and assign it to a different subject, the band on stage. For some reason, the song’s lyrics are given the direct-to-reader privilege of the radio transmissions. Now we’ve realised this, we’re comfortable having both bubbles in the same frame, able to tell them apart.