When John Byrne's work was first inked by Joe Sinnott, he was keen to find out what the veteran artist thought of his pencil work. When Sinnott praised a piece of floor that Byrne had drawn, describing it as something Kirby would have produced, Byrne was understandably chuffed with the praise.
Sometime later, he came to the realisation that Sinnott was probably just being overly polite and had searched for something nice to say about Byrne's art, eventually finding something fairly inconsequential to praise. Or maybe Byrne just drew a really good floor.
Byrne's anecdote came to my mind recently when I finally got around to reading the full version of Katsuhiro Otomo's massive and monumental Akira series. Despite reading the odd piece here and there, and enjoying the movie when it was first released, it took a shamefully long time, mainly due to an unnatural fear that manga comics would laugh at my haircut and call me names. But after reading all of the six volumes published by Dark Horse over a single weekend, the one thought that really stood out for me was that Otomo draws some fucking fantastic floors.
I know it's a ridiculous thing to pick out from the saga, which bounced between hyper-kinetic action sequences, emotional catharsis and apocalyptic psychic duels with ease. The shame in the time it's taken me to get around to reading it was overwhelmed by the highest of expectations for the saga, and Otomo surpassed them with ease. Especially during the big climax which fills the entire last volume, taking the story to brilliant new levels that mix a falling laser satellite, spirituality, giant mutated psychic children, running motorcycle battles and empathy for a lonely little kid.
The sheer amount of material available and an inability to connect with the screaming dialogue and wide-eyed look has made it hard to know where to begin with manga. I've tried the odd series, but Akira really does deserve its reputation as one of the pinnacles of the form. Beyond the breathtaking cast of characters, Otomo's art is a thing of beauty, hugely detailed.
But the thing that amazed me the most is the sheer amount of energy in his work, with things flying about and pushing through and demanding to be looked at. While they stand in marked contrast to the quieter moments, they still loom over everything else, the insane amount of detail taking the tale into a class of its own.
And, for me, it comes back to those goddamn floors. While the biggest-selling DC comic can produce an issue that is almost totally devoid of any kind of background, Akira's art is full of little touches that improve the reading, pushing the story forward. And Otomo's floors are part of this, always keeping the reader chugging along nicely, drawing the eye along to the most important part of the panel, the strict lines given it a sense of design that American followers of the so-called manga style rarely seem to pick up on.
Akira really is a masterwork, and one that will be pored over and studied for generations as a prime example of how to tell a massive sprawling epic without losing touch of the finer details, from the way some characters come together in touching little moments, to showing city-wide destruction on a massive scale.
Those floors aren't just my way of finding something nice to say, they're the only way I can really pick something out of the genius soup, giving one tiny example of as truly excellent comic.