The story is always at the heart of a good book. The same is veritable of successful architecture – whether you call it a parti, a thesis, or a question, a building has a guiding concept. Even while architecture and graphic novels are often viewed as discrete pursuits, comics share numerous parallels that serve to inform the built world through spatial understanding, evocation of emotion, and clarity of concept. These factors are vital to successful storytelling. What does this mean? In short – reading comics will make better architects. Three great comics that architects should read are: Locke and Key, Berlin, and Batman: Death by Design. This selection only scratches the surface of the world of graphic novels, but each piece cultivates an intimate relationship with architecture central to its purpose.
1. Locke and Key
A 2012 Eisner Award winner, Locke and Key is illustrated by Chilean architect Gabriel Rodriguez. Tainted by tragedy, the Locke family moves back to the family home in Lovecraft, Massachusetts, which is where the narrative takes place. In a plot that is at times reminiscent of The Shining, the house is a character unto itself and occupies palpable space within the narrative both as a stage for the Locke family activities as well as more sinister motives. Detailed in exquisite Victorian manner true to original construction methodologies, the manse is beautifully rendered by Rodriguez – the life he breathes into the house is masterful.
Berlin, the magnum opus of Jason Lutes, visually articulates the architecture of pre-war Berlin with incomprehensible detail. Painstakingly drafted from historic photographs of Berlin taken before the city was bombed more than 363 times during World War II, Lutes spent more than twenty years working on the series which finally concluded in March 2018. More than a backdrop for the multifaceted narrative in the foreground, Lutes’ vision of Berlin feels almost ghostly with the modern knowledge of what befell it. So too do the characters – tragedy always looms. A truly beautiful undertaking, this story is not one to be overlooked.
3. Batman: Death by Design
Set during a construction boom in Gotham City, Batman: Death by Design takes cues from the old Penn Station demolition narrative. Stunning illustrations bring the narrative alive with the grit of graphite and grace echoing Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Co-created by renowned graphic designer Chip Kidd, the story is a tongue-in-cheek critique of modern architecture. Part architectural treatise, part Batman comic, Death by Design combines the best of both worlds into a gorgeous and bite-sized narrative perfect for designers and laypeople alike.
This sampling is the tip of the iceberg. Beyond using architecture in comics as a means to set a scene, graphic novels employ composition, balance, and framing to forge a coherent story. Architecture uses the same tool kit to construct compelling experiences. The relationship between the two mediums is closer than one might think, with ample lessons to be learned by turning a page. For further recommendations, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.
Robyn Engel, Project Architect, AIA
Mantra: “Take risks, stay out of debt, and wear nice shoes.” – My favorite professor