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Darkness, Color, and Emotion in Kill a Man

Steve Orlando, Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Al Morgan, and Jim Campbell’s Kill a Man is an intense book. Telling the story of an outed MMA fighter and the fighter who killed his father, Kill a Man is punctuated by a series of gut-punches – both physical and emotional.

However, there are two elements of Kill a Man that set it apart from other comics, and that drive its visceral and emotional impact home. Those elements are Kill a Man‘s page layout and colors, which together transform the book into a claustrophobic world of darkness from which bursts of fear, rage, determination, physicality, and love emerge.

The book’s very first sequence sets the rules for how readers will experience the world in Kill a Man. The majority of the book’s first page is black, but it pops with the purple of an MC’s suit and an MMA fight’s crowd. Their energy is the page’s focus.

As the fight we are witnessing begins, the color palette shifts from purple to red, a color chosen to emphasize the fight’s speed and physicality. But there is also still so much black on the page. And notably, the crowd watching the fight has disappeared. Our focus is on the fighters, and more specifically, the high-impact moments in which they rush toward and make contact with each other.

Things then once again shift into an electric purple, as rage and tragedy strike. The following scene, a funeral, shifts to gray. A world of gray people existing together in the darkness, largely separate from one another.

Without Kill a Man‘s uniform color palettes, and without the strips of darkness that make its world feel contained and constrained, the book would not feel the same. Together, these two artistic decisions transform each page of Kill a Man into a sequence of actions and emotions that appear constrained by reality, the characters themselves, or some other outside force.

Except, that is, for the moments when characters’ actions and emotions are too strong to contain, and they burst through the darkness. Take, for example, the moment fighter James Bellyi, Kill a Man‘s main character, is outed in front of the press. At the end of that scene, Bellyi explodes with rage, in a two-page splash that may be the most colorful two pages in Kill a Man.

Later, in Kill a Man‘s final fight scene, the two color palettes used most throughout the book – purples and reds – begin to merge. This is perhaps a signal that there are multiple emotions in play, as James prepares to fight the man who outed him. But while the book’s use of color changes, its use of darkness does not.

Al Morgan skillfully deploys thick gutters and panel borders to make James’s final fight feel like a series of moments that are slightly disconnected from each other but still part of a larger rhythm. In essence, Morgan’s use of darkness and separation makes readers feel like they are in the fight, slightly disoriented but ready to land a punch as soon as they see an opening. And an opening may appear any second now, so you just have to keep reading.

(After the fight, there is one final fantastic use of color against darkness. But, I do not want to give that scene away here.)

All of which is to say, Kill a Man is a fantastic book. But while you should come for the story of fighters James Bellyi and Xavier Mayne, you should stay, and likely give Kill a Man a re-read or two, for the excellent page composition and color choices that make the book feel like a physical and emotional fight.

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