In Cell by Cell, I look deeply into the panels of an issue, appreciating and analyzing the story and artistic composition.
Kamau is pictured in deep purple and red, shown to contrast the top of the cover which remains the normal pink tones. Combined with the text “STEEL YOURSELF FOR HEARTBREAK” and “WHICH WIP WILL RIP?!,” the cover coloring and heavy foreshadowing set a dark tone for the issue which will pay off emotionally later with Meiko’s death. The exploitative hype of the text fits the women-in-prison exploitation genre and functions similar to their characteristic trailers’ scintillating text and montage of violence and nudity.
Opening the story is a full page of 12 panels depicting the Feed’s preseason news coverage of Duemila. The panels switch back and forth between the Feed host and the sports commentator in the field. Like most news channels, breaking news headlines and stock prices scroll at the bottom of the frame.
Cell 1 depicts the host of the program, a woman with pink hair and a purple dress. Her text bubbles are pink. The effect is to align her with the holograms used on Bitch Planet to inform and control the NonCompliants. The newscaster has a similar job for society at large. She informs in a particular way that works to control the populace. The journalism of this world, and ours for the most part, no longer serves the people, if it ever did. It serves the money. If the news sells ads through content or audience numbers, it plays.
The news story she’s relating is in medias res, but relates to a trial concerning “undermining moral foundations and hooliganism.” On the background monitor are two apes, a not-so-subtle coloring by the State to invite judgment of this behavior as savage or uncivilized, not unlike the Nazi propaganda posters depicting Jews as rats or repeated imagery of Africans and African-Americans as wild animals.
The stock listed is KSD, Kelly Sue Deconnick’s initials. All of the stock abbreviations will pay homage to one of the comic’s creators.
The scrolling text addresses protesting without permit–either this is a reminder to society at large or hinting at protests going on earth-side or both.
The stock abbreviation is for artist Valentine DeLandro, while the scrolling text reports the joint venture of ACO and Megaton with both stocks posting gains.
In Cell 3, the newscaster states that the NC team is being given a chance to earn their way back to society through the game. She then introduces Herbert Lubash, a sports physician and correspondent. The scrolling text calls him a “Sportsologist,” giving a touch of absurdity.
Cell 4 goes to Herb on location in the training center for the Florida Men. Behind him two men appear to be wrestling. He condescendingly begins by saying, “Thanks, sweetheart.” The condescension continues in the form of team names. Lubash says the Florida Men are getting ready for their preseason bout against the Arizona Wetbacks. Much like the real-life Washington Redskins, the use of ethnic slur “Wetback” for a team mascot appropriates racism and markets it as entertainment.
Cell 5 returns to the pink newscaster, who is vapidly enthusiastic about the match-up. The screen shows a graphic for bout. The Florida Men are represented by a man wearing sunglasses and a backward ball cap, and double-fisting beers. The team name references the Florida Man internet meme where a crazy Floridian man does crazy criminal things.
In Cell 6 she poses the question of what the players think of playing women and amateurs. Cell 7 returns to Herb who introduces Derrick Karr of the Florida Men team. People are casually standing behind Lubash, not looking at the camera. Cell 8 shows square-jawed, Johnny Bravo-lookalike, Karr, condemning the addition of an NC team. Text at the bottom of the screen points out: “FUN FACT: KARR went for 7.6M at the Player’s Auction.” This “fun” tidbit puts a fine point on the message told by Karr’s naked chest and the phallic shape and placement of Herb’s microphone. Karr’s body is commodified. As Kam says in issue #2, he is dancing for other people’s entertainment. His body is being sold. The fact that “player” has the double meaning of being part of a sport and also of having sexual prowess is a clever writing touch.
Cell 9 returns to the hostess cupcake. She asks Lubash to explain what the NC women are trying to prove. Bottom text says the bookies are showing poor expectations for the NC team. Lubash’s answer in Cell 10 again calls the host “sweetheart,” effectively making her nameless, though the correspondent has been given first and last name and title multiple times. He states the league is keeping it “hush-hush,” while the bottom text says the tabloids are wondering where the idea came from, perhaps the NC “girls” themselves? Though all of them are adults, the NC team members are labeled girls to infantilize them.
Meanwhile, a woman in blue behind Herb has turned and started moving toward the camera. She becomes a focal point of the last two panels when she lifts up her shirt to flash the phrase “Eleanor lives” painted on her torso.
In the foreground of Cells 11 and 12, Lubash postulates a theory of hormonal imbalance in the NC women, making them more aggressive, requiring the game field to “exorcise” them of these “masculine humors.” The explanation calls to mind the old diagnosis of hysteria, reasons for accusations of witchcraft, and even PMS.
Left hanging is the question of who Eleanor is. Is she a celebrity gone missing, or sent off to the ACO? Is this the moniker of a rebel group in society? Whatever the case, Eleanor is going to prove important, but we are left guessing as to how.