May 3, 2010

Foreshortening in Comics: Do it.

It has to be said.

Alex Ross, one of the most popular artists in the world, has spread a plague throughout comics. That plague is using models exclusively. While Ross is a tremendous artist with incredible skill, his real strength is his casting. He casts models who look exactly the way readers want to see Superman, or Wonder Woman, or Peter Parker, etc. Ross has produced brilliant work and if he wanted to move to LA, he could single-handledly resolve Hollywood's age-old comics-to-film tailspin.

Unfortunately, Ross has inspired a wave of pale imitation, even among the ranks of already-great artists. Don't get me wrong. Working from life is essential to creating great comics, but working from life exclusively is a big fat snooze-fest that will eventually kill the comics industry. If they want to keep the industry alive, focus past the triple-bypass recipients who want 'graphic novels' and make some fun shit for kids. Otherwise known as, and I'll say the dreaded word aloud: funnybooks.

Kirby and Ditko made funnybooks. Funnybooks can be read by adults and children alike. Modern comics are generally one of two items: Gritty CSI-looking, mildly superhero-involved, adult-themed, Comics-Code detesting, let's put the 'graphic' in graphic novel, graphic novels. OR they are for babies. Marvel Kids is ok, but what kid over 9 would be caught dead reading that? Write perpetually for a 13 year old and you can't miss. Kids want to be adults and adults want to be kids (the ones who read comics do anyway). Sounds stupid? Rocky and Bullwinkle did it. Pixar does it daily.

The most visually attractive feature in comic art is the fisheyed foreshortening. Comics OWNS foreshortening. Sure, an object in a film can get in your face (like the Delorean zooming at us at the end of Back to the Future), but the effect can only last for an instant, after that instant it becomes a normal static object, or a bizarrely framed trick shot. When it works, it works quickly and the specialness fades just as quickly. Comics can hold that in-your-face awesomeness indefinitely.

It's awesome.

But then comes the life drawing brigade with their "realism". Here are two examples I've found recently.

I'm a huge Alex Maleev fan. I've gushed my adoration directly to his face, and would do so again.

However anyone can pull a boner, and this one is a trainwreck of life drawing run amok.

She's pointing toward us. Whenever someone in a comic book is pointing, punching, flying, falling, kicking toward us, we need some serious fisheye forshortening. Here we have what looks like an odd arm-stump with a two fingered hand and no thumb. The foreshortening is there, but flattened, like it was taken with a camera with a long-distance lens. It probably was. The body position is kinda weird and the boobs look really flat, even though Maleev has a good excuse to make em look fuller (and more comic bookey) since she's flying above us. What is she doing with her hips? And what's with the stumpy foot? I can't underst...Wait a minute...

Suddenly it makes sense. It's a model laying on a table in a studio.

Gravity makes boobies go sideways when a woman is laying on her back. This explains the odd position of her hips; she's arching her back upward. Sadly, the arm and foot still look weird.

Even her hair starts to make more sense. It looks like it's laying in a clump, rather than flying wildly. Life-model strikes again.

Example number two, here's an ad for an upcoming Iron Man series. Looks good overall, but there's that same foreshortening problem. Does he have one midget hand? Are we looking at him through a telescope?

Or is the artist just too nervous to push the envelope? This is where an editor should be stepping in. Foreshorten and fisheye that shit, dawg.

Hell, Iron Man is a comic about a robot with a rich drunk guy inside. GO NUTS with it, have fun. I always wondered why Iron Man's muscles show perfectly through the suit, but his face needs a smooth robotic mask. The gold lamay spandex is kinda creepy and that's why I prefer the original, clumsy, gray armor. I'm glad they showed it prominently in the first IM film. Also, in reference to the red & gold versus gray suits, can you show me which part of this suit is supposed to be made of iron?

I fixed it for you. 3 minutes in Photoshop and I just moved 50,000 more units of 'Iron Man Marvel Adventures Super Heroes'. Yes, that is apparently the very long name of the book. Maybe the title 'Iron Man Marvel Adventures Super Heroes Comic Book Printed on Paper and Read by People' was taken?

Stuff like this makes me wonder what's going on over at Marvel. They might need to send the CEO's on vacation and let the inmates run the asylum for a little while.

Long story short, we want more of this:

And no more of this:

If you're making comics, make fun comics. Give the camera and the model a rest. There's a reason why even now, in 2010, Kirby is still the king.



Louie said...


Dynamo Mars said...

You're one of a kind my friend. And though I'm a fan of Ross, you can beat amazing stylized funny book art. Give me John Bryne, George Perez heck even Jim Lee. Here's to hoping comics recapture a little bit of that fun that made them awesome in the 70s. (And by fun I mean more West Coast avengers style softball games)

Pete said...

very well put

Pete said...

Your words compliment your work. You are so correct with this on all points. I did not notice the hand until you made me look at it, the remake is Bam! in your face!
Nice eye and keen instincts in addressing this tilt

GreggerMan said...

It amazes me that the editor couldn't tell that the power, action, and intensity were completely missing in the picture all because of something relatively minor to correct. Just look at the difference, kudos to you, now Iron Man is busting out of the cover toward the reader. Instant visual involvement. the difference between effective comics art and lackluster junk.

Ceridwen Taliesin said...

I loved your article! You're so right! And the Iron Man cover does look much better with the properly foreshortened hand. I miss comics from 20 years ago. Am I wrong to think they were much better then? I love the medium, and I'd like to read more of it, but there's so much that don't seem worth it, either because of the story or the art...