One Fan's Opinion: Issue #5

Thu, September 8th, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

There was this funny scene in the old Katzenjammer Kids comic strip. It was a Sunday strip that I saw reprinted somewhere. One of the kids made up a dummy that looked like the Captain-- they'd drawn his face on a hunk of wood or a balloon or something and then they imitated him-- making it seem as though it was the real Captain complaining about a headache. Then the other kid smacked him over the head with a rolling pin at which point the faux Captain brightened up, cured. The kids' mama, having witnessed this, later saw the real Captain come into their home with a real headache. Thinking this was a similar event-- and the same person-she pulled out a rolling pin and smacked him on the head with it, saying to the fellow, "Would you like dat der same as before 'cept maybe a little svifter?" And the kids, in hiding, broke up laughing as the Captain bolted from the room in a panic.

Imagine now some live action movie. Transpose this scene into reality-- actors now play the parts of the kids, their Mama and the Captain-- they're no longer two-dimensional drawings on a comic page.

Doesn't work so well, does it?

Kind of hard to draw the features of a real flesh and blood human being onto a rock or a balloon and having it really look like a real person. Kind of hard to have real kids imitate the voice and movements of a real adult using a dummy.

There was this movie called "The Villain" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kirk Douglas and Ann-Margret. It came out in the mid-1970s and was directed by Hal Needham. It was an attempt at creating a "Roadrunner" cartoon with live actors. Schwarzenegger played the indestructible, unflappable sheriff who rides blithely through life, unaware that the evil Kirk Douglas wants to kill him and kidnap his girlfriend, Ann-Margret. The stunts try to be cartoony but, like the example above, they fall dreadfully flat. It's not funny and it doesn't work and (big shocker) it was a commercial dud. As well it should have been-- it's breathtakingly bad.

There are things that work better in the mediums in which they were created.

And there are characters who work better drawn a certain way.

Take Batman.

If you draw his eyes through the eyeholes and show where the seams of his cape are sewn together he becomes a man-- a real man-- in tights. And a real man in tights doesn't strike terror-- he provokes laughter.

That's not Batman. Batman is a myth, he's a presence-- he's bigger than life. He's not some boob with underwear on the outside of his pants or sculpted rubber nipples!

Wrap your brain around this-- drawing a superhero more realistic doesn't make them more believable-- it makes them less believable. Because when you see Tawky Tawny as a real tiger or Scooby Doo as a real dog it becomes painfully obvious just how silly it all is. And that's part of the reason Hollywood makes so many changes-- because if you saw a real guy dressed as Electro, you'd laugh yourself sick.

Ever gone to a comic book convention and seen people dressed up, walking around as your favorite heroes or villains?

Pretty ridiculous.

It just doesn't work.

And that's because these characters weren't designed to work that way. They were designed to look good on a comic book page. There is no Batman costume from any convention or movie that would legitimately strike fear into the heart of a legitimate criminal. They may be a superstitious, cowardly lot-- but they're not buying that some idiot in tights is anything other than some idiot in tights.

There was this issue of "Superman: The Man of Steel" where Superman ran into numerous versions of Batman all lovingly drawn by Jon Bogdanove who managed to capture the styles of a veritable plethora of Batman artists from Dick Sprang to Bob Kane to Frank Miller to Neal Adams. It was a nice piece of work that really showed off just how versatile and talented Bogdonove really is, but don't think about it too much. Because if you buy that the real Batman is really one guy-- the same guy-- throughout the years, it all falls apart. If a specific human being in a specific costume is transforming into the same specific human being in the same specific costume, Superman really shouldn't be able to detect the difference because his real chin shouldn't be getting longer, shorter, wider, thinner and the ears of his costume shouldn't be getting longer and shorter and he shouldn't be gaining and losing hundreds of pounds.

Applying reality takes away the fun.

And I think a lot of people have forgotten just how much fun these little four-color marvels can be.

Which isn't to say it doesn't matter-- be as stupid as you want to be (although that's a fun idea as well)-- but rather don't feel as though you have to be producing a movie on paper. We have enough limitations of our own.

I overheard an editor giving an artist a critique at a convention. The editor told the artist, "Don't draw hands sticking out of panels. You don't go to a Tom Cruise movie and see Tom Cruise sticking his hand off the screen."

Well, no-- you don't-- but that's because it's a physical limitation of a movie. They can't have a hand come off the screen. It's not possible. If they could do it, they would. Because if they can get Tom Cruise to pop off that screen and bolt past you they'd do it in a heartbeat because that would really be something to see.

I have my own rules, however.

Here's one for artists to keep in mind: when you have a hand break the panel borders. You're establishing a plane. You're saying this (the hand) is in front of this (the border). In order to maintain the illusion of depth, which you are trying to achieve, the element that you have overlapping the border must be the closest element to the reader in that particular panel or you destroy that illusion of depth. Think of the panel border as a window frame. Somebody can come through the window but if a foreground figure is cut off by the frame, a background figure shouldn't be able to come through that window. If the background character breaks the border, but the foreground character doesn't, you've essentially turned that background figure into The Wasp. The smaller figure appears to be in the front.

I've seen a lot of people that should know better than to blow this.

But that's me. That's my rule.

It also bugs me when a letterer tucks a balloon behind a guy in the background, but in front of a guy in the foreground. Again, it destroys the illusion of depth. It bugs me when they tuck a balloon behind the head of a character drawn on a TV screen. That screen should look flat and that balloon just blew that.

I think, sometimes, people forget what medium they're writing for or how this medium works. A surprise villain in panel three isn't much of a surprise when you consider that the reader sees an entire page at once when they turn to that page.

You know what else bugs me? Interrupted dialogue. You know the sort-- it's the bottom of a page and Mary Jane Watson is talking, but her words stop mid-sentence.

You just know that there's some shocking surprise on the next page.

And that cut off dialogue completely gave that away.

Now sometimes that's the effect a writer wants-- they want you to turn the page to find out what made MJ pause mid-sentence. But just as often, they really are trying to surprise you and that whole cutting off the dialogue bit just blew that.

You never see dialogue simply picked up where it was left off on a subsequent page.

But I digress…

I'm not sure where this one's going. I thought I had a point when I started this, but I seem to have wandered far away from anything resembling a point. Part of it was bemoaning the move to ultra realism and Batman looking like a real guy with a limp blanket around his neck but…

Shit.

It's gone.

Well, there you have it. I'm a complete space case and I really have no clue what I'm doing or saying. There's a pull quote for you.

And for cryin' out loud, don't take my word for anything. I'm just some boob with an opinion. Everybody's got an opinion. Just 'cause I said something, it doesn't mean it's a rule. Hell, I might change my own mind with some more thought put into it.

I like to be somewhat flexible.

I've gotten into arguments with people that aren't quite so flexible and easygoing. And that can be a lot of fun. They nail me on something-- okay, fine-- they got me. I nail them and what a gas it is to watch them twist semantics and back peddle and try and tell me that things which are clearly wrong are anything but.

Heh.

Hell, I've swiped drawings before-- generally in a situation where I'm drawing the same scene in my book and I'm recapping an event, which took place before. And it's kind of a kick to see a familiar pose in a different style. But I'm not fooling anybody. It's still a swipe-- I didn't compose that picture no matter why I did it.

I got into this extended bitch fest with some seasoned vet who routinely copies covers from other artists and redraws panels when he draws flashbacks. There was another guy-- some former hot artist who's routinely roasted for pinching poses and copying pictures and my point was that a swipe is a swipe. The former fave orchestrates his story to include drawings, which he copied from somebody else-- the seasoned vet orchestrates his story to include drawings, which he copied from somebody else. Neither of them composed original drawings. Neither of them is fooling anybody. And I don't give a rat's ass that one might include an intrusive and distracting little credit on occasion, which lets us in or where they swiped it from-- at the end of the day, both guys were doing drawings, which they didn't compose. But man, you ought to have heard that seasoned vet twist and squirm when I dared to compare him to that former fan fave! He was not happy to hear it.

I remember the seasoned vet insisting at one point that there was yellow included in the blue part of Spider-Man's costume. The blue in Spider-Man's costume was composed of 100% cyan and 25% magenta up until the advent of Photoshop and computer coloring. On occasion, the blue part would fall off or go missing and the red dots would remain and the effect was sometimes more than a little embarrassing. Y'see, without the blue, the magenta dots combined with yellowing newsprint looked not too dissimilar from standard comic book flesh, which was made up of 25% magenta and 25% yellow and Spider-Man might look as though he forgot to put on his pants! The seasoned vet (who was, admittedly, color blind at one point) insisted that because his legs looked as though they were flesh (when the blue was MIA) they must contain a percentage of yellow, event hough countless colorists said otherwise and countless color guides indicated otherwise. He was steadfast. And he was wrong.

And this debate raged for a ridiculous length of time.

And he wouldn't give up and he wouldn't back down. And what did he gain from this? The respect of his peers? No, they though he was a stubborn, unreasonable boob that refused to accept reality. The respect of his supporters? No, they saw that his point had no basis in fact. So, if anything, he lost support.

What then?

I don't get it. I really don't. Why be so caught up in being right all the time that you can't back down when you are shown irrefutable proof that you are absolutely incorrect.

This seasoned vet somehow ended up arguing about the function of the two-wheeled wheelchairs he's drawn on occasion. In case you've not tried it yourself, a two-wheeled wheelchair will have you cracking your head on the pavement in no time, as you might imagine. But argue he did.

Damned weird.

And in the end, who cares? It's not as though a reader couldn't tell that he meant to draw a wheelchair! So the guy didn't look at any reference and didn't give it a second thought-- big deal! It's not supposed to be real! It's a cartoon-- an impression of reality, not reality! These aren't photographs, after all, they're lines on paper! Real people don't even have black lines on them, which define the edges of their form! Real people in comics suck! Ever seen one of those fumetti books? Those comics where they use photos instead of drawings?

They suck!

Don't get me started on how making things too realistic makes them less believable. I'll end up talking your ear off.

Uh….

Damn.

Okay, so I screwed up-- again. I started off with something in mind, but wandered off in an entirely different direction and ended up going nowhere in particular and then back again-- sort of. How much you paying to read this, anyway? Who said they had to be coherent? Did I tell you they'd all be winners? Did I? No! I'd claim I was having a senior moment, but I'm nowhere old enough to pull that one off. A pretty girl walks by the office and suddenly I have no idea what's going on.

And speaking of girls…

Ladies, if you want to get laid, there's one thing you'll need to be assured of landing a guy: a vagina. Seriously, that's all it takes. Granted, that doesn't work on every guy-- there are those oddballs out there who aren't tempted, but for most the rest of us, that's pretty much all it takes.

I'm not sure where that bit came from, but I thought I'd share.

I'm a giver. I can't help but give. It's what I do.

One Fan's Opinion Home | One Fan's Opinion Archives

 
One Fan's Opinion

Send This Article to a Friend

Separate multiple email address with commas.

You must state your name.

You must enter your email address.