Marvel and Me (Part 2)

Picking up where we left off with my study of Marvel’s production process, the next four chapters on detailed figure drawings, poses and heads largely deliver more of the same; general tips on drawing construction interspersed with more superhero specific touches. As before I’ll be taking note of advice applicable to my own work, while examining where our approaches conflict and why.

Anyway, I formerly mentioned how the book’s suggested figure planning method of cylinders and cubes differed from my own approach of loosely sketching ovals and shapes to build up form, being perhaps too stiff for my liking. As it turns out, it isn’t entirely dismissive of alternatives:

This ‘scribbling’ method is described as being suitable for ‘a more advanced student’ (p56) which feels like a slightly arrogant assumption to make of myself – my anatomy still has problems – however, it’s more or less how I do things already while also it feels far more natural and effective to me than a forced collection of rigid polygons. Lee’s explanation of the process closely resembles my own reasons for using it:

‘As John explains it, it’s like being a sculptor and building a figure with clay. You just keep adding these loose little lines until the figure starts taking shape. Another important thing about scribbling is that it helps you to loosen up and get a feeling of movement and action. Do your scribbling lightly, and try to train your eye to spot the lines that are correct and to reject the ones that aren’t. Then, as you continue to mold the figure with your pencil, you emphasize the important lines and eventually lose the others.’

(Lee, Buscema, 1978, p56)

Naturally this is built up over a stick skeleton to set out the basic pose, but the whole idea of flexibly shaping up the figure and garb does more for my style than their former suggestion. As demonstrated with Thor’s cape in the example, loose clothing is easier to figure out and draw satisfactorily this way; superheroes are known for their skin tight preferences but my cast’s looser clothing typically favours a looser method of drafting.

Fitting too that ‘movement and action’ should figure into this method so heavily as I feel they’re an area of inexperience for me, presenting a daunting hurdle with their imminent arrival in Branch. As such, the next example is of particular importance:

No matter how much they might try to hide it, comics – excluding the motion variety – are ultimately a static medium where movements are implied rather than shown; reader imagination fills the gap, usually helped along with little nudges such as speed lines or an onomatopoeia. As demonstrated here though, the extremity of a pose can do a lot for the impact of an action creating a tangible sense of motion and excitement.

Indeed, it’s an idea which remains applicable across any genre of the medium aiming to do so, on the other hand it can be overdone:

‘Even when characters are just standing, the same rules apply. Notice the figures on the facing page. In each case, the smaller figure is okay. But just okay. Not particularly dramatic, not overly heroic, and certainly not very interesting. Now then, see the larger figures, which illustrate the same poses, have more drama to them, more heroism, and far more interest (…) Basically, the smaller figures are perfectly adequate drawings; but the larger ones are Marvel-style drawings!’

(Lee, Buscema, 1978, p66)

I barely need to expand upon the point since Lee pretty much says it anyway, but this is clearly Marvel-specific direction. Showing characters striking a pose between action is all well and good for those “I CHALLENGE YOU GALACTUS!” moments, however considered in a cyberpunk context it would end up being unintentionally ridiculous.

The key problem is that it’s once again intended to draw attention to heroic qualities, however, when the characters are anti-heroes – as both Scratch and Curt most definitely are – having them strutting and waving their arms around like speed infused ravers all the time is liable to destroy any accumulating tension, while also undermining credibility. Marvel isn’t often admired for its subtlety, being mostly straight to the point with action and thrills whereas I’ve purposefully delayed my own in favour of atmosphere and plot development. In my case there will be moments of violence but I’d rather play everything in between down to ensure they retain as much impact and shock as possible.

Moving on to heads; I noted in my previous post that their basic construction was roughly the same as my own. When it comes to the details though we differ on just about everything:

Once again the focus is squarely on heroic qualities with all the friction that entails between our approaches, though the main issues are a little more deep-seated.

When I’m roughing a face I always draw up guidelines for eye/ear level, along with the mouth, brow and chin but in this case everything has a near mathematical precision which honestly doesn’t appeal to me. As shown on the right head above an equilateral triangle with its tip at eye level allows mouth and chin width to be calculated precisely, but supposing I don’t want them to be precise? Supposing I want to exaggerate these features for a certain character or expression? What if they have an abnormally small mouth? A weak chin? Mad eyes?

Call it ignorance but figuring out these features for each character by my own means and making them distinct is one of my savoured little joys when I’m drawing. Take that away and it’s just an equation.

Also worth noting is the greater adherence to anatomical realism here whereas my own style is purposefully exaggerated or offbeat in certain areas; I tend to draw eyes larger to amplify specific characteristics such as Scratch’s expressions of faint irritation or Curt’s eyes-popping-from-the-head panicking, while elsewhere I deliberately draw noses in a slightly weird fashion as a stylistic trademark to give my work an identifiable feature.

Specific tips on drawing female faces also run somewhat afoul of my intentions. Much of it is fairly obvious stuff which I can’t argue with such as giving them a smaller chin and nose, however this is once again a case of 1970’s Marvel and their slightly narrow minded view on superwomen – almost all the emphasis is on making them ‘adorable(p98) which is all well and good for comics targeted specifically towards those of the XY chromosome but disappointingly limits the scope for character depth.

Take this advice:

‘Keep your female faces simple. Use no extra expression lines on the forehead, or around the mouth and nose. We repeat, you don’t need a lot of lines to show expression. Keep it clean and open.’

(Lee, Buscema, 1978, p100)

There is some value in this point as I used to completely overcook expressions (and still do to some degree) making characters appear unintentionally manic, still, reading between the lines the disproportionate emphasis on not using expression lines betrays a fear of undermining beauty or making their heroines appear – god forbid – older. Their example page at the end of the chapter featuring a collection of sobbing, kidnapped, seduced, devious or insecure women doesn’t help much in this regard either.

All this is not to say I didn’t design my women (and men for that matter) to be aesthetically appealing in some regard, while I can already imagine events later in Branch’s plot could be perceived as exploitative in the wrong light – no doubt I’ll be on the receiving end of the criticism someday – Still, for the most part I didn’t want any stunners; not ugly maybe and interesting in their own right but away from the realms of shallow fantasy fulfilment, just regular old cyborgs going about their day…

To close this segment on a more positive note I’d like to include one quick tip which is worth taking onboard.

Lips align with the nose in a diagonal line outward while nose bridge, nostril and mouth corner do the same. Since I often struggle with profiles this is a pointer that I should permanently burn into my brain. Even with my usual facial exaggerations it’s a solid way of avoiding simian jaws and splodge noses without being especially restrictive on style.

That’s all for now folks! All being well I’ll conclude things with part 3 next week ;)

2 Responses to Marvel and Me (Part 2)

  1. demontales says:

    I tend to do some kind of cross between the box/cylinder method and the scribbling one depending on how at ease I am with the pose.
    Also, even if your characters are not as heroic, you can be strong poses for more negative emotions/states too! Like hunched for instance

    • Ozy says:

      I’ve started using the box method a bit more for awkward poses recently and I’m finding it’s actually pretty handy! Sometimes going back to basics isn’t such a bad idea it seems.

      And yeah, I didn’t mean to sound so dismissive of strong or exaggerated poses on a more general note, just the stereotypically heroic ones on display here.

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