Maggie is in so much trouble, but her dad kinda might be too, since he’s basically telling her to lie to get out of trouble.
Today I want to talk a bit about acting in comics, and this is a pretty good example page. There’s not a lot going on in this scene, just two people talking, but it’s an emotional scene. Something bad has happened, and there is conflict and embarrassment as well as fear running through the conversation. When I draw a scene where you have a lot of underlying emotions, I think a lot about what the characters are feeling, and what they want. In this scene, it’s essentially a private moment between Maggie and her dad. Maggie has done something bad. Her dad is not only, well, her DAD but also an authority figure with a job to do. So he’s upset because it’s his kid that’s in trouble, putting him in an awkward position. But he’s also her father, and believes that he has a good kid, a kid that doesn’t steal or do law-breaking things. So there must be a reason for her weird behavior. It makes sense to him that she’d maybe been going along with some bad friends (friends who have mohawks and look a little weird). So he takes her hand in this kind of tender (but a little invasive) Dad-gesture. He’s trying to connect with her and guide her thinking in this moment, to gently suggest an ‘out.’ Blame Lucy and Alistair and everything will be okay (and, selfishly, everything will be okay for him as well, as it won’t be his kid breaking and entering. It’ll be the other weird kids that he doesn’t care about).
Maggie seems to know what he’s doing, but she also knows she’s guilty. She doesn’t make eye contact with him (in the previous page, she looks at him as he sits down in front of her, but looks away from him for the rest of the page), except when she makes up her mind that she’s going to tell the truth and damn the consequences. She looks at him in the first panel, but he’s looking down at her hand, and then she looks away when he tries to make eye contact. And then she tells the truth.
That, dear readers, is called acting. People do it in movies and television, and sometimes, artists draw it in comics. For me, it is one of the most vital pieces of making a really great comic. Can draw your characters interacting in a way that is believable? That engages and draws in the reader the way a truly great movie or television actor can?
I spotted this blog post on the review/comic news site Comics Worth Reading a few weeks ago, and my first thought was to burst out laughing. It’s a pretty good example of bad acting in comics. There’s nothing wrong with the drawings; the artist is very skilled, but the bizarre poses of these characters made me wonder what the artist thought was going on in the scene: these women in this particular comic weren’t in a seductive or sexy situation, they were just talking with their fellow characters (let’s just ignore the way they’re dressed because that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish). When I draw comics I try very hard to let the emotion (or lack thereof) of the scene be implicit in the body language of the characters. It makes the scene so much richer.
So I looked at these drawings, and I wondered: what are these characters thinking as they converse with their fellow superheroes? Surely they want to mate! I think sexytimes are in the air! Why else would they be coyly touching their breasts and thrusting out their pelvic regions? Super hot (I mean, I’m guessing, not being a straight dude).
My point by picking on this poor artist (sorry dude) is that the scene is wrecked by the weird signals the character posing is giving off. I honestly wondered if this kind of super sexy display was what the artist typically experienced when talking (not flirting, talking) to women. Maybe he’s super hot and that’s just how women approach him, but … well, I dunno. That’s not how I observe women talking to each other or other guys, be they mortal humans or superheroes.
I remember when I was drawing the final episode of my old webcomic, Demonology 101 (the 5th episode). That episode ended up being something like 100 pages more than all the other episodes, because that was when I started to explore the idea of acting in comics. I wanted to spend time on characters’ emotional reactions and inner thoughts in the comics, so everything ended up being much more decompressed. I had to give space to the characters, so they could react to a cruel/funny/sad comment by another character, or silently work through their inner struggles. That episode was the first time I connected drawing comics with the idea of myself as a director: the characters were my actors and I was directing them in a performance. And it was up to me to make sure that their performance supported the story to the best of my ability.
For me, the VERY BEST example of acting in comics is in Naoki Urasawa’s work. Again with the Urasawa, I know, you’re sick of him. But he’s really really good at it. He’s a master artist at a finely drawn talking scene, where undercurrents of emotion run through characters, but never quite make it to the surface.
I watched a video interview with Urasawa a few years back where he described himself the same way I did: as a director, and his characters were actors. I’d already been thinking of making comics that way, but hearing him say that was pretty exciting. Yes, finally! This guy I really respect, whose work I really enjoy, we think the same way! Hurrah! A nice bit of validation.
If I may make an assumption (apologies, again), sometimes I think comic book artists draw what they think is visually appealing (why not? They are artists, after all). What they think is an attractive drawing, not necessarily what the emotion or content of the scene calls for. A badass drawing of a dude flying through the air fists cocked is awesome and striking, but if the scene calls for the dude to be really afraid and running away from pursuers, or perhaps uncomfortable because he needs to poop (hahah), it’s weird that he looks awesome and badass … because that’s not what the scene is about. And women don’t pose sexily every time they have a conversation. Sometimes they do, if they’re flirting, but women don’t flirt every waking moment, even if they’re scantily clad sexyheroines– I mean superheroines. People get tired, their bodies slump. People get frustrated and tense and their body language reflects that. THINK about what your character is going through in the scene that you’re drawing. Put yourself in their shoes and feel their emotions. Then try and draw that. And you will become a director.
… boots, riding crop and god complex optional.
PS. 20th Century Boys image stolen from Warren Peace Sings the Blues.
PPS. Once I read an X-Men comic where no matter what was going on, every single scene had a character talking through gritted teeth. EVERY SCENE. I read this comic before I even drew comics myself (so something like 12 years ago), and even as a reader, I noticed how dumb it looked. Don’t be that artist.
PPPS. The Nursery Rhyme Comics contest is over this Sunday! So enter before it’sover. Sunday is also the end of the Goodreads contest for a copy of Friends With Boys.