Friends With Boys - Page 163

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.

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14 Responses

  1. Ed Sizemore says:

    Brilliant essay. The other thing you’re showing here is that you thing of your characters as real people and not just puppets to move about for the sake of plot or entertainment. If the characters are real, living people for the creator then it shows in work and the reader can’t help by see the characters that way too. When the character is just awesome dude in spandex, then the story and art will be one dimensional. Thanks for all the hard work you put into your comic.

  2. Arabia says:

    Excellent blog entry!!

    And those drawings in that link… yuck. Do they really still think that their predominant audience is 14-year-old boys? (Even if it were, that’d be offensive….)

    Really great expression of what it means to be a “director” of your “actors,” Faith. I notice that in your work. I also noticed it “Skim” (which you recommended to us).

    • Warren says:

      ‘Do they really still think that their predominant audience is 14-year-old boys?’

      I think that’s it – their demo is pubescent boys, or adult men who believe they’re still pubescent boys. That’s not offensive to the demographic, one part of which is literally puerile, and the other part of which is emotionally and psychologically stunted. In other words, they;re drawing exactly what their target audience wants to see, reality be damned.

      It’s obnoxious to anyone who isn’t a fourteen-year-old boy, but then, since that’s not the demographic they’re catering to, they probably don’t care.

  3. Nina H says:

    Hi Erin

    I found Friends With Boys a little while back and have been following it ever since. It’s positively awesome – all the characters feel like real people, the artwork is smooth, the backgrounds are stunning. You encompass a lot of things that I want to be able to do some day (I’m a bad comic creator right now, but I’ll hopefully grow better).

    It’s really cool to read that essay of yours. It is something that “clicked” with me in the last few months of my last comic, eventhough I couldn’t really put it into words. Not sure I really like the “actor” bit because I tend to think of my characters as real(ish) people, but everything else applies. Also a nice way to put into words why your comic’s characters feel so alive and breathing.

    So… Keep up the great work! I enjoy both your comic and your essays.
    Cheers!

  4. Nicole says:

    I’m an actress and I totally agree with your blog post. The best comics I read (yours, Sailor Twain, Bear Nuts, Kukuburi, Hark! A Vagrant) always have really clear acting going, or I should say, really clear motivation and emotion behind the body language and facial expressions. The best an actor can do is mimic true reaction and repsonse as best they can from observing their own life with an objective eye. You’ve done that beautifully. I think that’s why I was so drawn to your comic…no pun intended! :)

    • Nicole says:

      As a quick addendum, I did read Maggie’s dad differently than you. I just saw him trying to get to the bottom of it and running on the assumption that his daughter was just along for the ride with her funky friends. Either way, you did a great job.

  5. Karine says:

    Fantastic essay.

    I’ve been thinking about this kind of thing too, and about how much I prefer the stylings of animated superhero cartoons than those of comics precisely because in animation, you need to get acting and movement in and thus can’t do those T&A poses one keeps finding in comics.

    Before working in comics, I’d done a decade-worth of work on storyboards, and I believe that has been a good part of my training in acting for comics. I think this experience brings that extra depth to what I draw, and I do think of myself as a director to my actors, too. However, good posing is not the only thing important in acting in comics. Pacing, the choice of panels and angles, the number of poses you draw on the page will add to the context. Your use of several panels of Maggie being quiet and looking around shows us that she’s thinking, considering, making her decision, but it’s also showing us the time that passes, that long silent pause during which her dad waits, hopes for an answer he can deal with.

    In short, you’re a great storyteller, and your actors perform your play very well. :)

  6. staticgirl says:

    Something I notice in a lot of comics aimed primarily at teenage boys and men is that the faces drawn by the artists are quite immobile. If it’s an action comic or superhero comic every word will be spoken with a scowl. I know one otherwise brilliant artist who draws every conversation with the hero staring moodily up through his brows whilst scowling no matter what the content of the conversation is. A lot of these comics don’t show their characters using natural body language either. In these comics the action and the plot takes precedence over the emotional inner lives of the characters. They often seem to stick too closely to the models they are taking from girlie mags and photographic stock instead of drawing using cartooning skills and gestural drawings.

    British girls comics, classic American romance and crime comics, European comics and lots of manga focussed more on the emotions of the characters as they tried to deal with the trials of life even if they were pretty dramatic or fantastical situations. The body language was still exaggerated because of the compressed nature of the storytelling in the script but their faces were alive.

    Nowadays, comics are pretty much decompressed and read a bit like film and television so there is plenty of space to fit in subplots dealing with emotional journeys but the artists, having grown up more on the action packed and faster moving stuff may struggle to express all the nuances.

    That’s why I think web comics are cool as there seems to be more creators coming at it from all angles, all parts of the world and their influences are different. That makes their treatment of their characters much more emotionally expressive. Japanese manga have changed the style of American comics already and we are seeing far more variety than we did.

    Anyway for all you artists out there :- there was a bloke who worked on a lot of the mega famous Disney films, Walt Stanchfield, who shared his lecture notes on gestural drawing for all to read. If people want to learn more on how to make your human figures express more feeling and story in the way they are drawn, it is a must read. He shows how to push a drawing so it becomes more than just a photographic record. It’s as important a read as Andrew Loomis in my opinion. There are free (huge) pdfs floating around as I believe it was shared on a copyright free basis but I am not sure if that is still true. Anyway, worth a search.

    Thanks to Faith for such an interesting post!

  7. Mandie says:

    I’m probably just an awful person, cause I’m pretty sure I’d try and blame Matt at this point. Hey, he has the hand! He beat someone up! He ran away! Doesn’t seem like a squeaky clean record!
    Of course he has goons to back him up, so it would likely be a bad idea. Alas!

  8. Sarah burgess says:

    Absolutely. It’s probably wrong of me to think this, but actually I think emotion, bodylanguage and knowing what feelng you want your character to express is by far one of the most important things you should do in comics. I think this, by far, outweighs knowing how to draw every muscle in the body.

    Speaking of body, I think it’s important to distinguish every part of the body, like the placement of the hands, any little tilt of the face, ect. Is all very important to portraying the emotion of the character. And I agree, it certainly doesn’t matter what or who your character is, or what genre the story is. I think this links heavily with story – all good stories have good characters and good acting – that is what people relate to the most. After all, these are comics! Comics! Not beautiful things to stare at – stories to get really stuck into :)

    but for the most part, I think you are right that some artists (obviously not all) focus mostly the visuals and not of the emotion of the character at hand – for me, I began thinking this way as an artist (like a director to my ‘actors’) when I began looking at will eisner’s comics, and further more, animation!

    I think animation artists have got the rightnidea, to me they portray really good acting in their characters – and all of my fave comics seem to embody this feelng and atmosphere :) it’s so nice to see an essay about this! And I think a lot of new comics such as yours and newer artists are doing this awesomely nowadays though! :D xx

  9. [...] Comics | Faith Erin Hicks discusses the role of “acting” in comics: “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.” [Friends With Boys] [...]

  10. [...] Body Expressions Der-Shing Helmer’s Tutorial on Pose Mickey Quinn’s Body Language Reference Sheet Faith Erin Hicks on Acting in Comics [...]

  11. Ingrid says:

    Interesting notes on acting. I also like what you did with the background, starting with the setting on the previous page but moving to the dramatic pure white and then pure black with the confession–very cool.

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Friends With Boys, webcomic edition!

Hello readers, new ones just discovering the comic and those who’ve been with it since the beginning. Friends With Boys is now complete online. You may read it in its entirety, all 200+ pages, for free, for the next eight days. Then the image files of the comic (except for a short preview) will be taken down. While the comic was being serialized online, I blogged a lot about my comic making process. I did write ups about how I make comics, what my opinions on what makes a good comic are, and pointed out various Easter eggs throughout Friends With Boys. That stuff will all remain up, so if you buy a hard copy of Friends With Boys, you can still read along with my thought process.

And now (today!), Friends With Boys is a published book! Yay! I hope that if you’ve read the web version and liked it, and want to support me as a creator, you’ll consider buying the book.

I’ve really enjoyed serializing Friends With Boys online. If you’re new to my work, I started out making comics online before moving into print. I posted the very first page of my very first online comic on my very first website back in August, 1999, and wow, was that page ugly. Here it is! Notice a weird similarity to the first page of Friends With Boys? Yeah, that was not deliberate, I promise. But look how much your drawing skills can improve if you draw thousands of pages of comics over a ten year period! Anyway, I’m really thrilled my wonderful publisher First Second Books has allowed me to return to my roots and put Friends With Boys online as a lead up to its publication. As a reader and purchaser of comics, I have bought quite a few hard copy versions of online comics, because I enjoy the reading experience of having the whole thing collected, and I want to support the author. I hope you will too. :)

Otherwise, there are a few upcoming events I hope to see some readers at:
Book signing! At my local comics shop Strange Adventures, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, March 3rd (Saturday), 2-4pm (EDITING TO ADD: The book launch has been moved to the following Saturday due to the books not shipping to Strange Adventures on time. The launch will now be March 10th from 2-4pm. Go here for info).
Comic convention! I’ll have a table at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, May 6th-7th. There are a few other conventions I am trying to attend, but everything else is up in the air at the moment. For updates, please follow my twitter or join my Facebook fan page.  I’m pretty good about updating those two spots.


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