Friday, March 12, 2010

There's more to it than just making "pretty pictures" - Part Two

Back in the mid-80's, when I was still pretty new to drawing comics, I received a script which called for a character to "slowly nod" her head. What? How do you do that? I could imagine a Jack Cole character with speed lines and a strobe effect, nodding vigorously, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out any way to do a slow nod. If you look long and hard enough, you might find examples of characters SHAKING their heads. The two examples below are taken from quiet, dramatic moments and fit the solemn mood without looking unintentionally comical. But could anyone do the same with a head nod? I'm still looking...

Art by Russ Heath for Our Army at War #248

Art by Neal Adams for Green Lantern #87


  1. A slow nod, like all other subtle expressions, can be shown through multiple panels and with absolutely no lines. It's not that speed lines are goofy, they're just absolute marks that define movement.

    By multiple panels I just mean one shot drawn 2, maybe 3 or 4 more times in succession with the subtlety being the thing that moves it along. I can't think of any examples now but for some reason, Chester Brown's work comes to mind.

    In a movie, this would take up only a few seconds. In comics it takes up a few panels, which is a bigger chunk of the overall page/story real estate. This strengthens the disassociation between film and comics... thankfully!

  2. It seems to me Tezuka, Beto and Xaime Hernandez and Chris Ware are able to achieve the subtle storytelling movement Kevin Nowlan describes... I think it would be difficult to capture this subtly in a superhero or genre comic book where dynamism and bombast are the currency.

  3. With decompressed comics you can dedicate entire pages depicting head nods.

  4. Wow... that's a tough one. I can only think of a couple ways to do this, and one of them would require having a lot of room on the page to purposely slow the camera down. This means the pacing of the rest of the story would have to be affected as well.. just to maintain clarity of the storytelling 'language'.
    I guess my problem with a request like showing a head nodding is that it's something that could more clearly be solved with a different gesture, one that is perhaps more noticeable to the reader. It may come across as more theatrical, but if it means clearer and simpler storytelling, so be it. Nevertheless, this is a great question to ponder, Kevin. It really brings into question what you can and can't do with a static storytelling medium.

  5. Kriegstein comes to mind...I imagine he'd use several panels spaced further apart to show slower action. I've always wanted to try that myself actually to see how it would read.

    Great problem to try and solve.