I haven’t much bothered with discussing anatomy in comics because its already a major topic on the internet with comic book sites-specifically ones dedicated to that or the treatment of female characters. However in the weeks, now month, after the Milo Manara Spider-Woman cover and listening to a lot of people I decided to weigh in.
Anatomy is not as important to sequential storytelling as some make it out to be.
Before you start yelling at me, allow me to follow up my thoughts with my opinions and just a few actual facts.
1-TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Anatomy is only one tool in art and it’s not the most important.-Gene Ha
For those unfamiliar Gene Ha is an award winning comic artist who has worked with some of the top writers and legends in the industry. That quote was taken from a comments section of a Comics Beat article about Milo Manara’s Spider-Woman cover. He had talked a bit about that on Comics Beat and his own Tumblr. Gene Ha of course is right. He is a comic book artist, he would know better than most about what it takes to work in the profession.
Look at everything a comic artist has to do or may excel at in a comic book. There is the visual aesthetic. The particular style in which an artist engages in. Animated, realistic, silver age style, manga-esque, European, etc. Then the design element. The design of the characters, their clothing, their background, their tools. Jack Kirby was one hell of a design guy-the machinery and worlds that inhabited his books are iconic. Some artist are more minimalist. Guys like Frank Quitely can crank out a beautiful characters, landscapes, and more without a lot of detail needed. The visual style and design are two major tools an artist uses. Of course some artists excel in other places. Facial expressions and body language are important. Kevin Maguire is a master of the “acting” of the characters on the page. He has an 80s superhero style and a good eye for design but its those characters that really made him a star. What about panel layout? Its a minor point but sometimes the presentation of the page can do a lot for a reader. Of course the biggest thing a comic artist needs to do is to be able to execute the script. That is the main focus of a comic artist. The fluidity of a scene, creating action, the interaction between characters and environments, the build of suspense. The interesting thing here is that an artist doesn’t have to be the best eye for design nor have the most standout or accomplished style to do a script justice. They can take a little bit of anything and still deliver a strong issue.
As for anatomy, it plays into character designs, fluidity and body language for sure but good anatomy does not substitute a bland visual. It does not make up for bad designs. It is not a positive if a scene lacks emotion.
2-MOST PEOPLE ONLY NOTICE ANATOMY WHEN ITS REALLY BAD
That Milo Manara Spider-Woman cover was bad. It also was a cover and comic covers are staged and posed. Once you get to sequential storytelling anatomy is harder to notice unless its really bad. Go back and look at your favorite comics, there are probably anatomical errors you missed because they’re minor. You may not notice that a characters head is just a bit too big. Maybe one arm is just a bit slightly longer than the other. Perfect anatomy is pretty nonexistent in comics and while you might say “thats not what we’re asking for” the internet being what it is really does sound that way when you are questioning how a professional artist is a professional when they don’t do anatomy you approve of. There is no standard of excellence when it comes to art. Its about impressing the people who can pay you. If they like it, someone else will. So by saying “How is Milo Manara a master artist” or “How come Greg Land has a job when he traces?” or stuff like that you are essentially asking for art to be policed to your on preference. That doesn’t work and shouldn’t work. The net is a place for exaggerations and generalizations so when I read this kind of stuff I roll my eyes.
That’s another topic so back on this-anatomy is one of those things that seems to get sacrificed in the face of deadlines. A lot of artists have to keep to a schedule so anatomy, along with detail and backgrounds occasionally suffer. Once again its the movement and interaction, the acting and directing that is above all else. While the anatomy on a cover or even inside can push away a reader, no doubt, there are those who once inside the comic will not notice or see the other elements as positive. Of course, there is another reason they may not pay attention to anatomy…
3-I DON’T CARE
Guillem Marchs anatomy is bad? So what? Now how do you follow up a critique of a work to someone who does not have as much concern with that one aspect you focus on? Its an opinion and fans will have their opinions. For me my favorite thing is the facial expressions. Various times extremely exaggerated. Its what made me a fan of March. Don’t get me wrong, it took a bit of time as originally the visual style he uses for American comics (which looks different then some of the pieces I’ve seen from his European work) was hit and miss for me. Then in issue 2 of Catwoman a scene between Selina (in disguise) and Bruce made me a fan. I slowly got more into the visual and design of his work. Started giving his artwork more of a chance and now I’m a fan. His anatomy is bad? I don’t really care. I also think Amy Reeder sums up my feelings for March.
This is why I love Guillem March’s work despite some weird occasional gems…He exaggerates but his women are diverse and boiling over with life. You can tell he likes the ladies, but he likes them, person and all. I know not all women can get behind this dude, but I strongly believe we need him in this industry.
After the facial expressions it is of course the execution of the story. Some of my favorite Grant Morrison comics were done by artists who’s visual aesthetic I didn’t much appreciate. Chaz Truog on Animal Man or Richard Case on Doom Patrol. However reading those books, the emotion and suspense made me like those creators. Their anatomy? Honestly I don’t remember. I guess it was alright. The actual expressions and body language of the characters I remember being fine. Design element, meh. However the fluidity…. I think of their work as a whole rather than any individual images or pages really standing out. I wouldn’t want it changed.
Action scenes. I love action. I like Jason Pearsons. Those Body Bag scenes are awesome. He has some anatomy problems and I’m sure there is a discussion to be made on Panda (Good point-sexualized teenagers not good. Bad point-that teenage girls can’t be busty. Thats bullshit.) but I love Pearsons work. His women are ridiculous and can turn people off but his deign work is pretty cool though probably not for everyone. Persons action scenes are still top notch.
Anatomy is not exactly the biggest concern of a number of fans and if they like a story their opinion on an artists may change even if the anatomy is questionable. I mean-isn’t that the secret to Jim Balents continued success with tarot: Witch of the Black Rose?
The main point in this discussion of anatomy I agree with. Female characters suffer the most when it comes to bad anatomy. They are sexualized, moreso than their male counterparts. The answer to that would be to not put them on female lead titles. Simple, right? Though as a fan, if I like an artist I’d be willing to pick them up on a female lead title but I understand the need to make books for women (or teenagers) appear more appealing with artists who do not sexualize and whose anatomy is more proper. You have no argument from me here. I want more titles with female leads and an industry can only benefit with more readers. Comics for everyone.
The only thing I will add is that the visual is a first impression. It might decide whether or not someone tries a title but the writing will determine the continued purchase. The writing might be the lasting impression. As a reader, I would rather read a female lead book that was fun or well written with cheesecake art and questionable anatomy then a badly written female with great art. Its more disappointing to get a beautiful drawn book where the writer treats their female characters like trash. Or just props to spotlighted to advance the male characters story. I, and others believe, you can have a fun book with cheesecake art and bad anatomy as long as the women are done well.
I am not dismissing anatomy as a critique, I’m dismissing what passes for comic art critique. There are a number of valid points to the importance of anatomy in comic art but it is not the main focus of a number of fans or the editors who hire these artists. Its also left to the taste of each individual. Its a part of the craft that works with design, body language and movement but is rarely ever highlighted on its own. Yes their are artists who are known for anatomy like Neal Adams (at least when he became a superstar) but rarely do you see someones body proportions talked about when it isn’t being critiqued or being used on a compare contrast with another artist. Anatomy can elevate a work but most comic artists who work and don’t have good anatomy have important tools or a work ethic that helps them secure jobs. Its the visual aesthetic over all else when selling, its the execution and growth that keeps them working. Criticize anatomy, talk about what you don’t like and what needs to be improved. Just know its not a critique that trumps all. Just know that a standard of excellence in comic art doesn’t exist and it comes down to what the company, the editors, the writers and the fans want and they all want something different.