Sunday, July 29, 2012

A smile is something special, but honestly, ribbons are readily available almost anywhere

Just re-reading Ghost World yesterday.  The part where Enid regresses emotionally while listening to one of her childhood favorite songs is very touching.  It's a very fatherly gesture for her dad to drag out her little turntable and put the single on her bed.  Does anyone listen to 45s anymore?  I had a stack when I was a kid, but most of them were outlaw country by guys like Waylon Jennings.  I especially like the
panel when Enid wakes up in the morning still in her beanbag chair with her hair sticking up all over the place.  I'm almost completely bald and look like some kind of effeminate mirror universe Ike Eisenhower, so of course I'm jealous even of someone's terrible morning hair.

Anyway, I'm doing a deep study of the way Daniel Clowes draws eyes and hands.  You have your slender Alex Toth fingers with prominent fingernails, your dynamic yet claw-like Gil Kane hands that seem rippling with muscles, and then your Dan Clowes hands which are largely featureless.  They're not perfunctory, though.  They're typically well observed in whatever pose he chooses to place them.

Eyes vary.  Weirdo comedian Joey McCobb-- is he for real, or is he simply a hack with an outsider gimmick?-- has wrinkly cartoonish eyes, kind of pointy and football shaped.  Visually, he reminds me a little of Peter Lorre.  Very little.  Mostly just the eyes.  Enid and Rebecca have more nuanced eyes, at least at the beginning of the story.  Eyelids, lashes, little lines underneath to show the roundness.  Eyes protude slightly.  There's at least one panel later in the book where Enid's eyes are simply a curved arc above and below, but they're somewhat obscured by the drawing of her glasses frames.

I could be mistaken.  I'm writing my impressions the next day, at work.  It will be interesting for me to go home this evening and see if I really saw what I remember seeing, or if I'm just making things up in my head.

As an artist myself, I've never settled on a particular way to draw eyes.  Sometimes I want to do sort of abstracted, simplified shapes with full outlines, but other times I go nuts with the detailing.  I change frequently depending on who happens to be influencing me that day, or if I've seen someone new I want to rip off.

Jaime Hernandez has a simple yet convincing way of drawing eyes, the footballish upper and lower arcs, with rounded irises in the center.  The top arc can be flattened and thickened, with a few strokes for lashes.  Interestingly, in a fairly recent story arc, he chose to use the "injury to the eye" motif regarding Hopey, a character whose motivations I often think about.  But prior to that, she spent the story "Election Day" (Penny Century #5, June 1999) hiding her eyes behind dark sunglasses, so much so one of the minor characters mentions thinking she's blind.  At the end of the story she lifts the sunglasses while staring at herself in the mirror, revealing deep lines under them and some kind of enigmatic unhappiness.  What's going on in that head of hers?  Hernandez generally characterizes her as someone not given to introspection.  The eyes are expressive, but they tell us nothing.

His art is slick and appealing, believable yet not exactly realistic.  Steve Rude has a similar approach, but the character he's most associated with usually wears a visor.  No eyes.  When I picture a Rude face, I imagine narrowed eyes drawn as horizontal lines, squinting, the body straining, twisting and moving.  Action eyes.  Some of his aliens have big round insectoid eyes.  Good for science fiction, not so much for earth-bound romance comics-- which is a genre I'm very interested in working in.  I like to say "social realism," but if I'm really being honest with myself, I'm writing romance comics.  They'll never see publication, but it's fun to churn out scripts full of emotional torture for my shabbily realized characters.

Alex Toth and Mort Meskin sometimes drew eyes as little slashes of black ink, or maybe a line up top and then a dab of ink below for the iris.  Very simple and effective.  Alex Toth is my primary influence for drawing eyes, but like Clowes, Hernandez and Rude, he employed different methods.  His sketchbook pages, which are frequently just big piles of faces and heads, show all kinds of approaches.  Some of them are extremely simple, just quick enclosed triangles and ovals.

Simply put, there's no one right way to draw eyes.  Do what works best for you, what's appropriate for your characters.  Above all, observe real emotions and learn to draw them.  If you're good at acting on the page, more than likely you're rarely drawing eyes the same way twice anyway.

And work on those hands while you're at it.

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