Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Just some more random thoughts about back shots.
How do you like this drawing by George McManus for the Maggie and Jiggs newspaper strip? Mc Manus no doubt liked back shots because he had a strong graphic sensibility and back shots were a chance to use value to unite lots of people into a single shape. There really is such a thing as a group mind so the technique re-inforces the way the group actually behaves in the story.
Check out the shoes and spats that feel like wooden clogs , the mysterious eye-like back buttons, and the heads that fit into the collars like ice cream cones.
Sorry about the bad cropping and the blur (above). I'm working with an unfamiliar scanner.
Anyway, how do you like the way Davis and Kurtzman arranged the rhythm of the panels on this "Lone Stranger" page? Front shot, back shot, front shot, back shot...then three similar panels that gently morph from a back shot into a profile. Veeery nice!
But that's not my favorite thing. My favorite thing is the way back shots are given almost as much attention as front shots. That's unusual. Artists usually emphasize the front because that's the way people like to be seen and photographed in real life. Take that away from a character and there's a feeling that the character's not in control of his own story, that a director's hand is evident. The character's denied the right to conceal his most vulnerable side. He has no privacy, and something about that is funny.
Let us digress to ask, "What is a back?" Let's face it, for a guy it's a ball of hair on a spinal chord leading to a dirty old butt. The good side of everything faces forward; that's the side you want the world to see. The back side is...well, what's left over. If your shirt is going to ride out, or your pants sag, it's probably going to show up first in the back. The flab you conceal in the front is only concealed because you pushed it to the back. Dandruff collects there, as do "kick me" signs. Lay on the grass and your back is full of dirt and spiders. The gloves that look so heroic and manly from the front, just look like plain old workman gloves from the back. Dramatic actors are allowed to hide all this, and aim their best assets at the audience. Comedic characters are expected to bare all for the good of the show.
So that's what I like about the Lone Stranger. He's funny because he's a helpless pawn, made to be humiliated by an artist, yet he's full of self-confidence and a spirit of independence. Back shots help to convey that.
I often dread looking at the back shot character models generated by normal studios (the profile above is from Spumco, definitely not a normal studio). For them the back shot is a mathematical extrapolation of the information in the front. It's pretty obvious that they think the front is where the action is and the back is just information.
Thank God for John K! When John draws a back he always adds something of interest. The back should always contain new information, not visible from the front. It should always give us a new insight into the character.
Milt Gross (above) loved backs. He didn't worry about the details of technical draftsmanship, he just dove in and had a good time. Notice that his 3/4 back shots of the heads are really profile poses. Lots of cartoonists drew backs of the heads that way, sometimes even in animation. Nobody ever notices.
Me, I like to draw the back of the head dimensionally, even in print cartoons. There's something funny about it. T. S. Sullivant (above) was a master of that kind of humor.
Chester Gould might disagree. He hardly ever used back shots in Dick Tracy, in fact he'd go to ridiculous lengths to avoid them. How do you like the delicious awkwardness of the drawing above? I guess Gould couldn't draw backs, but who cares?
Al Capp picked up on Gould's back shot avoidance when he parodied Tracy in "Fearless Fosdick." Fosdick never gave us a look at the back of his head, even when the shot cried out for it, as it does above. Of course, Capp made the right decision, and so did Gould. It's funnier this way.