Hands – love them or hate them, it’s pretty hard to tell a story without drawing them.
If I mention them to other artists, a common response is “Ugh! I hate drawing hands, they’re so hard!”. They’re very expressive, second only to faces I’d say, and we can instantly tell when they’re wrong thanks to a lifetime of looking at them as we communicate and work with each other. There’s a rejection letter to Jim Lee from Marvel doing the rounds on various comic book sites, where the editor tells him that he needs to learn how to draw hands, so its fair to say that they give everyone trouble. I’ve always quite liked them, because they can add a lot to a figure drawing. I’ll often see a character’s hands before I start, and pose them doing something such as operating a tool (like the food drawings a few weeks back) or a simple gesture like sweeping hair back from the face, pointing or gesturing at the camera, or even communicating some attitude, like a feminine cocked wrist or a balled fist.
Think about your own hands. What do you do with them when you’ve just opened a present? What about when you’re arguing a point with someone and just realised that they’re right?
So, I decided early on that all the covers of Universe Gun would feature hands as the primary image. How can I encapsulate the story inside with hands? What common images of hands have we already seen? There’s a classic group shot of everyone’s hands forming a pact that often appears at the end of an origin arc for a team. The Fantastic Four did it, so do the Doom Patrol – in both cases the reader’s invited to identify each character just by their hands. There’s the classic Lady of the Lake hand, holding an object of power. There’s the Uncle Sam “Your country needs you” point, although that one’s always accompanied by a face.
The first Universe Gun cover shows a pair of hands coyly touching pinkies, about to maybe hold each other more firmly. Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the strip, but one of the key developments in the first issue is Princess Amtora starting a relationship with herself. I’ve framed Mars within a couple of pages as a sexually tolerant society, with gay couples and threesomes existing side by side with heterosexual pairs without anyone batting an eye. Enter a young self-replicator, who’s got a unique kink of her own that she’s really quite coy about admitting to. Against a backdrop of paired/tripled figures representing the Great Database’s calculations, I tried to capture the start of this surreptitious hand holding on the cover. It’s Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem applied to sex – no matter what’s tolerated, you can still come up with something a little bit more unusual and uncomfortable.
So here’s the second in the series of cover’s! Issue #2 kicks off next week, and introduces Coriolis Boy and Star Girl 3000. Here I wanted the focus on them holding hands. They’re united against a strange and possibly hostile world. They’re both demonstrating their respective powers with gestures with their free hands, but both free hands also show their personalities. Star Girl 3000’s energy charged direct point is hostile and aggressive (helped by her mouth) while Coriolis Boy’s twisting hand also looks hesitant and unsteady, like a gestured “Er…”. And finally, they’re referring back to all those other supers who had to hold hands to use their powers – Fenris, the children of Baron Strucker, and of course the Wonder Twins from DC’s Superfriends.
Yeah, these two are twins. They’re also the most superhero-ish characters, and also the teams token white people. All of which will make more sense as Issue 2 unfolds over the next few months.
While I’m here, I’ll show you work in progress for the cover to #3. It’s the Lady of the Lake/Excalibur shot, but with the hand holding an item associated more with slapstick comedy. Juxtapositon of the ridiculous and the sublime, high and low, a goddess rising from the trash. I’m drawing this sequence right now, it will all make sense I hope. I’ve got the next two covers planned out in my head, after that, I’m not sure what to do, but it will definitely involve hands.
I’ll end with a quick couple of words on feet.
Feet are like noses, they’re a body feature that sticks into the camera when you see a figure front on. Consequently, they’re hard to draw when making up a sketchy figure even with their shoes on. Rob Leifield, one of the most commercially successful comic artists ever has a reputation for not being able to draw feet, and they’re easy to avoid because they often fall naturally off frame. Like noses though, they’re not a mysterious shape that cannot be drawn, and a basic flipper shape for shoes isn’t that hard to master.
Can feet be expressive? Just drawing a pair of feet, what can you say? Knock-kneed turned in feet suggest weakness, lack of confidence or grogginess. Weight on one foot with the other foot curling around the ankle, and one knee in front of another gives a squeamish sense of disgust. A wide square stance exudes strength, and so on. Here’s a pair of feet that clearly mean business – Frank Quitely drawing the Midnighter in The Authority. He’s doing the tough-guy-walking-away-from-an-explosion thing. You get the idea that the carnage he’s just caused hasn’t even slowed him down by the steady tread of his feet, and you can see even by just his feet that he isn’t looking back. Look over your shoulder, see what you feet do – that isn’t happening here.
Writer/artist Eddie Campbell gives the advice that you should see your character’s feet once per page. This is great advice (and one that I really need to pay attention to) because he’s talking not about close ups of feet, but longshots, which re-establish where the action is, and push the artist into drawing background and giving the close-ups context. All those things that we lazy artists hate to do.
See you in seven, sticky-fingered shoe-fetishists!
Dr Mike 2000, 11 May 2014