Friday, August 21, 2009

Comics art imitating life

Several times over the years I've had some cases of deja vu while seeing images on television. I was able to place them fairly quickly, though, in some cases instantly, as things I had seen in comic books long ago.

One time, several years ago, I saw an old clip of some disaster in some other country, with the announcer in the foreground talking into a microphone and dirt and debris behind him, and an old man kept coming into view a few feet back. The old man had his mouth open wide in an expression of despair, the mouth a tall rectangle with a few ragged teeth showing and a lot of them gone. He kept coming back on camera, evidently wanting to be part of the broadcast, always with the same expression, always looking the same. I was astonished. It was the same figure I had seen in the comics, drawn by Jack Kirby probably, probably in the 1960s or early '70s. I had thought it was terribly exaggerated when I saw it in the comic book, the mouth open far beyond anything in real life, with lots of artistic license, but here was the original for it, what must have been the original, and it looked just like it.

There was also a case where I saw, again several years ago, a scene in a movie in which some people were sitting down with their backs to each other, maybe tied up but I'm not sure now, with the tops of their legs seeming unusually long and sticking out too far. I had seen the same image, with Sgt. Fury and some of his commandos I think, tied up in a circle with their backs to something, back in the mid 1960s. I had thought at the time that the legs were much too long, that their length was terribly exaggerated, but they looked the same in real life.

Another time, several years ago but perhaps a little more recent than the others, I saw a replay of an Elvis Presley concert, from the late '60s probably, or maybe a little earlier. In one scene, his arms were stretching out in opposite directions, and his hand was reaching out toward the camera, fingers spread, his face turned and looking up toward the camera imploringly as he sang. The cloth of his sleeve was covered in wrinkles because of the arm stretching out and upward like that, and the fingers large and foreshortened, the fingertips looking square and seeming to form an arc with the thumb. I realized with wonder that I had seen the same thing years ago, in a comic where the Human Torch was having trouble with his powers and trying to light up without much success. It had seemed exaggerated again, the extreme foreshortening and the large hand with the squarish fingers in an arc, and the extreme wrinkling of the sleeve, an unusual thing for a superhero costume and it seemed a vastly overdone effect. Even the anguished face was there.

Then, a few years ago, I saw part of an outdoor concert from the mid '60s, with Peter, Paul and Mary among the performers there. The camera tended to stay on Mary as she sang, looking up at her face, which was in the sunlight. Her face had dark shadows in places, and because of the angle of viewing looked more squarish. The wind was blowing, blowing strands of blond hair across her face as she sang, the hair making more shadows, strands of shadows on her face. I realized, again with astonishment, that I had seen the same image in the comics, probably for Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman, another member of the Fantastic Four.

I'm not suggesting that there's anything wrong with doing this. It's common for artists to use models, and common for artists to take inspiration from real life and from what they see around them. It's just interesting to know what the artist(s) in these cases used, and that the extra effort was put forth, even when a comic was involved. And also that, though some of the drawings seemed exaggerated, they were in fact drawn from life.

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