Friday, 16 February 2007

BIG HEADS & fancy frocks

I've been showing a few pages from Chapter 5 of FROM HELL over the last three weeks (jan 25, 29, feb 2, 11, 12). As you've seen, this was a chapter where we thought hard about the differences between the well-off and the downtrodden. I pondered at some length over how different society must have looked then. It's a matter of historical record that Britain's officialdom didn't realize how far the relative health of the classes had drifted apart until they were drafting men in 1914 at the outbreak of World War 1. It was observed with some concern that the enlisted men were of a smaller stature than the officers. This gave rise to a more thorough health system in the years after the war, including free milk at schools etc.
It's interesting how since then, there is always some scientist with his eye on the height chart: "Americans used to stand tall as the people with the highest average height in the world. However, since the middle of this century, several Scandinavian countries have moved ahead and now have taller citizens on average than the United States."
"MEN FROM EARLY MIDDLE AGES WERE NEARLY AS TALL AS MODERN PEOPLE"
The guy in the above link is measuring old bones, but from my point of view as an artist, it's not necessary to go that far. The eyes will do it. As every artist must or ought to know (and there is evidence to suggest they might not) the head to body ratio in a figure will tell you what height the person is supposed to be. (I couldn't tell you how many heads or whatever, that's for people who depend on rulers rather than eyes). The body grows more and at a faster rate than the head, therefore the ratio of body to head will always be increasing during the period of growth until it halts at its final relationship depending on total height. As a kid in the mid sixties I was fascinated with Jack Kirby's concept of the figure; his heroes were big, bold and blocky. But as I came to look at a lot of classical art and even other comic book art, it struck me that Kirby's figures, especially in the early sixties and especially when he was galloping through a job, had their own particular proportions. The figure of Giant Man (above right) in Avengers#4 from 1964 has not been conceived as a gigantic being, but rather as one of small stature simply scaled up. If you take away everything else in the picture, the figure would be read as a fit and well built adult male of around five foot one inch. Kirby probably noticed this tendency in his work, because it submerges as the decade advances. Later I came to know that Jack was a wee fellow himself, and this undoubtedly figured in his concept of ideal proportions. And so it should.
It would be difficult to not show Jackie Estrada's famous photo of Jack Kirby and Alan Moore together at this juncture (and I do so with permission). Even allowing for a natural distortion of perspective, it's the sweetest way to make the point.
I'm not saying I thought about this a great deal while drawing From Hell, but it was certainly a constant in my thinking that the world of Victorian London would look and feel very strange to those, or most of us, living at the far end of the twentieth century. Another question was: just how filthy would it have been? By many contemporary accounts, sickeningly so. "Streets were fog-and smoke-cursed, and the humbler houses noisome... the park was impregnated with a sort of black stuff left by winter smoke, and St. Paul's Cathedral was so besooted that it seemed built of coal". I was quite happy with the first printing of the big From Hell in 1999 because, in addition to all my efforts to contrive an art style that was dirty and sooty, Preney's printing job had increased the effect; you couldn't handle the book much without moving some of that soot around in the margins
Talking about those coloured dresses the other day got me thinking back to my childhood in Glasgow, another big sooty city, even as late as the early 1960s. Everybody dressed in economical nondescript colours unless they were going to a party (or else to bed; pyjamas could be gaudy). But I have to interrogate myself to ascertain whether the absence of colour in my memory is due to the tv and newspapers of the time all being in black and white. Bright dresses are what they wore in films based on Broadway musicals that your auntie would love, like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. (pictured) I was too busy watching Cagney and Bogart in noir, where everybody, including angels, had dirty faces. Even kids comics were in black and white in Britain. Discovering Marvel in the mid sixties was like opening the skylight of the universe.
I recall a line from Chabon's Kavalier and Clay, but I can't locate it again so this may be inexact. It's about the colorful costumes of the superheroes, created in a period when kids were dressed like small adults: "...created by people not given leave to dress themselves. No doubt about it, this was kids' stuff." The heroes don't dress like that so much now, or at least not in the movies, and kids now dress themselves, and the world is now run by kids, or at least the world now permits adults to remain being kids. It's just that their heads are out of proportion.

* * * *
And speaking of wee men with big heads, an email from Hayley Campbell, who types like archie the cockroach: 'oh by the way, it was revealed yesterday in a tabloid interview with robbie williams' ex-lover that he was 'obsessed with googling himself and wouldn't leave the house until he'd done it'.

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15 Comments:

Blogger Christopher Moonlight said...

It is a young persons world. Teaching kids has made that very clear to me. It is only those who grow old in their minds who seek to crush it under their thumbs. Of course, I could be wrong, but it seems to me that everything we put into print, is really there for the young to discover. There in, our works (with our souls in them) will always be new, and our heads can always be big.

16 February 2007 12:29:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous All Dazzlin' said...

Was the ex. male or female?

16 February 2007 5:39:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous John C said...

Read Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor for a good picture of the chilling reality of life in the streets in 1860. Mayhew went around interviewing everyone about their work so you get a quite incredible first-hand picture of the metropolis. The poor were invariably dressed in rags and covered in grime since they didn't have money to spend on a public bath.

I was taught that the head goes into the body eight times. A useful rule of thumb but it tends to make your figures look tall. Another useful guide: the top of the ear is usually level with the eyebrow while the bottom of the ear is usually level with the nostrils. But this applies more to men who have larger ears than women.

16 February 2007 8:19:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous tita said...

and the world is now run by kids, or at least the world now permits adults to remain being kids

The latter sounds like Grups (I wonder if anyone is proudly categorized into one)

16 February 2007 11:24:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger HemlockMan said...

I do believe there is fossil evidence that wherever ancient homo sapiens had access to lots and lots and lots of meat, they got really tall. Seems that I have some books around here with examples of some really tall skeletons being uncovered from our ancestors from dates when we were doing a lot of hunting, not much gathering, and no cultivation.

Nice of you to comment on King Kirby. I have a soft spot in this flinty heart for the memory of Jack Kirby. I think I started grinding my teeth back when Marvel wouldn't give him back his art until he signed away his rights to everything he created for Marvel (apparently that means everything except for Dr. Strange and Spider-Man).

17 February 2007 8:31:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

John
Eight?
see, that sounds too many to me. I see the young'uns are pushing it up to thirteen. There's one book out there, how to draw comic book women (forget the author's name... my sone used to use his books to teach himself the basics), that says they are likely to look dumpy at the ordinary measurememnts, so don't be afraid to stretch them out.
I had a young guy assisting me a couple of years back (he now laughs about this), just for a couple of superhero jobs I wanted to clear away quickly. He put a background in one place that immediately to my eyes looked all wrong. he said well, it must be right because he used the ruler. What? I yelled, the ruler's in charge so we can all relax and stop paying attention!?

The Mayhew book is one that I looked at dutifully when we started From hell. I should go back and spend more time with it.

James,
Yes he was the KIng all right.

Eddie

19 February 2007 5:05:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous deepika said...

hello

20 February 2007 5:28:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous carlossoakes said...

The French publisher is Relie, and I don't see anything about their status on-line.

20 February 2007 8:05:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous guykkendall said...

The French publisher is Relie, and I don't see anything about their status on-line.

20 February 2007 8:19:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous guykkendall said...

The French publisher is Relie, and I don't see anything about their status on-line.

20 February 2007 8:42:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous guykkendall said...

The French publisher is Relie, and I don't see anything about their status on-line.

20 February 2007 8:58:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous guykkendall said...

The French publisher is Relie, and I don't see anything about their status on-line.

20 February 2007 10:11:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous guykkendall said...

The French publisher is Relie, and I don't see anything about their status on-line.

20 February 2007 10:25:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous guykkendall said...

The French publisher is Relie, and I don't see anything about their status on-line.

20 February 2007 5:31:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous guykkendall said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

20 February 2007 5:40:00 pm GMT-5  

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