I may not draw a lot these days, but it’s no real exaggeration to say I think about drawing all the time. What I think about — or have in back of mind at least — particularly is the problem of representing human form, not so much in the sense of portrayal and its possibilities, but in the sense of iconography, visual language, linear phraseology. It’s what makes comics and cartooning so compelling for me, I believe, in spite of my general feeling of disappointment with the medium’s evolution.

When I was a kid, I think I was about equally drawn to drawing in this respect (though I couldn’t have articulated it) and in respect of pure technique — the realism end of the technique spectrum, mainly. The balance began to shift in adolescence somewhere, though. Technique will always get my attention, but the ‘language’ problem is an ever more under-the-skin thing, an itch more than an interest, whether I’m drawing or not, whether I’ve got some image or artwork in front of me or not. It’s pretty well taken over movie- and TV-watching now. More today than a decade ago, it preoccupies me in public and even in intimate situations, persistent in mental background. It’s certainly what pulls me back to a bit of drawing here and there when I’d otherwise be motivated by lack of practice to leave it alone. It’s behind little doodled profiles & 3/4-heads like the one here, behind the H.B. doodles — partly in virtue of Mignola’s path as ‘iconographer,’ partly in virtue of his character’s well-known peculiar visual appeal. (Doodles, I call them, because undirected, never from reference, always throwaways — like noodling on an instrument, fooling with phrasing.)

For me, at least, this human iconography problem is one thing with male form and another with female form. Not wholly separate, obviously, but not the same thing. That’s something I’d like to explore. I’ll add that it isn’t just that thoughts unrelated to representation & symbol intrude when you (or I at any rate) approach form that you find interesting for other reasons. Anyone who’s worked from the nude in studio knows that whatever intrusive potential those extraneous impulses and ideas have, just the act of putting mark to paper can have extraordinary (I don’t say absolute) power to suppress them — a power easily cultivated, if you want it. On the other hand, it’s not as though this divergence I’m suggesting has nothing at all to do with sex, either. I’m talking about a complex thing, many factors at once. Factors to be teased out and discussed another time, though.

2 Replies to “Figure”

  1. “Girls draw girls, guys draw guys” has certainly been my experience. Expanding the … willingness seems to be something a young adult either does, or doesn’t. Regardless, for most people it requires intention. I’d be curious to hear a “pro” address this.

  2. ‘Girls draw girls, guys draw guys’ is a piece of the puzzle for sure — a piece that I definitely know in my experience, and one that goes right to childhood and ‘language acquisition,’ moreover, and links then the questions about learning to draw with other childhood & development questions — all kinds of self-presentation stuff, for instance, and even purely verbal ‘acquisition.’ And inevitable exceptions to the rule — e.g. the kid into clothing, stereotypically a gay boy, who picks up fashion-style illustration early — are just as interesting a subject in this respect.

    I’m with you, though: I’d like to hear what some of the more self-observant & articulate top-tier comic book artists might have to say. In our day (as compared to, say, a century ago), I have to think, it’s comic book artists (and the rest of the ‘character design’ trade in entertainment) who really tangle early and long, and most self-consciously, with the learning challenges this male-female boundary poses.

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