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Submitted on
December 15, 2013


15 (who?)
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I have often been asked about my artistic influences, and for my thoughts regarding instructional books for the aspiring comic book artist.  After providing an answer that also contained some advice and opinions, the question was raised narrowing the focus to my disdain for the anatomy books of Burne Hogarth.  Now, my purpose is not to personally attack the man whose past professional work I have respected.  I offer my OPINION based on my own learning experiences (which did include Hogarth's books), and what I consider to be a strictly honest evaluation as it applies to the question.  I apologize if it comes off like I'm slamming somebody.  But in the interest of possibly benefiting a few of the curious, I see no point in withholding nor varnishing my opinion.

As I intimated, I studied the Hogarth anatomy books around the time when I was about to embark on a professional career illustrating for DC Comics.  There are indeed useful lessons to be learned, for sure, especially if you can decipher the pedantic text.  But, in looking back, I think it's a profound mistake to ever let them ever be more than a superficial reference tool.  Use the drawings as a map to skeletal structure, and for placement of the various muscle groups.  But try to avoid applying these verbatim to your own figure work.  Never emulate that grotesque, stiff structure, or your art will be anything BUT 'dynamic.'

If you'll allow this quasi-tangent, something has always puzzled me, and even irked me.  The default viewpoint of many superhero comics artists from the Silver Age onward seemed to be that every super-powered character must be likened to Greek gods, their bodies almost directly carved from the same marble as the sculpted statues of ancient times. One popular artist's figures come to mind, which, while impressively drawn, were all of monstrous physique, even while appearing at rest (not unlike the drawings of Hogarth in that instructional book).  Personally, I think that's the wrong approach for story, and story should always be the primary concern, if not the primary motivation (Yes, everybody wants to be a superstar, and have their art stand out. But whenever you seek to promote your own art to the exclusion of all else, you degrade the storytelling medium which you profess to love in the first place.).

Why should a character who uses an alien power ring also have the physique of Schwarzenegger? Why should a being who relies on super-speed to thwart villains possess a physical bulk reminiscent of The Hulk?  Because that's what sells?  Then you're a shill more than an artist.   Just own it.  No, a variety of body shapes and sizes, with physiques constructed according to the specifics of each character and their traits is the beginning of sophisticated character design.  And evidence of this sort of imagination is a mark of the truly serious comic book artist, cartoonist, animator, storyboard artist, game designer, and every commercial illustrator overall.

Burne Hogarth's anatomy books should only serve as a moderately-useful guide, and never as the primary or solitary influence for the aspiring illustrator. Let those books be the "gateway" to higher understanding and better study, to wider creativity, and deeper thought.

And, as always, your mileage may vary.  Cheers! :)

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Ernest-Phillips Dec 23, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Sprinters are pretty muscular. The Flash isn't an endurance runner.  His body is powerful , yet agile, but not frail.   I get where you are coming from. I really do.  I wish that more female characters displayed more noticeable muscularity though.  Big boobs and skinny arms, make not a super hero. Eh, I honestly did learn something from this post. I will forever carry this knowledge with me in my future endeavors. 
Jerome-K-Moore Dec 23, 2013  Professional Filmographer
Since when is The Flash not an endurance runner?  The man has run around the entire planet!   He is a runner, period.  Sprints, long-distance, marathon...  Whatever it takes.
Yes, today's Olympic-level sprinters tend to be more muscular these days, due to different, more modern approaches to overall fitness.  The long-distance runners tend to be more lean. 
The Flash is less about athleticism, however.  Let's not get that twisted.  He attained his abilities in an unnatural way, a freak scientific accident (These days, they attribute it to his ability to tap into something called the "Speed Force," which I feel is just over-thinking.).  So, he doesn't need to train his body like that of an athlete.  He can eat what he wants because his metabolism has changed.  Really, it makes no sense to draw The Flash with a bodybuilder's bulk.  That doesn't mean he should look frail, by any means.  Why make the presumption that if it isn't one extreme, it must be another?
RJHalfbreed Dec 22, 2013  Student Traditional Artist
Yes to everything you said! Hogarth is a great reference among many. It's what my professor described as someone who's attained "sophistication with simplicity". :) Mike Mattesi's books are also a great reference for the phase of exaggeration and stylistic drawing for variation. ^^
Our Prof. Referenced his books on anatomy also.  However we used Andrew Loomis in class.  
RJHalfbreed Mar 4, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
I haven't heard of Loomis....I probably have though since it rings a bell. Lol Either way, I'll look him up. Thanks!
chrismunro Dec 16, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
This makes me think of the difference between American and Japanese comics. Manga characters tend to have different builds. American characters tend to look the same. If someone like Oda or Kubo or Takei drew Green Lantern, they'd draw him scrawny and unimposing. Takei is my favorite because his Shaman King characters have wildly different body types. 
Jerome-K-Moore Dec 17, 2013  Professional Filmographer
Well, it can also be a matter of how much cartoony flavor is introduced.  A style that is more cartoony tends to exploit variation of shapes as an enhancement to the fun.  American superhero comics, for the most part, subsist on a rather realistic style of rendering which precludes much exaggeration.
chrismunro Dec 20, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
True. I think that's why I favor artists like Humberto Ramos and Joe Mad. I notice artists with Europe influences add in more exaggeration than most American artists too.
Personally it's Chris Hart books I can't stand.  He gets other artists to do his artwork for him in his books, and when he doesn't you can totally tell because his own work is so far beneath the artists who do work for him.  
Persphonefallen Dec 16, 2013  Student General Artist
It's one of the reasons I'm not a big comic book fan no variety on body's or looks. 
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