Fantastic Four #60 Page 4 Panel 4

Drawing in Three Dimensions with Mike Wieringo

A HyperAnalysis of “Fantastic Four” #60, Part 3

Where I talked a lot about the feeling of claustrophobia on page 3, things open up dramatically on page 4, as three of the four panels on this page take place outside the Fantastic Four’s “interdimensional transport” vehicle and in the vastness of, er, an interdimensional world.

Colors and Claustrophobia

We’re in open space now. Paul Mounts’ colors shine, crafting a bright purple space-scape (if there is such a thing) that fits with the book and looks good. It has plenty of blue and purple swirls, along with lots of yellow crackles that approximate lightning, or whatever the interdimensional version of that would be. The idea is that the Four (and their new friend, Shertzer) are journeying into another dimension that’s filled with life and energy. This isn’t just the void of open space. This feels more alive. It’s not the old BWS (“Black With Stars”) look. It’s more modern and imaginative. (We’ll start focusing on that with the next page in the next HyperAnalysis installment.)

To match that new openness, the art goes full bleed on this page for the first time in the issue. There’s only one panel that has borders drawn in on all four sides. Not only has the scene moved from an enclosed room to an open space, but so has the page layout. Neat trick.

Speaking of Mounts, I also like what he does with the Thing’s rocky exterior in the last panel. It has a very subtle texture to it. It’s not done with watercolors, but it almost feels that way. It’s just a mixture of yellow highlights and darker brown splotches that never call attention to themselves. They just work.  It’s the illusion of rock more than a texture of rock that’s been applied in Photoshop and mixed down.

Up and Down

Fantastic Four #60 Page 4 Tall Panel

The first panel is a vertical panel in which the action appears at first glance to be moving horizontally. Take another look, though. The action in this panel isn’t just the ship flying from left to right. No, it’s the ship flying out of that wormhole type thing at the top of the panel and flying off panel to the left before coming back across the panel at the bottom. The action really is happening more top-to-bottom than left-to-right. It’s almost an “S” swerve shape on the panel. It’s a bit of the best of both worlds, in that the main action happens vertically in a vertical panel, but the second action draws your eye across the page, left to right, to where the rest of the panels are.

To help you see it better, follow the yellow lightning. You’ll see that it wraps around the Fantastic Four’s transport, almost enveloping it. Those lines start in the upper right corner, flow down and to the left, before wrapping around the transport to the bottom right corner. That’s the path the transport is following.

It’s still a little confining, because the ship doesn’t have anywhere to go at the end of the panel . You usually leave a little room ahead of the object in motion to give that object someplace to go to. When you have a narrow panel like this with the object moving across the grain, so to speak, you limit that ability.

That’s why tall panels like this work best when the action or the composition is vertical. Either you use that shape to give the object a place to move up or down, or your composition is meant to show a vertical slice of something. In the first panel, your eye flows down the panel because that’s both the shape of the panel and the initial movement inside of it. When the ship cuts across at the end, it’s naturally the last thing you see. Even the word balloon comes before that…

I feel like I’m reaching a bit here to justify the shape and composition of this panel. It works, but you have to think about it more than it’s obvious. It’s not a bad panel, but it’s not the best.

Thankfully, the rest of the page is a cohesive piece of movement and design.

Left and Right: The Theory

Let’s talk a bit about drawing characters in three dimensional space.

A panel is a frame into another world.  We don’t think about it too much, but it’s where the camera analogy comes from. Any panel in a comic isn’t showing you the whole world. It’s showing you a select portion of it from a select angle to best tell the story.

When we talk about motion in comics, we tend to think in one direction.  As mentioned earlier, a tall panel works best when the action is happening up or down.  Wide panels are natural fits for left and right motions.

Left to right feels better because it’s the natural way of the Western world.  We read left to right, for the best example. Filmmakers will tell you, also, that left to right feels best.  You reverse action to be right to left when something is wrong or a big change is happening.


Left and Right: The Practice

On this page, the rest of the panels are moving left to right:

  • Sue Storm, on the left side of the panel, points with her arm to the right.
  • The alien ship/creature thing is moving left to right.
  • And the team is jumping out of their transport from the far left side of the panel all the way to the edge of the right side of the page.

It’s a rhythm like reading prose.  You read from left to right until you get to the end of the line, then you drop down to the next line to read left to right. It just feels natural.

I simplified that a bit.  Mike Wieringo did not.  He didn’t draw any of these three panels with action happening left to right. They’re all in a more three dimensional space, in small ways and large.

Sue Storm points to the right in Fantastic Four #60 by Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel

The smallest way is that second panel, where Sue points to the right.  She isn’t pointing strictly to the right.  Follow her arm.  She’s pointing it slightly towards the reader, out of frame. She’s ever so slightly pointing forward.  Follow her eyes and you’ll see it more.

In the next panel, the alien ship thingy is moving diagonally, but also towards the reader.  That isn’t the ship’s profile you’re looking at.  It’s at a three quarter angle.  The Fantastic Four’s transport ship is also zipping all over the place.  It’s going left to right in the end, but first zips back to the left, straight up, and then right and toward the reader.

Everything Comes Together In That Last Panel

The last panel is the big one. That’s the one you see at the top of this page. There’s so many examples of three dimensional movement in this panel that I had to stare at it for a while to work it all out in my mind.

The Thing is angled to be jumping towards the reader, feet first.  He’s leaning back, knees up.  There’s a zig zag shape to his body when you follow it through from the fists to the elbows to the torso, then back out to the knees, back in to the ankles, and out at the feet.  The elbows and knees protrude towards the reader. Thing is symmetrical, which can get boring, but is still very cool looking.  It’s a great pose at a great angle.

Reed Richards has a zig zag, too, as his body stretches up out of the transport, down towards the bottom of the panel, and then down and away before folding back up up at an angle. The key here is that he’s not just moving left to right while twisting his body, but that he’s constantly moving from the back of the frame towards the front. He’s jumping out at the reader.

The Human Torch is the straightest of them all, but if you follow his trail behind him, you’ll see something that’s almost an “S” shape wrapping around (off-panel) the F4 transport ship.  He’s also the furthest one back, but he’s still flying slightly towards the reader.

If you take Torch out of it, there’s also a continuous line that forms from that ship through Reed and over to Thing from his fists out to his toes.  It’s like one big wavy line moving not just left to right, but also up and down, AND back to front.

Composition wise, you can also tell Thing is closest to the reader because he’s the largest in the frame.  That’s not just because of his normal rocky size.  It’s a proportion thing. That’s also because he’s the same size as the entire ship we just saw him sitting in during the previous page.  His upper arm breaks in front of the panel border above him and his left knee would like break through a panel border if there was one to the right side.

Reed’s left arm is held way out to the side, behind Thing and poking out the other side.  This simple overlap keeps the perspective in check to show you that Reed is, indeed, behind him.  And Reed’s body overlaps Johnny’s flame trail, putting him in front there.  There’s no better way to show dimension than overlapping.

Reed is also the easiest to see moving at the reader, because his long body gives it away.  It gets wider as it gets closer, from a tiny pinch of a thing coming out of the ship to a slightly wider waist at the bottom of the panel where it changes direction to expand out slightly to Reed’s full chest and shoulders width.

It’s a great composition where everyone is moving differently according to their own powers, but also in a way that takes advantage of all three dimensions.  That’s what impresses me the most.


Let Me Show You

There’s so much to talk about in that fourth panel.  I made a video about it, where I could draw over the panel and explain what I’m seeing so that hopefully you’ll see and appreciate it a little more, too.



Coming Up Next

The Fantastic Four fights some nasty looking bugs, use their powers, and squabble in interesting ways. And Sue Storm talks about how sexy big brains are.  Really.



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