Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Human Proportions in Comics

Warning: Today features an open letter to comic book illustrators that discusses the female form. It also contains a nude drawing. If this subject makes you uncomfortable, you may want to skip today.

Dear Comic Book Illustrators,

I highly recommend that you take a figure drawing class at your local college or art museum. You will learn about the human skeletal system, musculature, and the skin that covers it all. Most importantly, you will learn about proportion. The reason I suggest this is because it appears to me that you really need to work on drawing the female form.

Yes, I know that comic book characters are often exaggerations of regular people, but why on Earth do you always have to exaggerate your female characters’ breasts? First of all, I’d like to point out that breasts are not perfect spheres. If they were, how the heck would they attach to the body? I know that if you’ve never seen a woman, and your roommate is modeling for you by stuffing cantaloupes down his shirt, you could easily make this mistake. Now, if you’ve already figured out that perfect spheres wouldn’t be able to connect to the human body, you’ll be able to make the next logical step by realizing that breasts are not perfect half spheres either. Take a class and look at some breasts so you know the correct shape.

(Drawing by Fanboy Wife from a figure drawing class.)

You can’t just observe the models’ breasts though because the instructor might think you’re a pervert and because you really need to focus on proportion. Proportion is an extremely important Design Principle. I want you to notice that women do not have breasts as big as their heads. See how the sizes compare to the rest of their bodies. Don’t argue with me and tell me that you don’t need proportion when drawing superheroes because they are supposed to be superhuman. Over exaggerated muscles on a male superhero are not comparable to over exaggerated breasts on a female superhero. Large muscles show his strength, whereas large breasts show something else entirely. Unless you consistently draw all of your male characters with huge testicles, then your argument is not valid.

Additionally, if you’re going to draw very lean and muscular women, you need to understand that they have smaller breasts. Larger women tend to have larger chests. Breast size has a lot to do with body type and body fat. If you’re going to draw a skinny superhero, then stick to it. If you want a female superhero with a large chest, then you need to draw her larger in other areas as well. Besides, you should try to use a variety of body types in your comics according to Scott McCloud’s Making Comics. It helps the viewer tell the characters apart with greater ease.

Seriously, sign up for a class and learn to draw from real models. You need to have these basic skills down before you start exaggerating anyway. It will make you a stronger artist, it will add variety to your characters, and you might just stop alienating potential readers who would like to look at something other than monstrous breasts.

Fanboy Wife

P.S. Women who draw humongous breasts on all of their characters are not exempt from this advice, especially since they should know better since they have female bodies. Really, be a rebel and draw a variety of body types. You might pick up some female fans this way.


  1. Bravo! Maybe the artists will finally draw characters that have all the other kinds of sex appeal. Why are the so one dimensional?

    I love your posts. I hope they help your sanity as much as they soothe mine.

  2. Amen to that! You hit the nail on the head, they've never seen a woman.
    Incidentally, have you ever seen any of Joseph Michael Linsner's comics? He draws big breasts, but he does it proportionally. Admittedly, he still defies gravity, but less so than most.

  3. way to go fangirl - go get em - (although, part of me would like to see the male action figures with exagerated parts!! LOL)

  4. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. With a huge side order of yes. And when you've finished with that side order, there's a deep pit of yes to dive into.

  5. I draw comics for a living, and all I can do is agree with Pete and add another couple yesses.

  6. Regarding breasts, some females do have breasts larger than their heads, even as most don't. My sister, for example, does - and is quite fit, if she's not an athlete (she's more strong than quick or agile, but meets the Presidential standards). On the other hand, my girlfriend, who is half an inch taller, has breasts smaller in volume than her hands. (Breast size, of course, is not body type.)

    I find it interesting that discussions of superhero body type are generally concerned with concepts of beauty - references to "other kinds of sex appeal" are very common. The bodies classically (though often not presently, due to issues of artist skill) depicted in superhero comic books represent idealized forms, not sexual forms.

    The artistic male ideal form is v-shaped, the artistic ideal female form hourglass-shaped. The "banana"- "apple"- and "pear"- shaped female forms, and the v-less male form are not considered ideal (they are, however, common in reality).

    The ideal form is tall, and slightly longer-legged (by about 10%) than a real person. It has two distinct variations: large and powerful (somewhat taller as well as more muscular, known as "beefy" in males) and trim and fit. On examination we find these types define every classic member of the JLA:

    Large and powerful (females):
    Wonder Woman

    Large and powerful (males):
    Martian Manhunter

    Trim and fit (females):
    Black Canary

    Trim and fit (males):
    The Flash
    Green Arrow
    Green Lantern

    It's somewhat unreasonable to expect the appearance of other body types (remember, breast size does not represent body type), given the long artistic history and hard mathematical aesthetics of the body types described above. Ironically, given that the complaints issued are usually about females, only females have traditionally seen another body type represented in comic book art: the fit average female (5'4", slim - still hourglass - trim, and fit; essentially, a slightly taller Vera Ellen). The Golden Age Hawkgirl fell into this category. (The Golden Age Wonder Woman was trim and fit - 5'6" - not large and powerful 6'0".)

  7. Jack Kirby started the tradition of drawing heads that were disproportionately small.

    In his book "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" (co-authored with Stan Lee), he says that a normal human adult is 6-and-a-half heads high, but a HERO needs to be of HEROIC proportions and should thus be drawn 8 heads high.