Vicious Vixen
Vicious Vixen.

“Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.”
—Martin Scorsese.

I’d been experimenting with similar poses where a woman stands with the weight on one leg and her hip to one side. It’s a pose that makes the symmetrical figure asymmetrical and thus more interesting than standing straight. I’ve found I usually make the pose too stiff and straight out of fear of drawing the ribs and hips further than the figure can bend, but the human body (even an out of shape/grossly overweight body) is actually pretty flexible and can naturally form an ‘S’ shape—in fact, many a models and actresses who try to be sexy by striking such a pose, I feel, push their hip too far to the side and look, well, silly.

Human expression is anchored in subtlety [most evident in drawing faces (the eyes in particular)], so often times an inch is the difference between emotion. With that in mind, I’d been working on trying to nail down a pose for a very different, more timid, character from a story I’m currently working on. I started out drawing the ribcage and hips—the major pivot/balancing points for her weight—then drew legs and her head and by then it was apparent the pose did not fit the intended character. However, my mind always has half a dozen unwritten stories, and in one of those tales I found a character for which these curves would work perfectly. So, I drew in the arms, the sword (side note: I like the behind the back, almost bored cockiness of the pose—she‘s such a minx), changed the hair, and came up with an outfit spur of the moment (bare-shoulders: a dead giveaway.)

At this point the drawing gained a direction and almost immediately started diverting from it. This character is a very tough, very powerful, warrior/mage, and she’s actually the antagonist for the story. A sympathetic antagonist; but she’s still the bad guy. I knew she’d be on a battle field with her victims (or what’s left of them) laying at her feet, the landscape ablaze in the background, and figures from the army cheering on her (hopeful) demise as the next soldier steps up to challenge her.

... and, yeah, almost none of that gets conveyed in the drawing.

The figures really look like they’re cheering for her (and not against her as I intended.) And that’s where Mr. Scorsese’s quote comes in. Let’s look at the end result and ask the question: what is in the frame? Because, like movies, that’s the only thing that ultimately matters. In this frame, we have 1. our villainess and 2. people cheering. Thus, we assume it’s for her. I realized too late that, given the composition, their poses should be more along the lines of fists held in rage, heads bowed in despair, fists clenched at their sides—that would communicate their displeasure with the only figure in foreground (well, technically, “middle ground”, but ... oh nevermind.)

Originally, there was going to be another figure in the extreme foreground—someone to take her down—which would help communicate the original intent somewhat (although, it still would not be clear who the men in the background were cheering for.) Unfortunately, since this drawing started out as practice for drawing a pose, I placed her in the absolute most inconvenient spot for any kind of composition that would accommodate a showdown. The cliché “between-the-gunfighter’s legs” approach? Nope. She’s too high in the frame. Either half of her would be hidden or you’d see two awkwardly placed boots on either side in such close up you couldn’t tell what they were supposed to be. What about an “over-the shoulder” composition? Again, no good. I’d drawn the skull already which meant the shoulder perspective would make her opponent appear twelve inches tall. How about putting the mage-killer closer to her off to one side? Still nope. She’s right smack in the middle, and that would unbalance the hell out of it. How about two mage killers flanking her? I could have gotten away with that, but the figures would’ve been like two pillars on either side of the frame which would give the image more of a symmetrical (boring) feel—plus two-on-one would have the psychological impact of auto-shifting sympathy to her on account of her being outnumbered, and that sympathy would be projected back into the drawing and the crowd would then still be cheering for her. So, rather than ruin the composition, I simply accepted the drawing’s unintended meaning.

I’d rather have a good misfire, then a crappy bull’s eye.

Ideally, if I’d given the image any forethought, I’d have drawn it so that her opponent was unsheathing a sword, and you saw her through the space formed by his body and arm (in essence, his torso, arm, and blade would form a triangle around her) which would require her to be smaller and off-center. The figures in the background would still have to be visibly booing, jeering, and heckling because, the more I think about it, the crowd’s gestures will be attributed as a reaction to her so long as she’s the only figure in full detail.

I’ve said many many times that I love interesting juxtapositions, and story-wise and drawing-wise one of my favorites is women and things not stereotypically associated with them (which might explain why all my stories have female protagonists). A female protagonist often means instant sympathy on account of a few factors including women being the physically weaker sex which gives a greater sense of vulnerability and being more associated with emotional expression (whether deserved or true, it is the mass perception which drives virtually all narrative mediums). This is why horror generally means a female protagonist and why in so many stories women are regulated to damsel in distress status. But I digress. I wanted to go against the grain and have a beautiful sexy woman whose ass you wanted to kick but can’t because she’s too damn powerful. However, as noted above, that didn’t work out. The crowd looks like it’s cheering for her, and I suspect every viewer will want to see her giving out the ass kickings instead of receiving one. (Maybe I should have put a mutilated puppy in there ... nevermind.)

What did make it into the picture (... that was intended)? Well, we have a beautiful sexy woman who is extremely violent. Women are capable of violence, of course, but this kind of violence is in the vein of Conan the Barbarian—she didn’t just beat down some guy, she decapitated him with a frickin’ sledgehammer. She didn’t just zap a guy with a spell, she left nothing but a skull (and two roasted eyeballs). Going back to the Scorsese quote: the shield, corpse, and skull juxtaposed to her would imply she was the reason behind the carnage.

And you know what else? Fragile, delicate, vulnerable, damsel in distress archetype this girl ain’t. She’s here. She’s pissed. And God help anyone who fucks with her.

I wanted an object in the extreme foreground to give a sense of depth (which my drawings frequently lack), hence the skull, which at the time was the only thing I could think of. After it was too late to change anything, I realized a helmet would have been the better choice. I could still communicate the girl’s viciousness by having a severed head inside the helmet (which paradoxically, would be more gruesome even though most of the head would be hidden by the helmet). Skulls have been the go-to symbol for evil/death for so long that it’s become parody-level generic appropriate for even Spongebob Squarepants. It’s neither interesting nor intimidating anymore.

The funny thing is, I knew at the time I wanted to have her opponent in this drawing somewhere—so I knew it before I drew the skull—but I just didn’t think the damn thing through enough to realize, “wait a minute, this conflicts with something else.” But, hey, that’s spontaneous doodles for ya.

—Jay Wilson