It is said by art scholars that the portrait is probably the most dificult task for an artist. Painting a still life or a landscape is reasonably easy, painting an everyday scene or one composed of several characters is something more dificult, but the portrait is the maximum expression for both the portrayed and the author as it equally reflects a lot from both of them. A lot has been written already and will still be written about this portrait:
… Wait a minute… This is a comicbook blog, what are we talking about?
A little patience, I’ll get to the point in a minute.
During an artist’s life he can produce thousands of pages, hundreds of thousands of panels and huge ammounts of characters in all posible postures, and while in lots of panels the character may appear in a close shot or multiple splash pages it’s fairly uncommon to find him in a portrait that equals (if not surpasses) the previous example.
In itself is more of a portrait in the classical term of the word. Liefeld‘s precedents are many other portraits featuring kings, noblemen or even intelectuals that inspire at the same time respect and fear. Focus on the dark face, in how he holds his helmet as if he were a warlord, in his weird pose halfway between upright and relaxed in his throne, well, more like his captain’s chair.
But before we continue let’s put the image in it’s context. We are talking about the closing image of the 100th issue of New Mutants, the comic that evolved through Liefeld’s art. Thanks to Rob the new alumns of Xavier’s School would mature under the leadership of Cable until they even emancipated from the bald guy to start their own X-Force corps. Strife would be one of the vilains to beat during this stage.
The same art schoolars that I mentioned at the begining of this text maybe would not completely understand this image, maybe they would even consider it ordinary or a bad executed portrait. But they don’t know what they are talking about. Liefeld is, over any other thing, a visionary and has updated the art of portraying adapting it to his own style, capturing completely the essence of Strife.
In first place, judging from the use of shadows if the light comes from the left of the character (as we can see from the colour) how do we know his face is darkened? Is it a bad use of lights and shadows? Nothing could be further from the truth. His darkened face reflects Strife’s soul. Liefeld is explaining to us that although he looks the same as Cable, as there are shadows on his face it means he is the bad guy. By the way, notice the detail of the right eye’s shape in the shadow.
In second place we should consider the lines. While some may argue that for a portrait they are not necessary, Liefeld uses them as they are one of his most particular traits. Lines = dynamism, and someone who is dynamic will maintain this characteristic while sitting or running.
In third place I would like to address the point of the open mouth. The brief explaination is that it’s a plot requirement. At that precise instant Strife is talking so it would be entirely justified that he had his mouth open. Nonetheless we all know what perfect teeth mean in ROB!’s methodology only we are not going to talk here about teeth but the mere mouth gesture indicating his authority.
In fourth place let’s focus on the left hand. Look at it it, can you see something weird? Exactly! The index finger is longer than any other one. The anatomic knowledge of our artist has always been doubted, critics talking that he put muscles where there weren’t any, that he didn’t draw any feet, that his knees weren’t realistic. Well, this example here shows an absolut knowledge about body part simbolism, directly inspired by palmistry and eastern iconography. The index finger is a simbol of authority and power, if it’s also long it represents ambition and pride.
My fifth point: the helmet. How does he hold the helmet with his hands in that position? Is it a fault or cunning trick of the artist? As I said before the portrait represents all that Strife is, not only it reflects his appearance but also his interior… and powers. What is Strife? A mutant! And which powers does he have? Among others Telekinesis! That is it! Strife is holding the helmet with his mind, the hands are just pure ornament.
And that’s why there are artists who are limited to sketching a few lines that just capture the physical aspect of the portrayed and then there is ROB! who manages to transmit, through a splash page, the appearance and personality of a villain. No one save ROB! has ever been able to include in a portrait so much simbolism since that multifaceted artist with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle name.
(Be here next week for this: