Perspective Police!: Plastic Man?


Here’s part of the presentation I gave last Saturday at Stumptown Comics Fest:

My fellow cartoonist John Linton Roberson brought this one to my attention. It comes from a comic called Flashpoint: Legion of Doom #1, published by DC in 2011. (Superhero comics, like animated cartoons, are a group effort. The credited artists for this panel are Rodney Buchemi, José Marzan, Jr. and Artur Fujita.)

David Chelsea is reading:
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
by Mary Roach

This panel somewhat confused me at first glance, and not just because of the perspective. The central character resembles Plastic Man, the super-stretchy Golden Age superhero, with his dark glasses and striped belt, but he doesn’t have Plastic Man’s bare legs and lace-up decolletage. John informs me that this is because he is not the “official” Plas- he’s a darker, grittier version who is not a part of the central DC Comics continuity, but who lives in an alternate universe that exists only in Flashpoint (Alternate universes abound in DC Comics. The hoopla over Green Lantern coming out as gay last year was tempered for real comics fans by the knowledge that it wasn’t the Green Lantern who has his own title and appears in the movies, but a revival of the long-dormant “original” Green Lantern,  who only appears in a series where 1940s version of the DC heroes are still at work in present-day. Every few years DC cleans house and consigns the more tangential universes to the editorial dustbin.).


All right, something weird is evidently going on with the perspective in this one. To analyze it, I create a grayed version in Photoshop and import it into Adobe Illustrator:



On diagramming it out, it seems that things are not all that wrong after all. The view is a three-point perspective looking up (a “worms’-eye view”), and while some of the lines going to the vanishing point on the right don’t line up as they should, it wouldn’t take much tweaking to bring them all into line. My problem is with the implied viewpoint. Our worm is not viewing the scene from a spot on the floor- he actually seems to be BELOW the floor. Indeed, if you look at not-Plastic Man’s feet, you can see that he is standing on a black triangle that reads as the edge of a floor that has been cut off, and he’s dangerously close to the edge at that.  One more step and he’s liable to fall over. It is as if we are in a theater watching a play, and the prison cell is a cutaway part of the set above our eye level (and actors who work under such conditions really should be collecting hazard pay).

For such a claustrophobic scene, I would prefer we take a view that gets us inside the cell.  The best way to do that, I think, is to use fisheye perspective, as in the photograph below (which is, of course, taken from outside the cell, but you get the idea).



Fisheye perspective can be difficult to construct, but fortunately I have just the thing: curvilinear perspective grids included on the bonus disc which comes with my book EXTREME PERSPECTIVE!


I select a grid which roughly fits the existing scene and combine it with the panel in Illustrator. Following the rhythm of the existing grid lines, I add curved lines which define the floor and ceiling lines as well as the bunkbeds:






Now, I create a version of the panel that is just the background, with the figures removed. I see one more reason why the perspective looks odd- the artists have not given us any indication of where one wall ends and another begins:



The next step is to adjust the lines to conform to the fisheye sketch in Photoshop,  mostly by using the warp tool:



One by one, I add the figures on separate layers:




After erasing stray bits of background and overlapped figures from each layer, I selectively warp Plastic Man’s boots so they stand more naturally on the floor. I add some shadows and texture to the floor as well:


As a final, touch, I restore the word balloon and the type on the bottom, and the panel is complete. Our worm-level spectator is now right there in the cell with them:


Many thanks to John Linton Roberson. You can order his latest work, Book One of a multi-part graphic novel adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s Lulu, here at Amazon.


(BTW, judging from the background, Lulu looks like she might be in the cell with them. )

Got an example of iffy perspective to show? Be a whistleblower! Send an e-mail to me at davidchelsea(at)comcast(dot)net and include Perspective Police! in the subject line.