We all love fight scenes. But we don’t all love certain fight scenes. Jack Kirby used to draw the Hulk waving his fist and five dudes flying off panel in five different directions. That is not a fight scene. It’s a graphic depiction of mayhem, but it’s not a fight scene. When Paul Gulacy took over Master of Kung Fu, I was gobsmacked by his graphic style, somewhat derivative of Steranko. But even then, before I dipped a toe in a karate studio, I could tell there was something wrong with the fight scenes. They were a series of isolated action poses.
The reader (at least this reader) wants the action to unfold in a clear, logical and kinetic manner, much like a good kung fu movie. And that means no wire-fu. One of the reasons for the success of early kung fu classics like Five Fingers of Death and Enter the Dragon was their ability to show martial arts in action. Here was something new in the action genre to an audience raised on John Wayne punch ’em outs. (Good martial arts movies were always out there, from the early Japanese samurai films to Jimmy Cagney’s Blood on the Moon. Treasure of the Sierra Madre has one of the most believable fight scenes in history, a messy brawl in a bar. If you’re not a martial artist, that’s how you really fight.)
I have tried to do that in my comics, most notably The Badger, Bruce Lee, and Kato. In each case, I drew, or provided photo reference, of specific techniques unfolding. I always hated extreme close-ups of a fist smacking someone in the face. It was disjointed and often the next panel depicted the opponents in illogical or impossible positions, given the preceding panel.
We read from left to right. Most of the time, action should flow from left to right, and here’s the prime directive: hold your camera steady and let the figures move. There are an infinite number of fascinating, highly visual martial arts techniques. Comics have barely scratched the surface. There’s a guy on the current season of Ultimate Fighter who somersaults into position to grab is opponent’s leg, and then straightens out with a heel hook submission. I’ve seen him do it twice. His opponents know exactly what he’s going to do but seem powerless to stop him.
I have been fortunate to work with great artists such as Bill Reinhold, Neil Hansen, Brent Anderson and Val Mayerik for many of my fight scenes. Val is a highly experienced martial artist and the fights he’s drawn for Bruce Lee (Malibu) and the upcoming Badger will stupefy and amaze you. Jeff Johnson, who drew Way of the Rat for Crossgen, is another artist who understands not only combat, but how to depict it in an exciting and kinetic manner. I’ve always wanted to work with Jeff and now we have a story coming up in Dark Horse’s Legends Reborn which recasts the legend of Pegasus as a martial arts movie.