Sunday, January 29, 2017

Consider His Ways: The Many Moods of Tigerman

If you follow this blog, you know I just finished looking at the complete run of the Atlas Comics series Tigerman through my occasional series Unearthed. In the course of reviewing Tigerman #1, Tigerman #2 and Tigerman #3 I found myself looking at a series which had potential but was crippled by a very poor first issue. At its best, Tigerman was an average 1970s super hero comic.

But before I carry on to a different Atlas comic, shall we consider Tigerman one last time? Rhetorical question, I suppose. Better close this browsing window now if you can't bear thinking about Tigerman again!

In Understanding Comics Scott McCloud wrote about how we perceive cartoon characters in terms of how close they approach realism, from characters who are photorealistic to the more cartoony or abstract. Quoth McCloud: "Through traditional realism, the comics artist can portray the world without -- and through the cartoon, the world within." It occurred to me that with Tigerman we have a character who wavers well between realism and cartoon. As a man wearing a mask his face is not a human face (many masked comic book characters likewise have this condition). However, his mask is supposed to be made from that of a tiger and the tiger's face is, at times, drawn to appear realistic. Let us consider the moods which are expressed through Tigerman's seemingly static features..

Mood the first: Distraught

We are about to look at the cover of Tigerman #1 again. I'm sorry too.

Art by Ernie Colon

As Colon drew it, the tiger head had no ability to contort itself according to mood. In his attempt to make Tigerman appear distraught at his sister's death he depicted him with his heading nodding forward, mouth open. Unfortunately, while these would work well on a human face, on Tigerman his blank eyes and triangular mouth cause him to appear freakish, his emotions inscrutable.

Mood the second: Angry

Art by Ernie Colon

The most common feature on Tigerman's face throughout the series is an angry look. The animal face, the sharp fangs and blank eyes give him a limited range of expressions, but as a murderous super hero the ferocious face suits him well.

Mood the third: Pensive

Art by Ernie Colon

Here's an example of Colon's strengths as an artist (when much of Tigerman displays his weaknesses). In order to show Tigerman trying to play detective and find his sister's killers, Colon grants him a pensive expression by simply draping a hand before his mouth. Tigerman's mouth is the single least-human part of his mask so this also renders him more human in appearance.

Mood the fourth: Contemplative?

Art by Ernie Colon

Then we have Tigerman standing before one of the men who killed his sister. Here, we see the mask has become truly expressionless as the mouth has been diminished down to a single line. Is he tensing up for a fight? Is he boiling over in anger? Is he staring at that cowboy's crotch? The face tells us nothing.

Mood the fifth: Determined

Art by Frank Thorne

Frank Thorne's one-and-only visual of Tigerman is somewhat different from the other artists, most notably in the fuzzy, white muzzle on the tiger face. Under Colon, Tigerman looked like a man wearing a tiger's face over his own; Thorne makes him appear as a humanoid tiger.

Mood the sixth: Fearsome

Art by Steve Ditko & Frank Giacoia

I'm very fond of this image by Ditko where Tigerman's eyes are solid colored as Colon frequently depicted them and yet under Ditko's pen he appears more animal-like rather than the "dull surprise" of Colon. What Ditko seemed to realize better than Colon was how to manipulate the expressions of the tiger face, here curling Tigerman's brown to emphasize his ferocity. Colon eschewed these sorts of expressions in favour of letting the mask appear realistic, but Ditko's is the more worthy choice in terms of suggesting to the audience what the character is feeling.

Mood the seventh: Concerned?

Art by Larry Lieber

Larry Lieber's Tigerman is a fairly stock super hero character but he makes the most of the figure's facial features, putting some detail into Tigerman's brow and his eyes to convey his mood as he leaps to the rescue of a falling man.

Mood the eighth: Impish?

Art by Steve Ditko & Al Milgrom

The downside of Al Milgrom's inking is that he bringsin distracting details which subtract from Ditko's more malleable faces. Here, the curvy lines Milgrom used to fashion Tigerman's muzzle render him a bit too cartoony to fit the role of angsty super hero who just brought a burn victim to a hospital.

Mood the ninth: Enraged

Art by Steve Ditko & Al Milgrom

When Ditko revisited the scenes from #1 where Tigerman killed his sister's murderers, Ditko came up with this very fine grimace with Tigerman sporting a very upset brow. Here too, the animal-like muzzle on Tigerman's face is used to good effect- with his mouth open the curvy line of his expression makes him seem to be smiling, in contrast to his furrowed brow. Taken together, Tigerman seems to be emotionally out-of-control with bloodlust, which fits the direction the series was going as the character explored his compulsion to kill.

Mood the tenth: Triumphant

Art by Steve Ditko & Al Milgrom

The series ends with Tigerman exhibiting relief; the villain is over and now he can have a good rest in comic book limbo until some jerk drags his back issues out and talks smack about him on the internet. With Tigerman seen from below looking up at his open mouth and eyes so thin they almost seem to be squinting, Tigerman's expression is difficult to read but helpfully his left hand is clenched into a raised fist, which we understand as a gesture of triumph or defiance.

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