Thursday, October 18, 2018

Panel Discussion: Floating Heads - the Inside Track!

Martinex1: "Floating Heads" is a favorite artistic trope from the Bronze Age.   Marvel Comics particularly embraced the look on its comic covers with characters' disembodied noggins seemingly viewing the action and even commenting on the core scene.  Historically, when considering this design we have focused on the comic cover, but today let's take a look at some significant examples within the pages of the books. 

From splash pages to general panels, floating heads were utilized more frequently than you may have imagined.   Whether representing spirits, dreams, past loves, narrators, hidden identities, links to the negative zone, or roll calls - this artistic flourish is quite unique to the comic book medium.

Spider-Man sure had his share of examples, as did Captain America.  Captain Marvel and Firestorm embedded the technique into their storytelling of linked characters.  Great artists like Sal Buscema, Mike Zeck,  Pat Broderick, Gil Kane, Jim Starlin, and John Byrne used the style frequently. 

There are more examples than I could possibly find, but I tried to capture a representative cross section. Take a look and feast your there is plenty to enjoy!  Cheers!









Doug said...

I love this post! And as usual, you knock it out of the park with research. So many examples - I'll be back a couple of times to soak it all in. Great work!


Charlie Horse 47 said...

What a brilliant exposition of heads! I especially enjoy the heads from amazing Spiderman 100 101 which was my coming of age!

Killraven said...

Great post Martinex!

Bunch of familiar pages. Like you said lots of Gil Kane goodness.
Let me go back and look at that some more!

Anonymous said...

No one could excite my 11 year old senses more than Starlin. Sure, his body proportions were out of whack from time to time, but the level of ideas and detail is just stunning.


Humanbelly said...

The double-page Captain America spread-- "But so much has happened since then--" . . . is that Sal B channeling Jim Steranko, there? Don't have that issue, so I'm not sure-- but boy, it sure makes me think of Captain America #'s 111/112. . . I totally love it.

Tremendous body of image research here-! And you're right, it's probably barely scratching the surface. I'm trying to think of the obligatory HULK example. . . but nothing springs immediately to mind. Any thoughts on whether this was more an artist-driven convention, or a writer-driven one? (I'm thinking artist, probably. . . )

I do love Gil Kane's panels as well. . . but I have ALWAYS found them right on the edge of unsettling. They can come off as kinda scary, even when they're not meant to be, y'know? Like, the intent is to portray a "bouquet" of Gwen-heads, but the effect is more like a "fever dream" of them--- hoo!


Redartz said...

Kane really loved those shots, didn't he? And they seemed especially frequent in Spider-Man. Maybe a reflection of Peter's tendency to brood...

Charlie Horse 47 said...

I am wondering if this is where David Byrne found his inspiration?

HB - you are spot on about the Cap spread. I initially thought Steranko???

Mike Wilson said...

Yeah, Kane used to do this a lot, not just on covers/splash pages, but in story as well. I seem to remember seeing this in some early Green Lantern comics ... #24 comes to mind, with the first appearance of the Shark.

DC did this quite a bit, especially in the JLA/JSA crossovers (one of which you included above); Legion comics often had the floating heads on the splash page too, to show who the featured characters were for the issue.

Martinex1 said...

Thanks for the comments all. It was a lot of fun putting this together. There were some other images I recalled but just could not find the source - may have to do a follow up if anybody recalls some key panels.

I think I would weep with joy if there were ever any floating heads in a Marvel movie - that would be hilariously good. Even if they just used the technique on a movie poster or an advertisement I would love it. Like I said - this trope is just so uniquely embedded in “comic book” language. It is hard to imagine it on television, film, stage or any other visual medium. I wonder when it was first used.

Anonymous said...

Seconding the congratulations for a wonderful assortment of floating heads, and extra-seconds for wanting said heads in a Marvel movie!

I was coincidentally looking at some X-Men panels today, anyone else notice how often Professor X contacted people telepathically and manifested as, you guessed it, a floating head? And the people he was contacting would look and react to the head floating there? What the heck was actually happening?

Just a Timely observation.
-david p.

Killraven said...

Martinex, you got me racking my brain for some panels for your follow up.
I got a couple, had to look up the issue #'s though.

Avengers #167 George Perez has the Guardians of the Galaxie's floating heads surrounding Korvak.

F.F.#214 Splash showing Johnny reflecting on past floating head villains, as he thought the rest of the team had succumb to old age. By Byrne.

Avengers #97 Showing a HUGE Rick Jones' head on a splash by big John Buscema.

The oldest I could come up with was Spider-Man #9. Bunch of floaters surround Peter, drawn by Ditko.

Edo Bosnar said...

Agree that this is a great post, and yes, Martinex, this is a very comic-booky convention or story-telling device or whatever you may want to call it. Like several others here, I particularly associate it with Spider-man, especially in the stories drawn by Gil Kane.

David P.'s question actually echoes something I was thinking, by the way: whether it's Professor X or other telepaths making long-distance calls, or cases like Agatha Harkness appearing in a puff of smoke or Thanos on that screen as in your examples, I think a distinction can be drawn between the floating heads that are all in the, well, head of the protagonist, and the floating heads seen by everyone in the vicinity.
I'm with you on floating heads appearing in Marvel movies - I'll laugh with joy if we ever do see it (and I'm surprised it hasn't already been done; the closest was Dormammu in the Dr. Strange movie, but I want to see full-on floating images while one of the heroes, like Spider-man or maybe Black Panther, is having some angsty moment...).

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