Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

By Request: Hawkeye #1 Archery Nitpicks

“I’ll let our very own Jim MacQuarrie deal with whether she’s holding the bow and arrow correctly!”

All right, you heard him. Greg Burgas put me on the spot here, so I guess I have to address it. I haven’t done an archery nitpick post in a while, but I think Hawkeye #1 might be a good excuse to talk about some things I see in the first issue, a couple things I’d love to see, and a few things that almost everybody gets wrong.

Before I get to that, let me say that I really enjoyed the first issue of Hawkeye; I’ve always liked Kate Bishop as a character, despite the few times I’ve beat up on her in the past (though I was nice occasionally too), and Kelly Thompson has a good handle on what makes her work. The story is solid and has me wanting to come back for more. Thompson’s Hawkeye builds nicely off Fraction & Aja’s series while establishing its own voice, and I’m on board for the whole run. I’ll also agree with Greg that “adorable” is definitely the wrong adjective to describe Kate.

Now to get to the nitpicks.

The cover is a great illustration of what’s really the biggest problem with archery in comics; it’s a good illustration of a model posing with a bow, but it is absolutely not an illustration of an experienced archer preparing to shoot. This problem can be seen in virtually every archery-themed comic ever published except those drawn by David Aja, Mike Grell or Scott McCullar. The simplest way to address it is to just sketch over the cover to illustrate the problems:

The most egregious error is the string on the outside of the arm. When she draws the bow, the string will be outside her shoulder, unless she turns the bow upside-down. It doesn’t work that way.

Moving to the interior art, there’s a lot to like, and my complaints are fairly trivial. First, as seen in the character design page that was posted at Gizmodo, artist Leonardo Romero has done some homework and gotten some details right.

There are a couple things he missed, but the fact that he has given Kate an actual shooting glove with finger protection on her right hand (instead of the dumb fingerless gloves somebody gave Clint a while back) is huge. A couple of nitpicks:

There’s really only one archery scene in the first issue, and it’s not very bad, though it could be better. The crucial elements of actual archery are there, so complaints about this page are really about advanced archery form, not about impossible or ridiculous mistakes. That’s why I called this post “nitpicks” instead of complaints. Everyone involved is obviously trying to get it right and avoiding a lot of the more egregious mistakes usually seen (particularly in any issue of Green Arrow from the last 15 years or so); I appreciate the effort, and I hope my comments are seen as constructive advice and not as tearing them down or trying to embarrass them. It’s really about the story and characters anyway, and Thompson & Romero have nailed those aspects.

If you really want to show a good archer in a comic, there are about 5-6 details that will go a long way to doing it, and here are a few of them:

Even if you don’t know anything about archery, it’s pretty easy to see that by putting the bow in line with the shoulders and turning the chest away from the target, you establish a more dramatic and powerful line of action, especially with the twist at the waist, which archers refer to as “coiling.”

One thing I would absolutely love to see: When Kate does the shooting two arrows trick (which my students love to do; it’s stupid fun), just once I want to hear her say “it’s really just a flashy carny trick and it looks a lot more impressive than it is. I only do it to show off.” It’s really just a matter of knowing how far apart the arrows will hit (generally about 6-12 inches at 10 yards); the problem with it is that it divides the power of the bow; if Kate’s shooting a 40 pound bow (Olympic archer Khatuna Lorig shoots 43 pounds), each arrow gets 20 pounds of power, which is not really enough to pierce a tire; the arrows would bounce off, or only stick in the tread a bit. That’s what suspension of disbelief is for, but it would be nice to see somebody acknowledge the actual physics behind the stunt.

Another thing I’d love to see is a scene of an archer actually practicing, or better yet, teaching somebody else and explaining some of the biomechanics of the shot sequence. Along those lines, I was extremely happy with the bit where Kate describes the anchor point and extrapolates a metaphor from it. It works in the story, works for the character, and shows that Thompson has done homework. As an archer and coach, there’s a lot to like here, and as a comics fan there’s even more. I’m looking forward to more.


  1. Le Messor

    “Shoulders down, spine straight, hips centered over feet.”
    … but what if her hips won’t unsway?

    I’ve been drawing a comic of my own, and for a cover where I have somebody arching, I’ve asked a friend (who’s taking archery) to pose for me so I won’t make this kind of mistake.
    You’re making me extra glad I did!

  2. Le Messor

    Addendum, from the links:
    “here are any number of things she could have said– it’s all in the fingers, eye, follow-through, mind, etc and so forth”
    … ‘I do not shoot with my wrist, I shoot with my mind. Anyone who shoots with her wrist has forgotten the face of her mother.’

    Oh, and I agree so much about grammar errors. I’m like that. (I love Action Lab’s for-kids output, but so much grammerz wrongs.)

  3. M-Wolverine

    I’m of the mind that while such things that only a few will get if you don’t get it right aren’t a big deal, I do think it’s to the credit of those that get these little detail “Easter Eggs” right. So I actually really like the technical detail presented in articles easy.

    However, while completely accurate I’m sure, I’m going to have to say I DON’T want things like the double arrow thing right. Because frankly that just leads you to the territory that (sorry) a guy or gal with just a bow fighting crime is stupid and they’d be dead in 5 minutes. The fact that they’re normal humans but can do seemingly super human things with their weapon of choice makes them, well, super. I’ve seen some videos of people who can really fling a playing card, and even make them stick in and pierce things. But no one is turning them into deadly weapons. But that Bullseye can is kinda awesome. So yeah, I just chalk that stuff in the same category as “everyone should have had their bones turned to chalk dust from the falls and hits they take” suspension of disbelief.

    And let’s face it, if you take away her archery amazement, and make her all “real world,” Kate is going to get murdered in a real fight. The fact that all these waif women are kicking the butts of huge bad ass men is find and fun as long as you keep the world a fantasy.

    1. Le Messor

      Well, as long as it didn’t make it into the actual comic, that’s not as bad.
      Is it possible the model sheet has been mirrored?

      (Also, my aforementioned arching friend is right-handed, but shoots left-handed – because he’s left-eyed apparently.)

    2. Le Messor

      “Kate’s quiver should be on the other side.”

      So if her quiver is on her left, she holds the bow with her left hand?
      (ie: she’d reach for her arrow over the opposite shoulder to her, uh, string hand? Like a sword / scabbard.)

      1. She is a right-handed archer, which means she holds the bow in her left hand and draws the string back with her right. That means her arrows should be over her right shoulder so she can reach them easily with her right hand. It’s not like a sword, you don’t reach across the body to get to the quiver.

  4. Le Messor

    I recently re-watched the Nex Gen episode Who Watches The Watchers?, and I thought of this thread.

    What happened was, there were these archers at a Bronze-age level of development (that’s actually said during the episode), and to me it looks like they’re using very modern compound bows that have been wrapped in rags to make them look less modern, but the illusion really doesn’t work.

    Of course, it’s possible I’m the one getting it wrong here.

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