If the eyes are the windows to the soul, what do you do when your character doesn’t have any? Writer Louise Simonson and artist Mike Chen faced (no pun intended) this dilemma often in the series Starriors. The comic series and toy line attempted to play off the increasing popularity of the Transformers, using only robotic characters whose mission is to reawaken humanity.
Here, in the final panel from issue 3 (page 23, panel 3 of 3), the robot Hotshot finds his love, Geo, destroyed beyond repair. He realizes that his reluctance toward violence against other robots must end for his army of “Protectors” to defeat the aggressive “Destroyers”. These final words serve as an angry rallying cry to the other Protectors as well as a sad goodbye to Geo.
To convey these emotions without relying on facial expressions, Mike Chen used a few different techniques. First, he drew a burst shape around Hotshot’s head. This shows that the character radiates emotional energy of some kind in much the same way that sweat beads indicate nervousness or anger, or radiating straight lines often indicate surprise. Without seeing a face, we know from this that his emotion is intense.
Second, Chen used body language to great effect. The depiction of the character with his back arched, looking upward, with his right arm raised to the sky draws on years of similar poses from not only other comic stories, but films as well. In times of crisis, characters often reach to and/or yell at the sky (or god, but that doesn’t apply here). Though it came long after, the best example I can think of comes from The Shawshank Redemption. Again this signifies and intensifies the level of emotion that Hotshot shows.
Chen also used the angle of the drawing to specify the emotions. Normally, as in the Shawshank example above, a moment like this is drawn/shot from high above, the reader looking down on our hero. High angles generally indicate a weakness in the character shown, whether that be physical exhaustion, supplication or thanks to a greater force (as I feel happens in Shawshank), or uncontrolled rage at the world. Yet Chen chooses a different angle for this moment. He chooses a low angle, which has the exact opposite effect, making the hero seem more powerful. He shows us that Hotshot, rather than being destroyed by this sorrowful moment, instead finds in it cause to carry on with even stronger resolve.
Finally, if that isn’t enough, Chen plays upon the reader’s empathy to create emotion. Notice how, starting from the lower left and moving clockwise, the ground beneath the onlooking Protectors, the raised arm and body of Hotshot, the right side of the large rock behind them, the trailing smoke, and the mountain peaks off in the distance all lead your eye to one central point, right where the dead body of Geo lies. No matter what part of the panel you look at, a path (also called a vector) eventually leads your eye to Geo. The reader empathizes with Hotshot’s mourning and in doing so infuses emotion into the drawing.
Louise Simonson’s script combines with all of the techniques Chen employed to give the reader a clear look into Hotshot’s soul, without even one eye to look through.