Still Motion

One of the ways art operates is to condense whatever it is representing into the limitations of its own particular medium. In the case of spanking scenes in comics, that means reducing something that happens over maybe a few minutes of real time into, usually, a single frame of action, and finding alternative, non-literal ways of representing the elements of the event that can’t be literally there in a still image.

To put it in a nutshell, nothing actually moves in the comics, but spanking is an act in which at least one vigorous movement is fundamental: the swift up and down motion of the spanker’s hand. There are two standard visual conventions for representing this. One is to show lines laterally on one or both sides off the upraised arm, suggesting the successive positions through which it is moving as it rises and falls:

And the other is to show one or more unbroken lines arcing down from arm to target area:

It’s also possible to mix the two conventions: in these successive panels from a 1948 Steve Roper strip, lateral lines represent the girl’s legs fluttering and her fists shaking,

and ‘descender’ lines show the hand on its way down:

What about when the spanking hand lands? There are also two standard visual conventions for impact. One shows a corona of separate lines radiating out from the point where contact is made,

and the other a spiky continuous ‘explosion’ line around the same area:

Once again, the two conventions can be combined,

though it’s less commonly seen because the two things are effectively representing the same phenomenon.

Then there’s the result of the impact, which takes us beyond the visual and into a different sensory dimension that’s even less conducive to literal representation.

Fortunately, the visual convention is both widespread and generally understood.

Stars stand for sudden, sharp pain,

with the level of the pain, and therefore the soundness of the spanking, defined by the number and size of the stars.

There is one alternative, and much rarer, visual device representing the sensation in the lady’s rear end, which we can see in a 1940 edition of Jungle Comics. The headstrong heiress Gloria, visiting the HQ of the Congo Lancers, gets herself kidnapped by Arab tribesmen. Captain Terry Thunder rides to her rescue, and when she refuses to cooperate, he deals with her in the traditional fashion for spoiled heiresses:

The main intentional effect here is the lines above her rear, which differ from ‘impact lines’ in that they are jagged, which is the usual convention for ‘sizzle’. It’s enhanced by a printing error: the color red is wrongly offset, creating the serendipitous impression of a ‘glow’ emanating from the spanked area.

As well as sight and touch, there is a third relevant sense pertaining to spanking that’s hard to represent in comics. But it is a subject so complex that it requires separate treatment next time.

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