I’ve always been fascinated with masks for a number of reasons. The comic bug bit me at a young age and continues to bite down hard, so the idea of someone donning a mask in order to hide their identity while fighting against evil/on behalf of evil is still an intriguing concept to me. I was also exposed to horror movies from a young age, which provided the flip-side to the heroics of comics, both in relation to the style of the masks and the reasons for them being used.
Your traditional superhero uses their mask to not only hide their identity but also to act as a trademark of sorts. It adds to their own mythology and, in the case of characters like Batman, puts an instant shot of fear into whoever it is they’re chasing down.
Your traditional horror character sometimes wears their mask simply to hide their ugly ass face. And quite often these characters get some kind of emotional/psychological strength from these masks. It provides them with a degree of separation from their own humanity, allowing them to commit their horrible acts without remorse. There have been a number of scenes in classic horror films where the lead character experiences moments of weakness and doubt when their mask is taken from them, but the moment they put it back on BAM! the horror continues. Another fantastic use of masks in recent horror (or what some now call terror) films is in The Strangers.
When I was putting my graphic novel “Lonely Monsters” together I knew that I’d want to incorporate a mask in the mix somewhere. But what mask, and for what reasons? The idea of a non-heroic person being forced into a heroic position through no choice of their own felt like the best approach for the book, and I’ve always enjoyed drawing gas masks. From there Leroy was born. He was originally going to be killed off quite quickly, but the more I drew him the more I started to develop a backstory that I wanted to investigate further (which I’m doing in a new comic series currently being worked on).
Leroy is able to combine a mix of the comic and horror aspects of wearing a mask. It not only hides his face from others, but also from himself (and I can’t really add much more to that without giving away too much of the new story). For me the most exciting part of illustrating Leroy is trying to capture the emotion and mood of a relatively faceless figure. When studying different gas masks to model his appearance on I ended up using one that, when sinking into the shadows, looks like a skull. The goggle section of the mask presents a lot of different ways to add to the expression, sometimes making his eyes completely visible, and other times having them totally filled in with black,white, or colour.
And one of my favourite visual tricks I’ve used with Leroy a few times is taken from one of my favourite horror movies, Halloween (original and remake). The good ol’ Michael Myers head-tilt.
Join me next time when I run through a list of comics that everyone should read before they die.