What’s the best way to show one char­ac­ter head-butting an­other?

James Forders, US

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An­swer Tom replies

Not tra­di­tion­ally con­sid­ered the no­blest form of com­bat, the head­butt is a uniquely im­me­di­ate means of self­ex­pres­sion, noted for its in­del­i­cacy. When draw­ing it though, I find it’s bet­ter to take a sub­tle ap­proach. Not so much with the ac­tion it­self, but in the di­rect­ing.

A head-butt is more shock­ing than a punch or a kick be­cause it’s less ra­tio­nal. Un­less a per­son is bound or oth­er­wise re­strained, it seems crazy for them to thrust the most vi­tal part of their fig­ure for­ward as a means of at­tack. It shows a com­plete dis­re­gard for their own safety – and noth­ing is more in­tim­i­dat­ing than some­one who is so de­ter­mined to do harm that they don’t care what hap­pens to them in the process. So, bear­ing that in mind, I would tend to steer clear of fancy an­gles and ac­ro­bat­ics. The ac­tion is ar­rest­ing enough – over-di­rect­ing it would be gild­ing the lily.

Fur­ther­more, as any good stunt­man or foot­ball cen­tre-for­ward will tell you, the ef­fect of a staged piece of vi­o­lence de­pends at least as much on the per­son be­ing hit as the hit­ter. The big­ger the re­ac­tion, the harder the hit must have been. So I try to give my pate-re­cip­i­ent a sense of im­pact. The skin of his face rip­ples to meet his ears (his pro­file now but a mem­ory), and a wellplaced, arc­ing trail of blood from his con­cave nose serves as an ele­gant al­ter­na­tive to a mo­tion line – mak­ing the point of im­pact, and his tra­jec­tory, all too clear.

Sim­pler stag­ing of dra­matic mo­ments can serve to give them greater power – pre­sent­ing them starkly and strip­ping them of all pre­tence and glam­our.

The cir­cle in­di­cates the fo­cal point, the blue tri­an­gle the move­ment of force to­wards that fo­cal point, and the ra­di­at­ing lines the re­ac­tion to that force.

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