Depicting Villains and Heroes
Not unlike any other artistic product created during this time, the ideal comic during the Cultural Revolution in its depiction of heroes and demons would have to abide quite clearly by the set of rules called the Three Prominences, which had first been developed for the model works. Three Prominences are achieved by making use of all artistic possibilities first to emphasize the good, second to emphasize the heroes among the good, and third to emphasize the main heroes among the heroes. In comics, this basic theory causes negative characters to disappear almost completely from sight, by, for example, effectively leaving them out of the panel frame, or by showing them from the back or the side but never in full view nor central to the picture. Instead, they are cast in the shadows, never straight and strong but sickly, crouched, and bent. Numerous examples can be given of comics published in the second half of the Cultural Revolution that abide by these rules.
In the 1971 comic White-Haired Girl, for example, the main heroine meets and frightens her former landlord and his servant (two negative characters) who have taken to a mountain temple to escape a thunderstorm (ill. 6.16); in a similar scene in a 1972 comic, Mao’s good student Jiao Yulu leads the people in their fight against rich landlords (ill. 6.17). Here, a sharp contrast is created between Jiao Yulu’s towering statue and that of the cowering landlord (Huang Laosan 黄老三). Luo Shengjiao, too, the soldier hero from the Korean War, fights against vicious Americans who, however, look like skeletons even before death in a 1973 comic (ill. 6.18). And in the 1974 comic publication of Song of the Dragon River, based on the revolutionary opera of the same name (ill. 6.19), the main hero Jiang Shuiying appears in central position, set off nicely by the negative character Huang Guozhong.
Cultural Revolution film and, of course, comics based on these films’ stills use the same rhetoric of style of the Three Prominences. One comic based on a puppet theater film, The Little Eighth Roader (小八路 Xiao Balu) published in 1975, shows the negative (adult) characters in darkish-green lighting, with greenish faces and dark attire, behind the brightly lit, strong, straight, and positive child-hero, the “invincible” Tiger (虎子 Huzi), clad in bright colors, a red shirt, a white jacket, and blue trousers (ill. 6.20). Another comic based on film stills, Spring Sprouts (1976), which tells the story of a young female barefoot doctor, Chunmiao 春苗 (Spring Sprouts), even shows the negative characters not in the flesh, but only as shadows on the wall (ill. 6.21). This predictable depiction of negative characters in Cultural Revolution iconography ensures they are easily discerned: they are despicable from the first moment of their appearance.
But it is not as if such exaggerated depictions were entirely peculiar to the Cultural Revolution comic, even if the technique became much more clear-cut and unambiguous during this time. Indeed, similar visual examples from before and after the Cultural Revolution can be found easily. The covers of a number of 1950s comics make this very clear. One shows the ridiculed villain with a crooked official’s hat (ill 6.22). In another, the villain appears stricken on the floor, and his skin has the typical greenish tint that characterizes villains in the model works and Cultural Revolution art generally (ill. 6.23). After the Cultural Revolution, a series of Hitler comics published in 1985 continued to adhere to the standards of Three Prominences.
Hitler, the villainous hero of the story, is presented in a position never quite central, never quite in the foreground, and with a bearing that is never quite straight and forward-looking. In one of the first panels of the comic, he is seen crouching on a set of stairs in front of a house. His crouching position is highlighted by the passers-by, who appear much larger in scale, and almost all of them disregard him almost completely—only one of them is turning to look at Hitler, but he does so contemptuously (ill. 6.24). Although the central figure in this comic, Hitler is clearly marked as a negative character in his gestures, in the type of lighting used to depict him, in his facial expressions, and more (e.g. ill. 6.25).