Whither Toes

By | Thursday, June 15, 2023 Leave a Comment
Why don't we ever see toes in comic strips? Well, strictly speaking, we do see toes in comics, but certainly not often and usually with some caveats. So why not often and what are those caveats?

Caveat #1 is that most of the toes we do see are on animals' feet. We frequently see the toes of Snoopy, Garfield, Hobbes, Marmaduke, Healthcliff, Fred Basset, and many other fur-covered friends. With many of them walking at least some of the time on all fours, this means that it's hard not to draw their feet if you're showing their head and don't want to fill an entire panel with just that. Plus, as animals, they typically don't wear shoes. So we wind up seeing their feet and, accordingly, their toes. But because they're animals, we don't really think of them as toes per se.

Caveat #2 is that, often when we do see toes, they're more of a suggestion than individually drawn digits. Take this B.C. from this morning...
As the whole concept of the strip revolves around pre-footwear cavemen, the characters almost never wear anything to cover their bare feet. However, their toes are indicated as merely a couple of curved slashes on their feet. It's more of a suggestion of toes than actual ones. Visually, we see enough to gather that they're walking around barefoot, but the lack of distinction among them means we just read it as a detail of the overall foot, and not individual parts.

I think this is not far removed from how we actually think of our own feet, by and large. We use our hands a great deal, and our fingers supply an immense amount of individual dexterity and fine motor control. We can tie our shoelaces or type or play guitar. Most people don't develop that kind of skill with their toes/feet. Most people will opt to bend down and use their hands to pick a sock up off the floor, rather than try clasping it with their toes and raising that to a more convenient height. Toes are just an extension of our feet, and are only used in the same manner as feet more broadly. (Balance, directional control, and so on.) So that a cartoonist merely suggesting toes in their illustrations simply follows the thinking most people follow in real life already.

But, the big reason we don't see toes is that we don't see feet! Creators and fans have both lamented the ever-shrinking space given to comic strips in the newspaper. Complaints of strips having shrunk down to "the size of a postage stamp" are not uncommon. And what this has meant, among other things, is that cartoonists have less room to include detailed artwork. It's partially what killed the adventure strips -- there simply wasn't much room to draw adventures with enough complexity and detail. So comic strips, writ large, migrated more towards gag strips that can get away with less detailed, more iconic images. But it became difficult for them to sustain as much detail as they'd like, and a lot of strips have devolved into sequences of talking heads. Doonesbury is one of the more detailed strips still being published, and yet here's today's strip...
In order to get both figures in each frame, there's simply not enough space to show more than their heads and shoulders. The sizes comics are run at, there just isn't room for feet! So of course you're not going to see their toes either!
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