If you’ve turned on your television in recent years, you’ve probably seen a commercial for a show featuring a character shooting archery. Increasing interest in archery sparked a call to action for more archers in TV and movies.
Most of these characters are superheroes or mythological beings with superhuman archery skills. But long before the world saw these action-packed movies and TV shows, it knew a different kind of archer: the sketched variety.
Many archers on TV are based on comic-book characters, with each having their own technique for shooting their bows. Both mediums take different artistic approaches to make their characters aesthetically pleasing. Television films in real time, so the archery performance must look good in motion.
Comic books are still frames, which invite readers to create action in their minds. This medium lends itself to powerful images of mighty archers in mid-draw, with unbridled determination etched on their faces. That begs the question: If these archers have superhuman skills, how do mere-mortal actors portray them? Well, sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.
The show “Arrow” on the CW features comic-book super-archer Green Arrow. Actor Stephen Amell has the daunting task of making skills created by comic-book writers look realistic. To analyze such archery techniques, who better to ask than a real-life archery coach?
We asked Jim MacQuarrie, a certified archery instructor and professional cartoonist, his thoughts on real-life portrayals of superhero archery. MacQuarrie even has some ties to the “Arrow” show: A former student, Madison McLaughlin, plays a part in the show as Evelyn Sharp. She will stretch her archery wings next season as the masked archer Artemis.
MacQuarrie said this about Green Arrow: “Stephen Amell works very hard and generally looks pretty good. He was handicapped in Season 1 by having a bow that was considerably too small for his draw-length, but they fixed that.” Good thing, too, because MacQuarrie boasts that Amell became a force to be reckoned with.
“His form, and that of pretty much everyone on the show, is miles ahead of 99 percent of what is/was seen in the comics,” MacQuarrie said. “The only good archery you’ll find in comics is drawn by Mike Grell (“Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters”) or David Aja (“Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon”). Almost everybody else fakes it terribly.” Yikes. This should be a lesson to do your research.
MacQuarrie then added a few more to this list. “I only know of two exceptions. Gene Ha (‘Justice League’) and Chris Burnham (‘Batman’) both sent me their penciled pages that involved archery and asked for advice. Jim Cheung’s Hawkeye in ‘Young Avengers’ steadily improved over time.”
Ah yes. Let’s not forget our dear friend Hawkeye. When asked about the difference between Jeremy Renner’s archery technique in both “Avengers” movies and “Captain America: Civil War,” MacQuarrie said his performance in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” was the best. Speaking about the first “Avengers” movie in an article for Wired, he said, “Hawkeye looked like the typical first-timer, making all the mistakes we see in beginners all the time.”
That makes sense because Renner really was a first-timer when filming that movie. Still, it’s not so great when portraying a character whose tagline is the “World’s Greatest Marksman.” Renner must have improved because when “Age of Ultron” came out, Hawkeye “looked like a self-taught trade archer,” MacQuarrie said. His opinion of Hawkeye in “Civil War,” however, wasn’t so kind. “Frankly, terrible,” he said.
The quality of archery in a movie or TV show is a testament to the actor and coach. “When you see good archery in a movie, you’re looking at an actor who made the decision to seek out a coach and made an effort to get it right,” MacQuarrie said.
If you’re wondering how to tell if an actor is a good archer, the signs are simple, MacQuarrie said. “For me, the big giveaways every time are four things: the break at the wrist on the draw hand, the high shoulder on the bow arm, the anchor, and the alignment of the shoulders,” he said. “If the actor turns his/her chest toward the target, you know they never had a lesson.”
MacQuarrie said no matter how it’s framed, archery’s basics are universal. “Whether a character is shooting an exotic form, a traditional style, or some faked-up alien thing like in ‘Avatar,’ things like a straight wrist and full extension are going to be pretty much the same.”
If the actors’ archery techniques sometimes look a bit unrealistic, it might be because they’re not actually shooting a bow. Amell once said in an interview with Press Association that he does not shoot arrows from the bows while filming because it’s “very dangerous to shoot an arrow on set.” He adds that it’s almost always CGI, or computer-generated imagery. That’s when the technique’s framework is important: If the frame is there, the CGI is the icing on the cake.
Whether it’s drawing an archer or playing an archer, make sure you’re honoring the craft and making your archer look skilled. We could cite more good and bad examples, but let’s end with MacQuarrie’s advice: “Whatever you do, don’t look at Zenoscope’s ‘Robyn Hood’ comic. It will make your teeth hurt.”
No, the archery we see in TV, movies and comics isn’t perfect. But we all make archery mistakes – lots of them! Remember: We were all newbies at one point. Few of us achieved perfect form and nailed a bull’s-eye on the first try. Some us got whacked with the bowstring or missed the target altogether. And that’s OK! Archery mistakes happen, and they’re part of growing and improving.
Find an archery store near you to hone your Green Arrow-inspired archery skills today.