Here is a little secret not so secret: I actually know how to shoot with a bow. A recurve bow to be precise. While I’m not practicing it anymore due the lack of shooting ranges in my hometown, I did practice archery for three years, while I was doing my Ph.D. at Loughborough University. I had the fortune that a friend of mine was my archery instructor as well as a fellow comic geek. So back in the day, we used to chat about how bad comics, movies, and tv shows get wrong the basics. I will share a few of those chats here from time to time because I’m that kind of annoying guy and this is my blog and not yours.
For context, I’m an industrial designer with an engineering background and my friend Birm is an actual engineer that has worked in a couple of big gigs. At the very least, we think we know a bit of physics.
So what’s wrong with this picture?
And I say this as a big Green Arrow fan. Let’s explain why.
Me: Birm, have you seen those comic images where the archer is doing acrobatics on the air while shooting his bow?
Birm: Shooting whilst jumping? Nope, can’t say that I have.
Me: They say that an image tells more than 1000 words… *shows picture above*
Birm: That’s more like it, In real life, Green Arrow would then be flat on his back.
Me: so many Brokeback Mountain jokes here.
Birm: *roll eyes*
Me: Anyways, here is a second image.
Birm: Oh good grief.
Birm: Do comic book artists know nothing of momentum?
Me: Considering that they work with a fictional world where a super powered alien can catch a girl in mid-air without splitting her into thirds and thus automatically killing her, I would say that No, they don’t.
Birm: That’s because Superman alters his own gravitational field dammit. It can be explained away by pseudo-science, but ‘Word of God’ states these guys have no powers.
Me: I take that you have been watching the same argument on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and reading TV Tropes.
Birm: Why yes, yes I have done both of those things.
Me: I guess we are going down a whole new level of geekdom
Birm: Well TV Tropes provides an excellent resource for giving names to things.
Me: Also provides a good way to lose years of productive life just by browsing it. Anyways, what is more, possible to do, the previous image or this?
Birm: Shooting whilst on a motorbike is possible, with a sufficiently skilled driver.
Me: well Dinah is a skilled driver so that is not a worry (except when she is in an awful mood). Now flying bike must present the same momentum issues than before, then again we are talking about a universe where Batman could just breathe in space just because he is BATMAN.
Birm: This is true, regardless of what the situation is, simple mechanics specifies that momentum must be maintained, so firing a projectile pretty quick in one direction will lead to a force in the opposite direction.
Me: Basic Newton’s law: to every applied force there is a reaction of equal value but opposite direction or something like that.
Me: In a normal shooting we don’t feel it as our weight overcomes the force that an arrow could generate, however, the bow does get affected, as we explained in last month’s column about how to hold a bow.
Birm: Yeah, the main principle behind it is that the bow is creating a force forwards which is transferred into the arrow. Some of this force is dissipated into the arrow but there is still a lot of force trying to force the bow forwards. This is why a lot of recurve archers use a finger sling, instead of trying to hold onto the bow they just let it drop and let the sling hold it, so the forward force is allowed to throw the bow forwards a little and is then dropped in the downward direction.
Me: And in a normal shooting we are flat footed so our legs transfer the effort towards the floor.
Birm: Yup, what happens on these images it’s not possible to do this with a longbow, you have to hold on and use your weight and stance to dissipate the force, which isn’t possible when you have nothing to brace against.
Me: Something that is lacking on these images. Basically, in these instances, Ollie or Clint would get pushed backward.
Birm: Hmm, I’m not convinced about that, I think they would get pulled forwards.
Me: Following the bow and the string vector?
Birm: Yeh, the bow enacts a force forwards of the archer, which is what is transferred into the arrow to make it move, the rest of the force is then transferred into the limbs and down into the grip resulting in a net force forwards, it’s usually up to the archer to provide a rearwards force to counteract this.
Me: So if you shoot while jumping you might as well use a pointy hat and become another arrow.
Birm: Yeh, pretty much.
Me: Arrowman!!! The Amazing pointy vigilante… or circus act. You know? I think the problem has its roots on the gunplay from action flicks.
Birm: Yes, it’s possible to shoot guns whilst firing through the air but they operate on completely different firing principles.
Me: Well they do still have the recoil, so you still get pushed backward isn’t?
Birm: The problem with a bow is that your arm is at its full extension already so there’s nowhere for the force to go to.
Me: But in movies, people shoot a gun at full arm extension. I guess the issue is that it looks cool, regardless of how possible it is and with archers, the problem is even bigger as there are just a handful ways to make the look cool in a comic. In a film/tv/cartoon is easier due to the fluidity of the movement, the speed and the dramatic moment, think Legolas in LOTR, Green Arrow in Smallville and JLU or Robin Hood in the Costner movie (and yet there the writer takes a lot of liberties).
Birm: Depicting the action of firing a bow is difficult in comics as you either show the bow at full draw which looks dramatic, or you show it with an arrow flying off it, which looks a bit rubbish because it looks like the archer isn’t doing anything. That’s why you have silly things like Legolas in the LOTR films, sliding on a shield down a staircase.
Me: I guess this is one of those cases where we might have to cut some slack to the artist and allow suspension of disbelief as in comic format it would be hard to do it unless the bow has some magical properties like the one you are trying to build and the FX of the arrow would do all the job.
Birm: It’s definitely a case for suspension of disbelief, it’d be pretty difficult to take an archery based superhero seriously if they fell flat on their face every time they fired an arrow.
Me: It would make comedy gold though… or it would be a bit sad as the BBC Robin Hood show.
Birm: I still think that would be comedy gold.
Me: I can’t stop picturing someone doing that.
Birm: That would be brilliant.
Me: Human Arrow, the acrobatic archer/arrow, he shoots himself to stop crime.
Me: Let’s call a major publisher, we might get lucky if we pitch this. Maybe even a movie deal with Will Ferrell as Human Arrow.
Remember, in real life -and as a writer, if you have an archer in the story- you need a good shooting positioning to make it realistic. And don’t drink while using a bow unless you are planning to share it with us.