Is this page from Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons depicting two trees? Or a goddess’ face? Whatever your answer, it’s exactly what Gene Ha wanted you to see.
Ha is the second artist to collaborate with writer Kelly Sue DeConnick on Historia’s three issues — a retelling the origin of DC’s Amazons — following legendary Wonder Woman artist Phil Jimenez, who filled every inch of the 62-page book with with hugely detailed renderings of heavily researched character designs. It was an act that seemed impossible to follow, until Ha’s issue dropped this week, unveiling his technique for depicting the Amazons’ patron goddesses on the mortal plane.
In the issue, the mortal woman Hippolyta comes face to face with the goddess of the hunt as she herself hunts for the Amazons. “I wanted Artemis to clearly be there, and to clearly not be there,” Ha wrote in the issue’s back matter. “Both a small figure, and greater than human, both fully true at the same time.”
Ha turned to the subcategory of optical illusions known as “ambiguous images.” You almost certainly know some of the more famous examples: Is it a vase, or two faces? A duck, or a rabbit? An old woman, or a young one? It’s a trick of our brains’ ability to make sense of patterns that’s been used in fine art, cartooning and Highlights magazine, but Ha’s point of inspiration was Ari Aster’s Midsommar, which uses the shapes of trees and leaves to create unsettling subliminal faces.
“It works okay in moving pictures,” Ha wrote, “but I knew it would work far better in non-moving pictures.” He doesn’t use it as a one moment trick, either, but a constant shifting of ambiguous reality.
“Is Artemis on this page?” Ha wrote. “Is the horse returning to its godly mistress, or simply chewing on some berries? Has Hippolyta been struck down by madness or raised by the divine? Yes.”
And it’s not just Artemis. In addition to using the technique to give Hippolyta’s god-touched moment a true unearthliness, Ha also employs it to communicate story events. See if you can find the goddesses Hera and Artemis, as they watch over the Amazons unseen.
Honestly, I’ve got to say a mea culpa. I didn’t think anyone would be able to follow Phil Jimenez’s opening act, but judging by these goddesses, I should have had a bit more faith.
Is that a bad pun, or a truthful statement? Yes.