Evolution: One Leg Leads to Another

The human leg
has evolved continually over many eons, adapting from an underwater
propeller to its current form. But on book covers and on film and
theater posters, the leg has evolved very little. In fact, the
“A-Frame,” a cutoff-torso-spread-leg framing device, is the
most frequently copied trope ever used. From steamy paperbacks designed
in the ’40s (Pamela’s Sweet Agony), hardly a year has
gone by without at least one ham-fisted advertisement using this
perspective. The earliest known uses were 19th-century engravings that
showed spread-legged, Simon Legree–type slave masters lording over
cowering victims. In Westerns, the quintessential showdown frames one
duelist through the legs of the other, and mid-20th-century pulp
magazine covers were known for their noir images of recoiling women seen
through the legs of menacing men. Eventually, designers used the conceit
to frame all manner of things, from retro musicals (Cry-Baby) to
the James Bond flick For Your Eyes Only (plus the Austin Powers
spoof Goldmember) and gritty, contemporary Westerns (3:10 to
Yuma
). STEVEN HELLER

View slideshows of individual categories: Pulp fiction covers, movie posters, DVD covers, advertisements, Western book covers, comics, theater posters, book covers, album covers, and magazine covers.
All images on this page courtesy of MIRKO ILIC, a New York-based graphic designer, illustrator, and co-author of graphic design books. His most recent books include The Design of Dissent, written with Milton Glaser, and The Anatomy of Design and Icons of Graphic Design, written with Steven Heller. He also teaches illustration at the School of Visual Arts.


About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes a weekly column for The Atlantic online and is the "Visuals" Columnist for the New York Times Book Review. He is also the author of over 160 books on design and visual culture. And he is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Hello Steven!

    I’ve tried to watch the gorgeous A-frame slideshow once more but it has disappeared. Where can I find all those pics? Is it possible to buy a book/magazine where it’s published in?

    Thanks for your answer.

  2. Hello Steven!

    I’ve tried to watch the gorgeous A-frame slideshow once more but it has disappeared. Where can I find all those pics? Is it possible to buy a book/magazine where it’s published in?

    Thanks for your answer.

  3. Hello Steven!

    I’ve tried to watch the gorgeous A-frame slideshow once more but it has disappeared. Where can I find all those pics? Is it possible to buy a book/magazine where it’s published in?

    Thanks for your answer.