• PrintMag

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.