Today, I added an article/rendering of my take on the Milo Manara Spider-Woman cover. As an artist, just about every time I see one of these articles I'm put immediately on the defensive because said articles almost always de-evolve into several points.
First up is always the sexualization of women and the power fantasies of men. Yes, I'm more than willing to admit that women are often sexualized in comics. No, every single piece of art of a man is not a "power fantasy." The second this argument comes up in an article as justification for said article, you've lost me as an artist because you've immediately put me, an artist, on the defensive by claiming everything I and my fellow artists have ever done or will ever do belongs in only these two categories. Yes, it is a common theme for one person to be the "power" and the other to be the "objective." That doesn't mean that every piece of art has the male in the "power" position, nor every female in the "objective" position. Nor does it mean that artists don't recognize that fact. Joe Jusko has a quote on the back of one of his trading card sets from the 90's about how odd it is that cavemen are always portrayed as ugly, hairy things like they are in the museums when it comes to artwork, but women are always the modern, perfect hair archetypes in fantasy art rather than resembling their prehistoric counterparts.
While the reversal of roles is not as common, it is out there and these arguments never seem to cover them. Often, it's because people discredit them due to excessive nudity or sexual situations. Two examples of this I can think of are Budd Root's Cavewoman and Jim Balent's Tarot.
Cavewoman's Meriem is a strong and fiercely independent female character who manages to also retain a fair bit of feminism. She grew up on her own in prehistoric times after her Grandfather was killed by dinosaurs after they were transported to the past by his invention, she grew up without the need for modesty. While the series has a lot of nudity and sexual situations, often Meriem is shown as an innocent, not really realizing what her nudity or near nudity is having on those around her. If a breast pops out or a strap slips, she is more concerned with surviving that making sure she's not flashing her naughty bits. (Her boyfriend, Bruce, is often the person stuck in the role of "Damsel in distress" and has needed to remind her to cover up from time to time.)
Balent's Tarot is, for all intents and purposes, superhero/fantasy softcore porn as all the women have huge breasts. However, Tarot is another example of a strong and independent female character. While she and her family have occasionally needed saving by her boyfriend, John Webb, often he's the one in need of help or saving. What really sets Tarot apart for me though is the exploration of Wiccan traditions and lore, a religion that while had gained in popularity in recent years, is still seen as "evil" by most other religions who don't understand it. Most of Tarot's stories are more whimsical and lighthearted, but they've done some really dark story lines in the past. While the sheer amount of open sexuality in the series would get it discredited from the Bechdel test, Tarot is one of my favorite examples of a strong and intelligent female characters. (To be fair, if you were to reverse the Bechdel test to include stories where guys talked with other guys about love interests, I'm fairly certain every story in existence would fail that test. Then again, the comic strip the test was based off of names a film that doesn't meet the requirement of the test, as Ripley and Lambert had a conversation where Ripley asks Lambert about Ash. Then again, Ash is revealed to be an android later, so perhaps that doesn't count.)
Now, neither of these characters are mainstream like those characters from Marvel or DC, so that also tends to make them discredited, but they are out there. Death from DC's vertigo is a character who, aside from a little informative brochure about safe sex back in the 90's, I've never seen officially used in a story about sex. (For the record, the brochure was done with a very humorous yet serious tone, with a guest appearance by John Constantine who hands her a banana while complaining about how embarrassing the whole thing was when she demonstrated how to properly apply a condom.) In all honesty, I don't remember her being naked in the Sandman series at all, where she predominately was used. In fact, she's about the only main character, male or female, who we didn't see in the buff in that series at some point. (Admittedly, I only saw the series because a friend of mine was really into it, so I may have missed some issues that he hadn't tracked down.)
I'm not sure there's a single character in the Marvel Universe where I would say they haven't gotten screwed over at some point and time by a writer on the book. While a friend of mine holds up the recent Captain Marvel series, Carol Danvers had some truly bad things happen to her character. However, I've always loved Carol's personality, and how no matter what is thrown her way, she'll overcome it. She's also one of the few characters drawn with a physique to match her abilities. She Hulk, despite the fact that many arguments toss out her character as an example of a good strong female character due to the bathing suit style costume and how she's "just a female version of Hulk," is another favorite of mine because where Hulk got dumb and gets more powerful as he gets angry, Jennifer not only retained her brains (she's a lawyer, and a successful one at that) but loved her new abilities. She's not a "squeaky clean" character either, as she's willing to manipulate in order to get her way. (To be fair, she is a lawyer...) One of my favorite stories with her has her take Thing out drinking to try and talk some sense into him, and deliberately takes him to a bar near a building that is being demolished so that he could work out his issues in a fight while making sure that no one and nothing got destroyed that wasn't going to be destroyed to begin with.
I guess for me, I just don't understand why every male character is a power fantasy just because they're male and scantily clad, yet the above characters are "sexualized female characters." I mean, does that mean that because Sailor Moon characters wear short skirts they're "sexualized female characters" when I would think they would be more of a power fantasy instead, despite the fact that their creator is female. What about characters like Ranma 1/2, Birds of Prey, Battle Angel Alita, and Jenny Sparks? (Kudos points to those who know who she is...)
That pose is sexist because it has Boobs/Butt/Crotch prominent in the camera angle:
Here's a drinking game to try that proves that this particular argument isn't always used properly. Read a Spider-Man comic that has him webslinging his way to get somewhere. Now, I want you to take a drink anytime his crotch is pointed at the camera, and another shot when his butt is thrust backward at the camera. Take one more shot for any time his chest is jutting forward because his arms are raised over his head and his getting ready to kick his legs forward. Do another any time his legs are spread kicked out from one another, giving characters in the foreground or background a crotch close up. Then tally up the total number of shots you just drank. (That is, if you're still sober enough to hold a pencil or be awake at that point.)
Yes, there are times when people do ridiculous amounts of boob/butt/crotch close up or prominent camera angles. Does that mean it's sexist 100% of the time? No. Sometimes, it's simply the movement of the characters. I haven't explored much of the New 52 universe from DC, partially because I feel they should have done anything to keep that string of Batman comics going to be the first comic book series to run 1,000 concurrent issues without interruption or renaming the title of the book. (That means that at no point in the series history did the comics stop, start a new numbering system, then go back to the old numbering system. Someone argued this point with me the other day that Thor's run would be the first one to reach issue 1,000, because while his comic had that whole "Heroes Reborn" reboot, it reverted back to the number the issues would have been had the reboot not taken place. I had to explain what concurrent issues meant, and how the Heroes Reborn reboot and Journey into Mystery didn't count as issues of the main series, despite Marvel's attempt to persuade fans that the series didn't "really" get cancelled and rebooted.) The other partially is because of how they handled Catwoman and Starfire in the reboots. (If I hadn't already sworn off DC books over those other issues, I would have quit cold turkey after seeing what they did with Raven's character.) Oddly, one story that was done where I would agree wholeheartedly that it was sexist beyond all measure was the story where Batgirl chases Catwoman around in a nudist colony wearing nothing but their masks. I can't see either of these characters agreeing to the terms to strip naked and go into a room completely defenseless, and the whole story was pure TNA and cheesecake in terms of the poses and action. The strange thing is, I've seen this story praised as a way of doing things right for women in comics before, and I'm just not seeing the difference for how this is different from any other comic where the lead female character runs around naked or half naked the whole time.
Male characters are drawn in those poses all the time/show me proof or it didn't happen defense:
Often, the first comeback in the comments sections of these articles is "male character x is drawn that way all the time." I won't lie, I've thrown that argument out there before, especially when I know it's valid. The comeback is always some variation of, "Show me examples or it's not true." Sometimes, there are poses where yes, it is questionable. Yes, sometimes we think we've seen that pose on other characters in the past. To be fair, to expect someone to have instant access to a scene somewhere in their 20 to 30 year long span of collecting comics isn't really an effective way of denouncing that argument. Well, it is, but it immediately makes the debater discredit anything you might argue in the future because they realize that you aren't willing to discuss it reasonably. Then again, if the person using that argument can't give an approximate timeline or storyline they remember the scene from, then it's probably best not to try countering with that argument. I'd say go to google to try to find it, but I tried that with trying to find a similarly posed Spider-man image to counter the Spider-Woman #1 Manara cover, and the results of which came up with everything except for Spider-man. I did find a couple of similar poses for Captain Britain to the pose Spider-Woman was in for the Greg Land cover, but I know I've seen better on some of the old Excalibur books from the 90's during the Alan Davis run. As for the poses themselves, when I looked at the image without reading the article on it (about a day or so later,) I realized that it looks like Land was going for the "fastball special" that is one of Marvel's favorite bits to use. Basically, a character with super strength would pick up a smaller character who would curl into a ball and get thrown by said character at the enemy or place where they were trying to reach that was otherwise inaccessible. (Colossus and Wolverine are the first pair I remember using it back in the 80's X-Men comics, but it may have been used before then in other comics I don't know about.) I'm not a fan of the Greg Land cover as the anatomy on Silk is extremely off, and Spider-Woman's arms are too masculine. (Note, it's not because they're muscular, as good artists will make stronger characters muscular. It's because they're done with a male muscular system instead of a female muscular system.)
The Battle Bikini
Okay, I'm not even going to try to defend this one. There is no such thing as practical armor that only covers the naughty bits, regardless of gender outside of jungle/fantasy settings where they don't have armor or modern clothing. Leotard style outfits for acrobatic characters, okay, I can see that. Characters with fur covered bodies, like Beast or Tigra, I can see as a possible reason for wearing briefs or bikini style outfits since zippers and fur just don't sound like a fun mix. Speedsters who need to cut down on the friction of the fabric of the suit I can see having strategic areas cut out too. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to say I don't love some of those fantasy outfit designs that are fairly skimpy, and have thrown them on characters in the past without any feeling of guilt, but I also recognize that fighters should have some kind of armor that looks like it could actually do something. (A D&D character I have in my gallery, Moonbrooke, showcases my feelings on this as I don't agree with "boob plate" or intricate decorative designs on armor as well, as I gave her an injury where she was stabbed through her right lung in one of the places the design on her old armor was weaker than the others. One of these days, I need to color that in so that people can tell she's wearing pants too.) Those skimpy armors are fine for ceremony, but I'd never recommend sending a character into battle in one unless they're a barbarian type character or dexterity based character. (Maybe a magic user who would have their spells disrupted by metal would be acceptable to.) If a character is all but invulnerable to harm from physical or temperature means, then possibly then it would be acceptable as well, but there should be a valid personality or background reasoning for it, such as...
Okay, this is one case where I can see both sides of the argument, because there are plenty of cultures here on Earth where little to no clothing is acceptable, and plenty where showing a bare foot, ankle, hand, or face is punishable by death. That's not even getting into potential culture clash from alien races we might one day encounter. This is where I go on my rant about the character Starfire, and a big part of why I can't bring myself to try the New 52 when I heard about how she was being portrayed in the book. Now, admittedly, my experience with Korriander has been pretty limited, with a few crossovers the Titans had with other series and the few books I've gotten a chance to read or pick up in bargain bins over the years. She came from a culture where nudity and physical acts of love weren't as taboo as they are in ours. When this is done right, it creates a huge sense of culture clash for herself and her friends. (I remember reading about where she gets married to another Tamaranean and not understanding why Nightwing was so upset when because it didn't mean they had to end their relationship in her culture. Sadly, I didn't get to read the issue in question, just the page of the night after the wedding where Starfire is trying to figure out why Nightwing was so upset.) It should noted that because Tamaraneans were resistant to temperature and radiation, their culture as a whole didn't wear much in the way of clothing. When it's done wrong, you get the New 52 version of Starfire who has a raging libido, short attention span and memory for who she's been with and why, and doesn't seem to have attachment to anyone. (From what I understand after doing a bit of research, DC has retconned this so that she remembers everything deeply and passionately, but chooses to "suppress" those memories for whatever reason. That's about as dumb to me as Peter David's having Hulk say, "I was holding back" in reference to the fight Doc Ock gave Hulk where he managed to restrain the Hulk with his new adamantium arms. As Erik Larsen pointed out, "What possible reason would the Hulk have for holding back?!")
Bad Anatomy doesn't necessarily mean bad art or lack of anatomy studies
As for anatomical issues, when you have a certain amount of time to get a project done, sometimes you can see an issue but have to run with it. If you miss your deadline, then odds are you lose either money or the job in question. That's the reality of working in an industry with time limits. Sometimes, you are asked to do a particular pose, you do said pose, and the client says, "That's great, but I want to see <insert body part here> doing this as well." It should be noted that the <insert body part here> is not able to be seen from the angle of the shot but is busy doing something specific, but your client insists so you draw it out of anatomical proportion for said reason. Sometimes, those projects where you have to figure out a way to rework the rules of anatomy can be fun challenges. Sometimes, they can be nightmares, particularly when your mind is drawing a blank on how to make the drawing work. (It's not the client's fault, as often they don't realize how you can't show what's going on from every angle and they're so excited to finally be commissioning their idea that they spill out what's going on in areas that just aren't visible from one angle. Often, when you finally work out that challenge, they can be some of the more rewarding pieces in the end because of said challenge.) Many times, something you think is atrocious because you can see all those things you messed up on yet it ends up being one of your client's favorite pieces. Sometimes, you're too close to a piece to see if it's good or not, and you have to let it sit and breathe for a while before examining it to see if you like it or not. I know some of the pieces I've done have seemed terrible to me at the time and they ended up being one of my most liked pieces, and stuff I thought was some of my best work got shot down with a "incorrect anatomy" rejection letter. (I'm very thankful that Todd McFarlene and Jim Lee shared their rejection letters, as it goes to show how even artists with huge fan bases can have work rejected.) Let's face it, if bad anatomy meant an image was a piece of trash, then we wouldn't have Modern or Abstract art. In fact, sometimes a piece works because that "bad anatomy" makes the viewer take that closer look and giving the viewer a bit of participation in the viewing of the piece than just, "that's nice."
That artist is sexist and perverted for drawing scantily clad female characters and provocative poses
I've talked this long basically venting at the frustration at the root of this argument, because I'm at heart someone who enjoys drawing women in various states of undress and sexual situations. (Blame puberty, as I couldn't draw anything that was recognizable before I hit puberty. While you might think that was a joke, it's not.) Note, I said that I enjoy drawing them on my own time, but have drawn plenty of other stuff when I was getting paid to draw other things or had some sort of assignment to draw something else. That artist the internet decided to gang up on? He was told to draw something a certain way. He did his job, drew it the way he was told, and then everyone seems bound and determined to place the blame on him for being paid to do a job. Yet so many of the replies and comments I see on these articles and threads ignore that the artist was sought out by the art director/editor on the project they were hired for, or the author wrote that panel of Catwoman in a state of undress running around with boob and butt shots that were the focus of the panel before we finally see her face on the second page of her comic. That artwork started out as a concept from the writer, drawn by the artist, dialog written by the writer once the artist's work was approved, then published that way. There's plenty of blame to go around in the creative process, and often it's more one person than the entire group. You can usually examine an artist's body of work and tell if it is them, or the fault of another person in the group. If the artist is big enough, like Mr. Manara, to have an established pattern and artistic style for drawing certain subjects, then when he is sought out by a company to work on the project and bring said style of work to their characters, it is not his fault, it is the fault of the company who hired him and told him to bring his style of work to their creation. To attack him and his style for drawing what he was paid to do is akin to attack someone for the color of their skin or their sexuality in my book. Now, if Marvel releases the documents stating they wanted Spider-Woman in a pose that was just her standing on a building with a pose that could not be construed as sexual in any way, shape, or form, then you can blame Mr. Manara for misunderstanding the assignment at best, and defying the client's order at worst.
If you don't like it, why don't you draw it yourself?
This is the one comeback that always comes up in this argument from one side or the other that I hate seeing, because it shows the utter idiocy and ignorance of the internet. You know the internet meme of Ned Stark saying, "One does not simply just start a Game of Thrones?" Yeah, you just totally went, "Why don't you just start a Game of Thrones," and Ned Stark is having to correct you. (Before he loses his head.) Even if you can draw yourself, you have to be chosen by the art directors/editors at a comic company to be able to work on said project. If you seek to self publish, that's expensive and time consuming as well, often with little to no payoff other than people stealing your work or telling you that you suck. (Thanks to those fans who do send encouraging words, as I'm sure you know who your are. Those are always very appreciated, and sometimes the only reason I even attempt new art these days.) Just because someone is offended or upset by either a drawing or story doesn't mean they have the talent, know how, resources, or opportunity to be able to draw/write/publish what they would like to see.
My challenge back to those who have read all this
Rather than say, "why don't you draw it yourself," I would challenge everyone to provide examples of where artists/writers/comics got it right. Far too often, in fact, I dare say every time there is a rant like this, no one says, "Look at this. They got it right! This is what we need more of!" Don't just jump on the bandwagon with pitchforks, torches, and thermonuclear weapons, let the company know your displeasure but also tell them where they did well, or how you think it could be improved. Also, don't gripe about every piece of art featuring a woman claiming it's sexist. Pick and choose your battles, or save it up and release it as a way of documenting your case, but be sure to include samples of other work that got things right so that the company and artist you're upset with can see what they did that was offensive but also see examples of how to do things the right way to make you happy.
One of my favorite examples of how my own art grew was an argument in the old Erotic Artist Workshop group (Or maybe it was ECC, I can't remember) where an artist called PFunk got upset over the selection of yet another blonde white superheroine being chosen as the subject for the jam for that month. It lead to a flame war that I didn't get to comment on, and resulted in the artist leaving the group. (Which was a shame, as he was really talented.) I stewed on it, really upset at first, but came to realize I hadn't drawn or created a character of different ethnicity since High School. One of his biggest points was that even when a character was a minority, they were often drawn as a white person who was painted the color of their ethnicity. (His comment on Storm was that she was always drawn with the build and facial feature of a white girl, where as characters like Rocket from the Icon books Milestone put had black facial features.) It made me start trying to find examples of different ethnic looks and incorporating them into my work. I started looking hard at details one might put into a character's look or design to make them look more ethnic in features, like how Redbird from Wildstorm's Black Ops comic had a rounded nose rather than a dainty pointed one as part of her character design. I can't remember what tribe she was descended from, as it wasn't a focus on the character in her storyline, but was just one of those random things that helped to shape her overall design and make her instantly recognizable, even in black and white line are. One other side effect was that I started trying to think outside of the box in terms of character personalities, and trying to work that into my character builds as well. The point is that when you give examples of how to do it right, then changes start to happen. When you don't, and just belittle and moan about how characters are portrayed, then all you do is get the people you're trying to impress the importance of your cause upon to ignore your rants and discount them.
Just as a for instance, say you want pin ups of guys who aren't "male power fantasies." What sort of poses and the like would be "sexualized male poses" as opposed to "male power fantasies?" Say you want less "sexualized" images of women, who in the industry is getting it right? Don't just make huge rants about the bad things, make huge rants about what is working for you. The same goes for ethnic characters, LGBT characters, and any other kinds of characters I might be overlooking. This isn't me ranting for no reason, this is me asking... no, begging for these offended groups to inform the comic art community what they need to do to fix things, because if we don't learn the right way to do things, odds are things will stay the way they are now.