Before the 2011 Fall Semester, I used to think that, yeah, Wonder Woman is really cool and strong, but why the heck did she make the choice to wear that bathing suit as her costume 24/7? She’s liable to pop out of the thing at any moment during a fight! I was somewhat mildly aware of sexism in the comic industry, but it was more along the lines of “well, they like seeing thin women with big boobs in bathing suits and bikinis”, and little else.
But then I linked Stjepan Sejic’s drawing of the Inner Senshi from the manga/anime “Sailor Moon” on Facebook. I commented “So this is pretty neat. I always love when people make them look less cartoony. Look! Actual body proportions!”
A friend replied, “Although I could definitely do with less Escher-girls-esque proportions myself… this is still WAY cool!” When I asked her about “escher-girls”, she linked me to the eschergirls blog. (Sejic’s work is still really cool for the most part – you should check out his deviantart. He’s also a published comic book artist).
The description for the blog reads: “This is a blog to archive and showcase the prevalence of certain ways women are depicted in illustrated pop media, specifically how women are posed, drawn, distorted, and sexualized out of context, often in ridiculous, impossible, or disturbing ways that sacrifice storytelling.” The blog accepts submissions of comics, advertisements, animated shows, manga, video games, and good discussion questions. The image is presented, typically with pointers for at least one or two things (if not more) that are wrong with the image, and then discussion occurs. The site is exactly what it says: an archive, meant to compile evidence that demonstrates how poorly women are represented in media, as a case against people who say that oversexualization in comics/advertising is not a problem, or that it doesn’t happen. It’s also meant to start discussion with people and get people thinking and talking about the problem. This is not a small problem; a lot, if not most, of the artists referenced are big-name artists who cover many of the popular titles in companies like DC and Marvel.
Some common foci include: the boobs and butt pose, bizarre anatomy, boneless bodies, boobflounder (boobs moving oddly), centaur women (in the sense that human spines drawn this way don’t work, but would work for a centaur), collarboobs, clones (characters who all look the same because the artist in question does not draw characters who look different), crotchleg (where a leg comes out of the crotch), dislocated hips, insect women (a favorite of artists like Rob Liefield), missing limbs, neverending pelvis, organless torsos, pornface, ridiculous fighting stance, rubber spines, snakewomen, photoshop, swivel boobs, swivel waist, uneven limbs, WTF clothing, and vacuum sealed clothing. One way to spot some of the problems is to pose (or attempt to) in the position in question and see how it feels or if it’s possible. Just be careful – a lot of this stuff is impossible or incredibly painful. Try not to hurt yourself.
Reasons presented for the bad art include “they’re tracing from porn magazines”, “they’ve never actually met/seen a real woman”, “they don’t have practice drawing real people”, “they haven’t taken enough art classes”, “deadlines”, “they haven’t done enough research on x”, “the person who paid them asked for the pose for x, y, and z reasons”, “they have a misconception on what people want to see and what people will buy and what market they should be appealing to”, etc.
Not all the submissions are bad art. Redraws are also accepted. Redraws can involve people simply pointing out the many flaws in an image. They can also involve a “fix” of one or more aspects of the image, which can involve redrawing a portion of a character or redrawing an entire character, or redrawing the entire image.
People often include the list of fixes they did and why. Not all of the redraws are perfect and/or beautiful (which are not the same thing – something can look aesthetically pleasing while being a poor example of art/anatomy/clothing/movement, and a drawing can be proper in every possible way, but not be aesthetically pleasing), but the blog is focused mainly on discourse on the subject – as long as people are talking about it, things are going good. And people do discuss redraws – what’s better, what they like about it, what they dislike, and so on. Multiple people also take a shot at redrawing the same image, so there’s multiple ideas for how to fix problems.
There are also pure commentary posts that discuss certain art “techniques” commonly seen in the industry. Other posts include art references and guides, along with examples of original art done correctly. A really good tumblr for this is Less Tits N’Ass, More Kickin’ Ass. The Less Tits N’ Ass FAQ reads:
“So how do you get the point across? How do you fix that problem? By bringing suggestions and solutions. I want this tumblr to prove that women CAN be posed in ways other than T&A and still be awesome. Better yet, awesomer.” (The rest is all very good and informative, and you should read it).
The Less Tits N’ Ass, More Kickin’ Ass site is full of detailed breakdowns of panels and covers: why certain things don’t work, and why certain things work better. There’s also a big focus on storytelling and character creation (which is what I always thought non-pornographic comics are supposed to be about). If a character is supposed to be having fun, they should be grinning. If a character is supposed to be really strong, they should have muscles (e.g., Yes, she’s Kryptonian, so she already has superstrength and maybe doesn’t need musuclature equal to that of an Earthling as a result; but by that logic, why does Superman have muscles, and Supergirl/woman does not?). If a character is supposed to be swinging across rooftops on a rope in Chicago, gravity and physics should be kicking in. It’s downright sad how often comic book artists go for sex over logic or telling the story.
There’s also a big focus on the idea of style v. skill (and/or intelligence). One of the big arguments against people pointing out oversexualization in comics/drawing is “well, that’s their style!”
Well, there’s a difference between this:
Also known as style.
Also known as AGGGGH MY EYES!!!!!
The Hawkeye Initiative also works “to draw attention to how deformed, hyper-sexualized, and unrealistically posed/dressed women are drawn in comics.” It comes from this: “… This leads me to propose the Hawkeye Test. If your female character can be replaced by Hawkeye in the same pose without looking silly or stupid, then it’s acceptable and probably non sexist. If you can’t, then just forget about it.” Other characters used to fill out the cast on the images used are other members of the Avengers, including Black Widow, Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, and Nick Fury.
There’s also the beginnings of a reversal of The Hawkeye Initiative – the Psylocke Collaboration, which puts Psylocke, one of the most notoriously over-sexualized and poorly drawn characters in comic books, in the same positions as men in strong poses.
All of the bad art techniques highlighted on these sites contribute to the objectification of women. It also hurts the art community – they have people like Rob Liefield, Michael Turner, J. Scott Campbell, Greg Land, Humberto Ramos, Ed Benes, and others adding bad art to the community and ruining the minds of future artists by giving them really bad advice and art books (also brought up on eschergirls). It’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy – one of the reasons people bring up for women being oversexualized in comics is that the target audience is heterosexual males, because that’s where comics supposedly sell more. “Women don’t buy comics”. Well, polls have been taken to show that women see stuff like this and are less likely to buy it as a result. These people are not looking for pornographic material or, as is more likely, bad art that tries to be pornographic. They are simply looking for actual comics, like the “X-Men”, “Avengers”, “Justice League”, and so on are supposed to be, but instead they see stuff that looks like pornography and get turned off.
These so-called “idealizations” of women also contribute to the creation of non-realistic images for which women are “supposed” to strive. It contributes to pop culture hating on women over a certain weight or not fitting into a relatively specific cookie-cutter image of what a woman “should” be. Most of us cannot remove our organs to fit into what people deem is “skinny”. Most of us don’t want to eat a cube of cheese a day and nothing else to stay in the negative pants range. Some of us have bodies that are just built a certain way. This also really limits what people call “beautiful”. Beautiful is a multi-colored word with many, many different fits. If “fit” is beautiful, then some of these artists need to go look at the Olympics and see what fit people over there look like (also discussed on eschergirls), because I can assure you that those real-life superwomen didn’t all look like the screwed-up women highlighted on eschergirls and in other places. And I’m not even getting into ethnic issues here, or how women are portrayed in video games.
I like talking about this. It’s nice to see people talking about this and not just pretending it doesn’t exist or writing it off immediately. The amount of related material is really building up, now, too. There’s Ladies Making Comics, which relates to the issue of women in a male-dominated industry; then there’s Women-Centric Comics, which involves comics that center around female characters. Like the book and film industries, the comic industry is still dominated by male characters. There’s DC Women Kicking Ass, which deals with badass women in comics. There’s also Babes in Armor, which features women in real armor or well-drawn/designed armor, to combat the theory that strong fighting women walk around in bikinis and duct tape costumes because that’s what armor is like for women. Tor.com also hosts numerous articles about women in science fiction and fantasy, as well as specially on TV shows, comics, and movies: how they’re represented, how men write them, how women write them (and how women write men and vice versa), and how they’re under-represented.
It’s a lot of reading, but there is tons of material out there with tons of different opinions and a lot of discussion on all of it if you want to look through it. Also, be warned. These sites specifically avoid looking at pornographic material, but it’s still pretty bad. Here thar be monsters.
The comic industry is not all terrible. There are many, many bright lights in the industry. There are many different, beautiful styles and many great story tellers. There are great artists out there, and a lot of them. The webcomic industry is also a great place to look for good comics to read. I love comics. I own a lot of comics. I also love manga. I read so many webcomics that it is ridiculous. If you would like me to point out some really beautiful, well-drawn, well-written comics and/or webcomics, I would be happy to do so.
Personally, I see a lot of problems here. The start to fixing them is by talking about them. This doesn’t only hurt women, so if you are not female, this still matters because it still affects you.
None of these images belong to me. If you click them, they will take you to either the blogs where I found them, or the art galleries of the artists who made them.