Thursday, January 05, 2006

Gratuitous Ass Shot

I've followed a few links to Lea Hernandez's LiveJournal post, Why I Quit Comics. First, I respect Ms. Hernandez' decision, and yes, that panel (I haven't read the comic yet) is a bit much. Does it work in any level in the story? I won't know til I read it, but I suspect the shot could've been done a bit differently, not be so in your face, and still portray Vickie Vale as a sexual creature and make her the focus of the panel. However, when you tell Jim Lee you want an ass shot, by golly, you'll get a ass shot, and it was certainly well drawn.

I've only skimmed the other blog entries about this (I'll read more closely tonight), but off the top of my head, I have a few thoughts.

Not since I started reading comics back in 1960 (I think I saw a few in '58 and '59, but my real comic reading began when I was 7), all through the '60s and '70s, more than half of the '80s, and steadily since the mid-'90s, have I ever really been bothered by how women are portrayed. I tend to pay more attention to the male characters, and there were always a few females to provide role models or whatever, not the least of whom were Lois Lane, Wonder Girl, and Supergirl back when I was growing up. The latter 2 were also teens, and I could relate.

Sure, I know women are objectified in comics. That won't change til there's something close to a balance in male and female writers, artists, and editors. Teenaged boys have always been the main target and girls who, like me, like(d) superheros were/are the exceptions. The comic book publishers want to court female readers to keep the medium viable in the age of electronic entertainments, but with comics aimed at girls, not by revamping the superhero realm. Which makes the upcoming switch of the Hawkman comic to Hawkgirl an interesting development.

What really always drove me nuts was the lack of equality for female readers. I didn't want to read just Archies and Katy Keene and romance comics. And when I read superheros, I liked seeing the guys in tights and the occasional crotch shot (unlike Ragnell, I'm not much of a butt shot lover). I love that Hawkman not only has a muscular, hairy chest, but that we get to see it. All the time he's in costume. I thought it was silly that some male characters had to run around in short pants, most notably Robin, because their legs didn't interest me as much as a peek at the "package." (Just how glad is Superman to see Lois, anyway?)

Sex sells. I don't know that there was ever a time when it didn't. And most superhero books aren't for little kids. They're aimed at teens. And well, teens think about sex, a lot. And the average comic book buyer is a fanboy, not a fangirl. Not til the readership levels off to something resembling equality will the publishers even consider that they should change. Or they lose too many readers to other pursuits and then they create more of the tamer "female-oriented" comics and we're back to the nothing for girls/women who like superheros dilemma. What to read?

I'm a Modesty Blaise fan and there wasn't a storyline I can think of where she wasn't stipped down to her undies at some point. If we were lucky, we got to see Willie's chest. And that didn't stop Modesty from being one of the strongest female characters who ever carried a comic strip or book series and could probably do well today in a regular comic book with the right author.

I'm also a Codename: Knockout fan, where I first saw Ed Benes's art. What he drew in Supergirl and Birds of Prey was tame by comparison. I mention him because someone else did as an example of gratuitous art re: females and I think that's unfair. He's a wonderful artist and Gail Simone has said in interviews (I can't recall where so I can't get the links) that he's from a culture where people don't make a fuss about revealing the female body the way we do in the US.

And of course, sexism isn't unique to comics. For the longest time, female science fiction writers used pseudonyms that were neutral or masculine in order to get published and have the reading public buy their books. Not til she died did many people discover that James Tiptree, Jr. was a woman.

I suppose people can say that such gratuitous art and the objectification of females in comics doesn't bother me because I was raised with it and I'm an example of why it's bad, that I'm a repressed female or some such. And nothing can be further from the truth. I insist on being referred to as Ms., both when I was single and now that I'm married. I did not take my husband's surname when I married, nor did I hyphenate my name. I have kept a credit card in my name to maintain my individual credit rating. I still have the Ms. Magazine Opening Doors keychain I got as a gift for subscribing to the magazine 30 years ago (I dropped it when it got boring) and prefer movies and TV shows considered male-oriented and like few things considered female-oriented ("Sex and the City" made me want to barf.)

And I believe true liberation means that people of either sex can be what they want, provided they can see to their own needs. If you can't support yourself without working, then you should work. And if that means a stay-at-home wife with a working husband or a stay-at-home husband with a working wife, then whatever. No one should be put down for the choices they make in life. Even if that choice is to dance semi-nude in the laps of people of the opposite sex. As long as society hasn't pushed them into that role, then who I am to say they shouldn't do it.

To get a better balance in comics or any medium, we need to change perceptions and that entails hard work. It means pushing. It means getting girls reading comics and demanding more. It means getting more women into the creative and editorial end. Remember, before Paul Levitz, the person running DC Comics was a woman, Jeanette Kahn, and when she got the job, it was big news. And she knew where the money was and what sold, yet I have to believe that she's part of the reason DC has had some amazing female characters, because I want to believe that she created an atmosphere that allowed them to be developed.

Would another woman have come to the same conclusion/decision Lea Hernandez has? Maybe. Maybe not. Would I? I don't know. That would depend on the actual situation I was in. What I can't do, because I'm not walking in her shoes, is say that she was wrong, even if I wish she'd done differently.

Okay, so maybe this has been more than a few thoughts. :)


  1. Anonymous2:37 PM EST

    You jumped on one of my favorite rants . I have never delved deeply into comics (my husband is a comic geek, now trying to get the one he authored off the ground) because I didn't find much to draw me in. My role models in SF/Fantasy were male --I wanted to be Spock, not Uruha. Now I'm addicted to an online Superhero game (City of Heroes) where a LOT of women play, and the sexism is one of the biggest flaws in the game. Everything is equal for male and female characters EXCEPT appearance. Females have (are practically restricted to) the most sexually accentuating, shall we say, costume choices, while male toons tend toward more conventional, more conservative lines.

    I don't expect much to change, but it makes for lively discussion.

  2. "My role models in SF/Fantasy were male --I wanted to be Spock, not Uruha"

    lol. I didn't want to be him, I wanted to sleep with him. For me, the lust factor is strong. I went through puberty with Star Trek and The Man from UNCLE. I started to write fan fiction because of the lust/angst connection to certain male characters who got my juices flowing.

    I had only a vague sense of seeing characters as role models. Mostly, I just wanted to be entertained and action/adventure did it for me the way romance never could.

    And yes, the costume choices when you compare the sexes are definitely worth discussing. :)

  3. Anonymous10:46 PM EST

    Hehheh, I was highly repressed. I didn't think in terms of lust. And, honestly, Spock was the only real role model I ever took from characters.

    I keep telling the CoH developers that male toons should have kilts available. I see LOTS of kilts on guys these day (I work at a few conventions each year).

    I am comforted, though, that the game designers made it possible to design male toons with delicious behinds -- since that's how you see the toon you are playing most of the time anyway...ah, the consolations.

  4. heh. I gotta admit, nothing quite beats a lean guy with a tight butt in tight jeans, with cowboy boots. :)

  5. Anonymous11:05 PM EST

    what about those of us who aren't so lean but got a few pounds of muscle on the frame?!?

    Actually, I think this was an excellent set of thoughts on the subject... (I'm the "comic geek husband tring to get the comic he authored off the ground")

    That's one of the things we're working on in our story... our women are powerful, yes sexy too (the two primaries at least), but they are true "titanium bitches"... resourceful, strong, resilient, capable, intelligent... and more importantly, "three dimensional" (I hate 2d characters).

    I am sorry to see Ms. H. go, there are too few women in the industry. She should do what Clamp did in Japan... start up her own comic company with women as the primary creators and rock the mail-dominated comics world :)

  6. Anonymous11:07 PM EST

    oh yeah, and sherri is in love with one of the main characters "O'Ryn"... she'd leave me for him in a heartbeat.

    My artist, however, is in love with the other main character, Janus... who does have body hair btw... we even give him equal air time and pinups in his calvins to our main villainess.

    heheh, oh the complicated lives us geeks live!

  7. Hi, Comic Geek Husband,
    :) Thanks for your comments. My hubby isn't exactly lean, either, so that's fine.

    One thing I liked about Xena and Hercules is that Xena, Gabby, Herc, and Iolus all showed some skin on the TV show. That was very enlightened.

    And back in the '60s, in a TV Guide article about The Wild Wild West, they reported the existence of a memo instructing the writers to have Robert Conrad remove his shirt at least once an episode. But I was lusting after the less buff Ross Martin.

  8. Anonymous7:37 AM EST

    Robert Conrad... oh yeah... I don't think anyone complained about looking at him, in or out of clothes... of course, as tight as those pants were, there was no mystery anyways LOL

  9. Yup. There was a reason Wild Wild West was so popular with many girls I knew and women I know now and it wasn't the brilliant writing. ;)

  10. Anonymous9:40 AM EST

    Yeah, Robert Conrad was all that and a bag of chips! He MADE that show and eveyrone knew it.

    Hot man flesh sells! That's why I like having a gay man as the artist for our graphic novel... he really enjoys making men worth "looking at"... and since comics are as much (or more) a visual medium vs a written medium, it makes things far more "equal" as far as all the "exposed flesh" is concerned.

    He was so excited for the final sections of our first issue, because our primary hero has to wear a repaired, piecemealed armor that is being held together by furturistic ducktape, a touch of magic, and lots of hutzpah! (he calls it "Janus's Gladatorial look")

    Me, I like the fact that the women kicked butt as much as the men and were more willing to "fight dirty" than their testoserone laden counterparts. (honor?!? fuck honor! this is about survival!)

  11. Oh, that sounds like fun, Jay. I'd love to see it.

    One thing that fascinated me about Codename: Knockout was that the writer, Robert Rodi, is openly gay and he wrote a very sexy contingent of female characters. Of course, there was also Go-Go, an openly gay male character who got to flash his butt on occasion. Rodi was also great with fans, actually "hosting" the DC message board for the comic.

  12. Anonymous12:05 PM EST

    when we get the new website up for "Lineage", I'll drop you a note.

    Even my wife likes the story, and she is very hard to please (though she wants "more story", which we're giving with the revamp we're doing as we convert the first chapter to a 72-96 page graphic novel)

    We hope to have actual, physical, "let the readers take away in their hot little hands" books by San Diego Con in July. (crossing fingers)

  13. That sounds great, Jay. I'm looking forward to it. Good luck. :)

  14. Anonymous4:19 PM EST

    Off topic a little, not too much I hope, but I wanted to know how you get LJ to post your entries from here without having to copy and paste them? (or do you copy and past from blogger to LJ for the feed?)

    I'm working on getting a blog built for Chris and my attempt to get our comic published, and I liked the idea of having it show up both in an LJ and Blogger when I do the posts.

  15. Paid LJ accounts can create LJ syndication feeds, which I guess are similar to regular rss. I don't have to do anything other than post to my Blogger blogs and folks who friend my feeds on LJ get the entries on their friends' page. I get them too since I created the feeds and it friended them for me automatically. I could drop them from my friends but I like seeing how they come thru.

    If you don't have a paid LJ, I'd be happy to do it for you. I just need the URL. This ability was one of the many reasons I decided to pay for my LJ account.

  16. Anonymous8:43 AM EST

    wow, that'd be cool.

    I'll be getting the blog started this weekend, so I'll forward you the URL to take a peek before establishing the feed. You have a readership that my not give a hoot about the "trials and tribulations of two comic creators", so I leave that to your discression.



    PS I do have a personal paid account on LJ, which I may try to to make the feed for, but it's only read by friends and family to keep up with my personal life, so has no real intrinsic interest to the comic people out there. (too much discussion on weight loss, the idiots at the drive through, etc.)

  17. Hi, Jay,
    You're welcome. There are lots of feeds for non-LJ blogs already, including most if not all of the major ones like BoingBoing. Anyone with an LJ can friend a synidicated feed but only paid accounts can create them. For many or most folks on LJ, that's how they read blogs, all blogs. I think I'm one of the rare ones who read LJ friends and other blogs on Bloglines. I just don't want all 300 plus feeds clogging up my friends pages. I'd never be finished scrolling. :)

  18. Anonymous11:44 AM EST

    I think I figured it out. I established an LJ feed for our blog as user "acomiclineage". Also, our blog is up (though by no means established, I have to get it designed and all) at WOOHOO... now to start getting content on there.

    PS I've put you in our links on the side bar as I think anyone viewing us interested in comics and comic creation will love your blog (though I suspect they'll be fans of your blog long before they find out we exist)

  19. Anonymous2:51 PM EDT

    I think we are covering a variety of similar topics but each with it's own space. Women are portrayed in an idealized, exagerated manner? yes, because the artist likes it that way? indeed, that is wrong? "yes" why? because female artists haven't gotten thier chance to do the same? or because women don't get also their share of "T&A"? no. Because people shouldn't be portrayed that way regardless of genre, but then again sex sells...Something different is that they have inferior personalities, character development, that's different. But as one poster said if women stop buying comics, the industry won't crash, guys will continue buying 'em. So it's more of a "let's get everybody what they like" not just men. I personally would like to see superheroines portrayed with powerful personlities, and I don't mean loud-mouths, or overly aggressive, but rather personalities that you can admire, that you wish existed because of their deph....let's remember that self-confidence is one of the sexiest traits women can have (sometimes even more powerful than a cleavage) SO dumping all creative juice on the outfit is not fair.

    Another thing is that they are supposed to be so innocent wearing those outfits!! c'mon! it made me remember a Justice League Episode where Batman tells WW (after she complains about a pair of boots she has to wear that don't fit) "You fight crime in high heels" that summs it up right there! how can they fight crime when the men use armor, and protections and the girls all wear 2 piece bikinis and micro-skirts? all goes back to the core audience, boys (and what they want to see), but if we want to expand the audience to women we are stuck in a "chicken or the egg" discussion: "if they make comics more appealing for women they will come, or when women come they'll make comics more appealing to them"

    -Bruce Wayne

  20. I think there's room for all sorts of art. I think there's a lot of disagreement as to what objectifies or exploits. I like my share of sexy art, be it of female characters or male characters.

    Yes, I want to see my fair share of guys drawn sexily. Not with bulging muscles, but some nice exposed chests would suffice. And I want a more level playing field. I want equality.

    You make good points, Bruce, about women not being the financial backbone of comics sales and the disparity of costumes. Women fighting in high heels!

    But there are strong female characters, worth reading. So, let's see more folks supporting them and making them be so financially successful, the companies will want more of them. Characters like Kate "Manhunter" Spencer who has her own book. The women of Birds of Prey (which does fairly well, I believe, sales-wise).

    But that doesn't mean I don't want more Roy Harper butt shots.

  21. Anonymous11:50 AM EDT

    Thank you Shelly, jaja you want more Roy Harper....emmm "back shots"? well you are in your right, you deserve them, just as we want the other shots...this industry shouldn't be one sided, in movies you get both ends of the deal....why can't girls have it too, it's not like artists can't draw them...

    -Bruce Wayne