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Not a Misprint

A Non-Comic Book Website Writes About Sexism In Comics


At The Mary Sue, it’s part of our job to talk about women’s role in comic books and controversies created therein. Many comic focused websites and blogs do the same but it’s not often you see someone outside the comic industry doing it. To our surprise, The Guardian posted an article today titled, “Ker-pow! Women kick back against comic-book sexism.” Hit the jump for what they had to say and who they spoke to. 

You’ve heard about the all-female created anthology from IDW Publishing, Womanthology, well the article tells of a similar project in Britain – the “southern gothic” horror anthology, Bayou Arcana. The Guardian writes, “The anthology is the product of a unique experiment that brings together an all-female team of artists with an all-male team of writers – and it is an illustration of how a new generation of female artists and readers is radically changing the face of comics.”

“There is a certain sensitivity that you find in women’s art that just does not appear in a lot of guys’ work,” says James Pearson, editor of the anthology. ”The way that they interpret the horror has an added depth to it – and that is part of the experiment. It’s actually a really sensitive approach to quite visceral subject matter.”

“Historically the comic book industry has been very male-dominated, but recently there has been a shift,” says Lisa Wood, co-founder of the Thought Bubble festival. ”We are suddenly hearing women’s views and experiences on politics, religion, sexual ideas and parenthood. But most importantly these stories are not exclusive to women, they are stories for everyone.”

The subject turned to complaints over DC’s relaunch, the lack of female creators and depictions of female characters. Comics blogger Vanessa Gabriel told Guardian that DC and Marvel were both slow to react to complaints. “DC has been ‘doing better’ in headlining female characters and its sophisticated Vertigo imprint has impressed, says Gabriel, but the ‘heavy gore and gratuitous violence prevalent in many Marvel titles narrows the scope of their audience.’ She adds: ‘I think there has been a formula that may have worked in the past for Marvel and DC, and clearly it is not working any more.’”

They also spoke with Comics Alliance editor, Laura Hudson. ”Drawing women with impossibly thin waists and triple D-cup breasts in revealing costumes is the aesthetic default in superhero comics, and institutionally that’s hard to break away from,” she said. “Independent comics and webcomics, meanwhile, have a far more even ratio of male to female creators, and perhaps not accidentally a far more diverse and balanced approach to women.”

There were a few wonky sections of the article, perhaps due to the author’s lack of industry knowledge but otherwise I’m pretty impressed with the story and happy to see something like this in the more mainstream media. It’s worth giving a read, there’s also talk about harassment at comic conventions and shops and a few other bits. And hey, I now know of a new, interesting anthology I’m going to check out.

(via Ladies Making Comics)

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  • Keni Millikin

    Yo dawg, we heard you like reading articles so we put an article in your article so you can read an article while you read an article.

  • http://twitter.com/Super_Widget Joanna

    Such is the way of the internet.  Dawg.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kaarel-Jakobson/100000313100671 Kaarel Jakobson

    Every time the mainstream media references comic books alongside Batman-esque campy punch onomatopoeias, I cringe.

  • Frodo Baggins

    Agreed

    +1 Internets for highlighting sexism-5 Internets for treating Adam West as the pop cultural lynchpin of all things comic-related following a decade in which super heros dominated the mainstream media.

    This would be like if every article about fantasy fiction began with “Once upon a time…” and every article about scifi began with “Set phasers to…”

  • Anonymous

    Those women aren’t wearing clothes, they’re wearing bodypaint :/

    Thoughtbubble is an excellent event. Glad it got a mention.

  • Kath

    I was reading X-23 #18 last night (Noooo, Laura!) and it had some great art. Laura looked realistic (if you ignore the artist’s love of giving her the “Kristen Stewart” expression with no changes in half of the panels, not even anything minor), and two issues earlier Phil Noto was on art with his tasteful style.

    Halfway through was an advert with Psylocke. She’d been drawn by the absolutely terrible Greg Land (who I see as perhaps one of the biggest problems in comic art), and lost all sense of her… character. She’s supposed to have Asian heritage, right? Nope, not with Land. She had mahoosive knockers and the usual porn star visage for a face.

    What a massive load of rubbish.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VK7U6RFTAUIPW2JR2NGPBP2IYA super

    don’t ya know the mahoosive knockers serve as a floatation deceive in case of a water landing ;)

  • Matthew Lane

    “Drawing women with impossibly thin waists and triple D-cup breasts in revealing costumes is the aesthetic default in superhero comics, and institutionally that’s hard to break away from”

    Really Laura Hudson? You must be reading different comic books then i’m reading… I’m sorry but that logic needs to go an fracking die… Not to put to fine a point on it.

    It is not the default:The fact that you can point to some character who fall into that particular model, doesn’t mean that the majority of them do. For instance for every female character you can find from either comic book company, for say this month, i can find 5 (from this month) that aren’t… By definition that makes it “not the default.”

    An the rest of the article is just as silly as far as facts go, for instance this statement:

    “Nichola Wilkinson, an artist and letterer who is part of the Bayou Arcana team, says research she was involved with in Britain suggested women were more likely to buy their graphic novels in shops such as Waterstone’s rather than traditional comic outlets.”

    Really Nichola Wilkinson? Would you like to cite a source for this study? Because i have a similiar study called: “A correlative study in to the possibility that your study doesn’t actually exists” & it clearly showed that the percentage chance that such a study actually exists is approaching absolute zero. An even if the study does exist & its methodolgy is not completely messed up the likelyhood is that you are misrepresenting the study. So pretty please cite the source… Feel free to message me right here on Disqus.

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  • Kath

    Yes, the fact that Greg Land et al are consistently putting out comics with disproportioned women is complete bullshit. Yes…

    Why do you think artists like Phil Noto and Sana Takeda stand out? Because they draw women in a more realistic fashion.

    It *is* the default for women to be thin, pretty and busty in mainstream superhero comics. Cho, Land, Liefeld – those are three artists off the top of my head who do it. Go look at the covers for almost any series by Marvel or DC which shows a chest, and you will have big tits, big tits, big tits, big tits or big tits. Only a few artists seem to realise breasts come in “small” too.

    But instead of making points, you’re making inflammatory statements and insulting comments without providing any sources or back ups. Where’s your proof the study is rubbish? Do you even have any…?

    Do you not know that comic stores in the UK are fading fast? If I go into a town centre with comic stores, I can almost guarantee you that the Waterstone’s in that town (if there is one) will carry more graphic novels than the comic shops do. Chances are Waterstone’s will be cheaper, too. Failing that, people will go to Amazon or The Book Depository for even cheaper graphics and a bigger selection. So no, it’s not an unreasonable outcome of a study.

  • Matthew Lane

    “Yes, the fact that Greg Land et al are consistently putting out comics with disproportioned women is complete bullshit. Yes…”

    Kath, no offense but Greg Land is just a shit artist full stop. I believe it was, Brian Cronin of CBR who said that his art “possibly has the most harmful art to a story that I’ve seen in a comic,” & then going on to say that Land’s limited supply of poses and use of the same models for multiple characters results in terrible art and particularly terrible storytelling. The guy is just shit as an artist all round. No point getting into the specific of how he’s shit: The point you’ve raised is not a problem as much as its a symptom of him being a shit artist in general.
     
    “Why do you think artists like Phil Noto and Sana Takeda stand out? Because they draw women in a more realistic fashion.”
     
    They don’t stand out. In fact Phil Noto’s work is actually pretty pedestrian (his work on Maelstrom was just down right bad), when compared to say Comfort Love & Adam Withers (especially their work on Uniques)

    “It *is* the default for women to be thin, pretty and busty in mainstream superhero comics.”

    No, its the default for both men and women in comics to be physically health & normally pretty attractive. Its not the same thing. however “busty” is not a default, nor is ”triple D-cup breasts,” as was claimed in this article.
     
    “Cho, Land, Liefeld – those are three artists off the top of my head who do it.”
     
    And? Thats like me saying all movies are now porn by default, because off the top of my head Debbie does Dallas, Faster Pussy Cat Kill Kill & Super Vixens. Being able to name 3 people who draw in a particular style is not the same thing as that style being the default; in exactly the same fashion that being able to name 3 classic porno’s off the top of my head is not the same thing as porn being the default for all cinematography.
     
    “Go look at the covers for almost any series by Marvel or DC which shows a chest, and you will have big tits, big tits, big tits, big tits or big tits. Only a few artists seem to realise breasts come in “small” too.”
     
    Theres no nice way to say this Kath, but Bullshit: I’ve got this fortnights solicits sitting in front of me right now, plus a few late pick ups for other people in the house (its just easier if only 1 of us does the weekly pick ups sometimes).  I’m sorry, but you are suffering from a really bad case of cognitive bias called belief bias. You believe something is true, so you see it as true, even when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, because you don’t notice the contrary evidence on a purely cognitive level.
     
    Lets take a look shall we
    -Annihilators- Earthfall 04: Ikon, tiny boobs
    -Astonishing X-Men 045: an entire page of characters, 3 female characters, the biggest boob in the image is Cyclopes
    - Batgirl 04: Not exactly racktastic
    -  Green Lantern New Guardians 04: ahhh, here we go, a chest that you can call big (Fatality)… Yet not out side of normal human parameters & downplayed
    - Superboy 04: Oh oh, this is more like it… We have large boobs on this image… In a boob tube no less.
    - Kickass 2 06: Flat as an ironing board
    - Secret Avengers: A solo shot of the black widow… Sporting maybe a large B cup
    - Demon Knights 4 (at last): Completely flat again
     
    Plus a couple of others sans boobs (plus a few that include boobs, but no women, LOL). The fact is that there is quite a diversity of shape & size among all the characters, both on the cover & in the interior art. An it most assuredly is not a “default” state as you have claimed.
     
    “But instead of making points, you’re making inflammatory statements and insulting comments without providing any sources or back ups”
     
    The statements I’ve made are significantly less inflammatory then those used in the article I’m angry at. I demand testability & accountability with any article that makes positive assertions: This is also why I don’t need to provide any evidence, because I’m not making any positive assertions; I’m refuting the positive assertions made within this article without evidence; such as citing a study, without actually CITING the study.
     
    However you are welcome to take me up on the challenge I issued if you care to.  For every; ”[female] with impossibly thin waists and triple D-cup breasts in revealing costume[s]” you can name from this month, from the big two, I’ll name 5 who also appeared in this months issues of DC & Marvel books who don’t appear in the above stated fashion, thereby proving the statement that “it’s a default” wrong. I’m ready and willing if you are.
     
    “Do you not know that comic stores in the UK are fading fast? If I go into a town centre with comic stores, I can almost guarantee you that the Waterstone’s in that town (if there is one) will carry more graphic novels than the comic shops do. Chances are Waterstone’s will be cheaper, too. Failing that, people will go to Amazon or The Book Depository for even cheaper graphics and a bigger selection. So no, it’s not an unreasonable outcome of a study. “
     
    The unreason-ability of the outcome is not the point Kath. A positive assertion has been made about the existence of a study that shows a particular hypothesis to be true, yet no such study is actually cited: so either the study is
    A. Not in compliance with the laws of evidence
    B. Has a poor methodology, which the author knew would not stand up to critical scrutiny
    C. Is a correlative test being used to prove a causative point & is therefore intellectually dishonest
    D. She forgot
    E. Completely fictional, having been made up to make the authors point sound more substantive (which is a combination of straight up lying & the logical fallacy of “Appeal to False Authority”)

  • http://draw2much.deviantart.com/ Nicole Kiser

    Actually, idealized proportions on women in comics is really no worse than what they do to men. It’s more accurate to say that many comic artists just aren’t good with figure variety. They have a template, for both women and men, and they stick with regardless of the character. (They basically changes the costume, color, and hair but keep everything else the same.) This is annoying just on a basic artistic level, but not really sexists or anything.

    What’s really irritating is that the default position for women in comics is “sexy”. It’s like the vast majority of comic artists can’t fathom of a good looking woman having any other pose than a sexy pose–even if she’s doing something not very sexy (like sitting on the couch and crying). Body language is so very important, but comic artists often disconnect their female characters from their body languages.

    Wonder Woman is one of the few female characters in DC, for instance, that gets any kind of semi-consistent respect in this sense. You’ll notice that, when anyone bothers to take the character seriously, they draw her in powerful, sometimes intimidating, poses. Visually her character says, “Don’t mess with me”. And when she’s not being threatening, she’s graceful and regal looking, which is fitting since she’s technically a princess. Her body language more often matches her personality than is common seen in comic books.
     
    I can only think comics are this way because most of the audience and the company is *still* male oriented. Comics are a kind of male wish fulfillment… guys want to be the strong studly guys with super powers (or super smarts like Batman) while being surrounded by good looking women who are always sexy. This is what the male audience wants, apparently, so that is what they get.

    And really, sexism is one of the smaller problems both of these companies (Marvel and DC) are facing. They don’t know how to innovate creatively. They’re stuck recycling stories from over 40 years ago. They can refresh a story, they can move secondary “non important” characters along, but they can’t do any real major change. Real change requires a risk, and building a new brand (which takes time). It’s easier to just rehash what’s popular. :-/

  • Matthew Lane

    Boom, nailed it.

  • Anonymous

    No one ever seems to mention manga, which is on the whole a way worse offender.

  • Travis Fischer

    Wait, what?

    How about you get back to me when the American comic book industry has entire genre based around marketing pictures of pretty boys to young girls.

  • Michael Caligiuri

    What I can’t ever get over is how often a woman who is a superhero is drawn wearing high heels. Can you name one sport where a woman wears high heels? What aspect of being a superhero makes high heels somehow better for balance and running extremely fast?

  • http://www.facebook.com/connor.leahy1 Connor Leahy

    Ker-Pow? Really? I thought it was just an old joke that the mainstream media would begin comics headlines with a sound effect. I thought we, as a culture, had moved past that.

  • http://twitter.com/blkMYmorris Michelle Morris

    How is manga worse? There are lots of women creators, writers, and artists in manga. There are many female characters, and different types of manga.

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    I think in our culture’s ongoing discussion about gender rolls we need to be very cautious about the potential for demonization. Don’t forget that a great many of your favorite characters,with their complexities and enormous shades of grey came from Mary-Sues. Very rarely do the true archetypal figures emerge in a fully formed fashion, but are crafted from “blanks” over successive courses. Compare the complex mythology of batman today to his origins in Detective Comics.

    There is no sin in prosecuting useless and malignant cultural memes. But always be cautious about demonizing that which you oppose. The act rarely serves your purposes, and ALWAYS threatens to undermine the spirit in which you act.

  • paintedmermaid

    I don’t know if you’re referencing Asian heritage at that particular point in her story arc… but Betsy Braddock was originally Captain Britain (a stand in for her brother) and a model. She took on her Asian appearance when the Hand takes her under control and she becomes Lady Mandarin (both mentally and physically altered).