I’ve always had complicated feelings about Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman is the ne plus ultra of American Superheroines and an American icon of female empowerment. But her boobs are always big and her legs are always on display, she’s often featured in positions that sexually objectify her, and she’s pretty much always drawn by men.
So when I stumbled upon DC Comics Covergirls at my local bookstore today, I hesitated.
Covergirls? I thought to myself. Not Superheroes? Superheroines? Cover…women?
But it was written by a woman (comic book writer and editor Louise Simonson), so I took the plunge and bought it.
In fact, the book seems pretty awesome — except for the forward by comic book artist Adam Hughes, who is famous within the comic book community for drawing hott heroines in styles described as “pin-up” and “good girl.”
Here is Hughes’s forward (in its entirety) to DC Comics Covergirls, along with my reactions to it. It begins:
Study the history of the world, immerse yourself in philosophy, psychology, and punditry, explore all the myriad ways of mankind, and you’ll discover that there is only one Truth. One Undeniable Truth for which there is no argument against, no subtle aspect of subjectivity to allow for the existence of any possible polar way of thought. And the Truth is: SEX SELLS. I apologize if you were expecting something a hair more profound.
No, that’s pretty much exactly what I was expecting. I mean, drawing sexy ladies is your bread and butter, right?
SEX SELLS. All caps, perhaps underscored and italicized for extra effect, with a subtle hint of boldface. SEX SELLS. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about television, movies, candy bars, or the Bible; a pretty girl will always help sell whatever it is you’re selling.
So when you say SEX, you mean attractive female.
Even if you were trying to market homeliness and severe appearance deficits as a commodity, an attractive spokesmodel would probably nudge your difficult enterprise into the black.
It’s depressing, but I totally agree with you. I’d add that the “pretty girl” is usually white, with big boobs, a tiny waist, and slender ankles.
Yes. it’s awful that appearance matters.
Well, if by “it’s awful that appearance matters” you mean “it’s awful that our culture’s conception of a hero is constrained by narrow parameters of socially sanctioned attractiveness” — then, yeah, I’m totally with you.
Life’s rough; get a helmet. You can fight it, you can resist, but it doesn’t make it any less true (and even less likely to go away).
Wait, hold on a sec — I don’t really understand that last part. Do you mean that if I object to the reductive sexual objectification of the aforementioned “pretty girl,” I will only exacerbate the problem?
If you wrap something in an attractive package, people will be more likely to choose it over something substantially less easy on the eyes.
SEX SELLS. I get it.
That brings us to the book you’re holding.
Oh good. Tell me more about the DC Covergirls!
The subject? A highly specialized field of an already specialized industry: the art of comic book covers. But this tome takes you one step further into the Theater of the Bizarre, the even-more-highly-specialized field of the art of comic book covers with women as their subject.
Theater of the Bizarre? Women on the cover of a comic book is…Theater of the Bizarre?
This magnificent volume chronicles the labors of many wonderful artists and craftspersons over the last several decades, all struggling to make sure that DC Comics’ stories are wrapped in more attractive packaging than the other comics on the market.
I understand, Adam. You’re an artist. You value the craftsmanship (and let’s be honest, the vast majority of the artists featured in this book are men), and you understand the marketplace. But can you go back to that thing you said about women and Theater of the Bizarre?
My theory about comic book covers is that they are the last line in advertising, and the first line in storytelling. It’s the point where the baton is passed from the folks selling the comic to the folks telling the story. A good comic book cover simply does one thing: it makes you pick it up off the stands/racks/subway floor and say “Ooh! I wonder what THIS is all about!” Anything a comic book cover artist can do to get you to pick up the issue they are, uh, “covering” (wow, we don’t have a good verb for what we do, I just realized), he or she should do.
I appreciate your efforts at gender neutral (“craftspersons”) and gender inclusive (“he or she”) language, but I haven’t forgotten that you just called women on the cover of comic books Theater of the Bizarre. Also, you’re 400 words into your 600 word forward, and you haven’t mentioned a single covergirl or female artist.
And you should do what you do best. If you are, for example, Bernie Wrightson, Master of the Macabre, then you draw extremely active dead people bothering the high holy crap out of the living. If you’re ME, you struggle with every aspect of art in all its endless complexities, and by some strange spandex osmosis, editors and art directors decide that what YOU do well is draw women.
That must be really…hard for you?
Abraham Lincoln once said: “Whatever you are, be a good one.” I’m reasonably sure he wasn’t talking about drawing the big hole in Power Girl’s shirt, but when I’m forking over a five-dollar bill, I like to think Ol’ Honest Abe is saying to me.
What’s that you say? “Surely, such a specialized career as comic book covergirl artist can’t possibly exist!!!”
Don’t take this the wrong way, bro, but I’m really not that excited about the potential career of Professional Boob Drawer. I would be excited to learn about the career of the woman who wrote the book for which you are writing a forward. She sounds like an awesome lady.
Not only does such a field exist, but a few of us have managed to dodge unemployment and fry-cook opportunities in its pursuit. I know this for a fact; I’m one of the few who’ve been lucky enough to have this fabulous occupation.
So we’re not going to talk about women at all.
“Can you make a living at it?” I am always asked. Come by the mansion some day, I’ll have the guards buzz you in at the gate and we can discuss it over cocktails and Cuban cigars on the veranda. Make sure you let the guards know you’re here, though; otherwise I’ll be forced to release the hounds.
You’re writing a forward to a book written by a woman about representations of women created primarily by and for men. There is so much fodder here for conversations about gender and genre, about inclusion, exclusion, exploitation, and the male gaze.
But what you’re telling me is that if I get really good at drawing sexy comic book ladies, I’ll be really $ucce$$ful, because $exy ladie$ $ell.