The Key to a Successful Life Is Drawing Sexy Ladies

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.

Huh?

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.

4 thoughts on “The Key to a Successful Life Is Drawing Sexy Ladies

  1. Sounds like that standard cheap copout…”I do it because they pay me to do it.” What about appreciation of an idealized female form? How about occasionally noticing that there are women other than caucasians who can be hot as hell? (Marvel appears to be a little more up to speed on that than DC, but even then they toy with the “WTF?”-factor.) How about defending the “idealized” form as being the heroic ideal rather than the social, and that a woman actually fighting crime would have an athletic figure (though significantly less busty, unless she got implants…after all exercise burns fat and the boobs are the first to go…seen it happen)?

    Nope, “sorry folks, they pay me to do it.” What a maroon.

    As for the part about there being more male artists in comics than females, well, there’s two sides to that coin. On one hand there’s the obvious…Guys own the comics companies, and even though there have been moves and equal opportunity laws that at least help with other industries, art isn’t one of them. Unfortunately comics are art, and artists are hired based (mostly) on their ability to draw superheroes…the writers are the ones who tell the verbal stories (backgrounds, dialog, storyline, etc.) while the artists tell the visual story. Unfortunately there’s a boss upstairs…again, usually a guy…who says what character should look like. Wonder Woman? Wonder how she runs without getting black eyes. Power Girl? That’s some damn powerful Spandex she’s stretching…if she exceeds its tensile strength the resulting “wardrobe malfunction” might kill innocent bystanders. Supergirl? How can she fly stright with that much drag (though later comics make her a teenager with a somewhat more reasonable bust), not to mention the whiplash of people trying to see up her skirt? Naturally the head honchos don’t want too many women around to constantly point these things out…kinda kills the “piles o’ money” boner. (sorry for the visual)

    On the other hand, and I have to include this answer for similar complaints concerning the film industry, well, time to stick my arm in the badger den…

    I have a saying (got it in the military) for when someone complains that a job is “unfair” because others can do it but they can’t (physical/mental ability, not permission/forbidden): “step up or shuddup.” It sounds harsh as hell but…okay it’s harsh as hell. If someone were to pit an infantry grunt against a Green Beret (okay, the Beret’s the thing on a Special Forces Operator’s head, but people see the symbol, not the terminology) and have them duke it out, they’d say it was unfair because the one is better trained and stronger than the other. Yawn, most SFOs start out as grunts and work up from there…it’s even harder for SEALs because there are no combat-based jobs in the Navy, but each SEAL is one part science nerd, one part professional (if not Olympic-quality) athlete by the time their training’s done…and each is trained to be a paramedic, sniper, SCUBA-diver, and tactical computer regardless of “specialty.” Unfair to compare them to “regular” sailors? No, again each steps up, pushes his limits, and if he doesn’t flat off wreck himself or DIE, becomes something better than he started out with. In that crucible, “unfair” seems to lose meaning.

    I’ll spare the “harsh” version, but if women think it’s unfair that the film and comics industries are male-dominated, I say this: “Step up.” I know women who’ve done it…a friend, Tess Fowler, is very good at it…sure, she works freelance and occasionally gets stiffed on commissions, but she’s making it as a freelance/independent (she draws for various houses, but has done a few books on her own, working with a writer). Grab paper. Grab a pencil and a pen. Draw something…if someone buys it, cool, if not, put it on the Web or self-publish…or put teasers on the Web and make it print-on-demand…if “Fifty Shades of Grey” can get published, anything GOOD can too. Get a camera. Grab some friends. Tell a story…put it on YouTube. If it’s good, people will watch…if it’s good enough people will buy DVDs of your feature films (htat’s how my friend John Enge’s doing it). Rent/borrow better gear if you have to…if the story’s worth telling it’ll find a way to get told (that’s how Robert Rodriguez did it…now he makes high-budget films). Sure, my examples are guys, but that doesn’t mean a woman can’t do it…for every Ron Howard there’s a Penny Marshall…but the only way women can take their “rightful place” is if they step up.

    Please step up…I’m getting sick of Michael Bay, even if he pays well…

    • Yeah, but you can’t just tell women to “step up” and “work harder.”

      You yourself say that the comic book industry is male dominated. It’s a boys club.

      Men are the gatekeepers, and men have a choice: they can help women shatter the comic book culture’s glass ceiling, or, like Adam Hughes, they can pretend that the ceiling’s not there.

  2. As far as print comics go, yes, it’s very much a boys’ club…because the resources needed to make printed comics are quite expensive (crap-tons of paper, huge printing machines, etc.), but fortunately with Disney now owning Marvel Comics there’s some chance of that changing a bit. But don’t hold your breath on that…

    However, much like factory work, machines are making life easier and making gender-necessities less relevant (not irrelevant, as the J.K. Rowling thing still shows). Behold…the Internet! (or “teh interwebs” for gamers and felines) Gender becomes more of away one identifies one’s self…unless a speaker claims to be male or female , well, this can be good or bad but “male” would simply be assumed, but is hard to identify behind a wall of 1s and 0s (especially with a gender-neutral name or a screen-name). Sure, it might not in theory pay as much as print comics (but from what I’ve heard getting paid at all in print comics can be an adventure in itself), but can reach a wide audience very quickly…and since most of the real mney in webcomics are made from fan donations and advertising space, most of the income is actually based more on the talent of the artists and writers…male or female…than on being hired by a group of glorified nerds. (check with any male comics artist…I’ll even throw in my friends Kevin Eastman and Heavy Metal cover artist Lorenzo Sperlonga…behind the muscles and romance-novel looks they’re two of the biggest geeks you can meet!)

    As far as men helping women get into the industry, yeah, the comics companies being more willing to hire TALENTED female artists (since they’re essentially selling art, which is based on talent, not ability to operate a machine or computer, “affirmative action” would not work…otherwise you’re specifically ordering them to produce inferior products)…and yes, there area LOT of those, like Tess or Archie Comic’s Gisele Lagace…and especially acknowledge the contributions these women make to the industry would go a long way towards improving how the mainstream would see the comics industry as a whole and would encourage more women to bust out paper or boot up Photoshop (used for a lot of webcomics).

    I still have to statement though…to acknowledge that men are the gatekeepers of the industry and that women need their help getting in the door is, well, to acknowledge that women aren’t up to the task on their own and could only get in if men helped them (not only do I disagree with that, I actually cringed while typing it). “Here little lady, don’t you fret…I’ll take care of Wonder Woman, you just make pretty backgrounds for me, okay?” Bugger that, I want a gal to come along and in her Katie Hepburn voice say “Step aside cowboy, you wouldn’t know hooters if a pair of owls crapped on you.” The major print comics houses might not be ready for it…but then again the DC debacle proves they’re not ready for electronic media either…so dominate them where they least expect it and be waiting for them when they finally drag their asses out of the 1950s…

    And smack headfirst into a glass ceiling, look up, and see a pair of high heels.

  3. I get so tired of this argument. Sex sells. Guys like looking at pretty girls period. comics are entertainment. If I want realistic I’d not be reading a comic in the first place. I want to escape my world. And as a guy in my world the girls run around in skimpy costumes. What I hate is guys pretending to be above that. Its like saying your buying playboy for the articles. I want Power girl with the boob window and Wonder Woman in skimpy clothes for no reason. At best its sci-fi and with Sci-Fi I can come up with some reason for the spandex to hold. Hells that’s a better argument the half the stuff Marvels doing to their characters right now anyway. Guys quit being sellouts. Be honest. Sometimes that’s what the girls really want. If your a horndog at least be an honest one not a hypocrite.

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