Women, Comics, Art

There’s an interesting thread here (got it from digg) which shows scans from the “how to draw superheroines” type chapters from various issues of Wizard Magazine. The comments are mostly from appalled feminist comic fans. They’re also pretty true. I mean, I can’t get that bent out of shape over superhero comics. Life is just too short. And there are different ways to read something, even for women, even for feminists — is that anatomically impossible PowerBabe a sexually empowered icon of female strength, or viciously offensive & exploitative chunk of cheesecake a la mode? Hard to say definitively. What if it’s ironic and self-mocking? Well, that’s hard to prove either way.

The consensus seemed to be that there was a lot to be appalled by in these how-to-draws. Some of them had little to no “how to” content, and were just “this is what I like to see in a superhero babe body.” The assumptions behind much of it were highly creepy. Oh, and fat-phobic too! (Catch the image of the Fat Scarlet Witch chowin’ down.)

As I’ve mentioned before, I read How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way back in high school — maybe it was even middle school — and it taught me a lot about drawing in general. (It also filled me with a bunch of false assumptions and bad habits, of course, but back in those days I did a lot of portrait drawing from life, which helped ground me a bit.) Back then, that was the only book on drawing comicky stuff around. Now there are shelves and shelves of them, with many variations, some with some great stuff, most completely worthless, and a strangely huge percentage of them authored by former “Blondie” cartoonist Christopher Hart. You can buy different books about drawing faux-Korean comics, faux-Japanese comics, “Noir” Crime Comics, and lots of other stuff. For the most part they don’t teach much of anything about drawing, they just have lots of examples of the kind of art they’re supposed to be teaching you. Sometimes good examples, sometimes awful. Just a bunch of examples.

I own a few of them. I admit it. I’m a sucker. There’s even some good stuff in some of ’em. But I think the real teaching content of about five or ten of ’em could be compressed into one book. It’s just so weird that there’s this huge industry in it. The Marvel Way seemed to be such a cool unique find back then. Now they just churn ’em out.

Having made it through several paragraphs of this I’m losing track of where I was trying to go with it. Oh wait. Here we go.

I’m OK with the freaky chicks in the popular comics. Sometimes they’re honestly attractive, sometimes they’re just weird. That’s fine, if there’s a market for it, whatever. It’s all good.

Just leave some of this around for me, OK?

Now back to your regularly scheduled comics.


I checked “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.”  I scanned it for what it has to say about drawing superhero women.  It doesn’t have a section on drawing female superhero bodies.  Its general “drawing heroes” body examples are Reed Richards and Sue Storm, who are shown in exactly the same pose.  There are general instructions about drawing bodies full of energy, tension, and melodrama, but nothing on making your women “sultry” (or even “raunchy“).

The one thing they do have for women is more and more detailed instructions on drawing their heads and faces, saying that drawing beautiful women’s faces is easier than drawing handsome men’s faces.  I could see that as embodying a particularly het-male point of view, I guess.

On the pages where they discuss Reed’s and Sue’s physiques, they give the advice not to muscle up the women like you do the men, and that women are drawn “smaller” all over “except for the bosom.”  Sue is introduced thus: “And where would Reed be without his stunning Sue?”  So there’s definitely an emphasis on attractive appearance and body shape that is greater for women than for men, but there’s not much of it and it’s extremely mild compared to the hormone extravaganzas in the Wizard how-to-draw bits.

10 thoughts on “Women, Comics, Art”

  1. I still own “…the Marvel Way”, and I still dig it. Loved it in my teens, was embarassed by it in my 20s, and now, in my 30s, I recognize it for what it was: a fun, cheesy book full of Stan Lee’s prattling and some AMAZING stuff by Johnny Buscema. The full-page pencils of Namor facing the beginning of Chapter ? (I really don’t remember what chapter it was) was worth the price of the book alone. I just can’t work up the gumption in my old age to be embarassed anymore at the fact that I own the book, and still thumb through it from time to time. I’m sure there are those in the world who really give a rat’s ass what others think of their book collection, but really…who cares?

    Then again, I’m the guy who draws nekkid chicks with horns and wings and hooves and shit. I should probably keep my big mouth shut. ;)

    As for Chris Hart…is it just me, or do those books absolutely suck? I’ve thumbed through a couple, but could never settle my stomach down enough to buy one. Bleh.

    And, as for your link to the Wizard scans: dear Christ, I’m glad that “Image” style is out of fashion. Worst. Art. Ever.

  2. Yep, have had DCtMW since I was a teen.
    Yep, have several other mostly-sucky “how to draw comics” books.
    Yep, already have Wet Moon v1 on my Amazon wishlist.
    Yep, outgrew the type of art in those Wizard mag scans before it was even popular.
    As to whether such ridiculous representations of the female form are offensive… well, you can’t help how something makes you feel; some will be offended and others will not. I think taking offense at anything is a subjective reflex. Maybe the better question would be whether or not the art style is appropriate. And I think it is. It is appropriate for teen-audience-power-trip-fantasy-superhero stories. Luckily, for those of us not interested in such, there are (nowadays) plenty of alternative graphic novels.

  3. Yup. James and Adam don’t mind some objectification.

    Might that have something to do with the fact that neither of them have to go through life rendered the as the actual object in question.

    Lookie here: http://vito-excalibur.livejournal.com/114588.html

    How would you like it if all the male heroes were drawn like that? ALL of them?

  4. That link was appropriately disturbing.

    I’m not sure that’s a fair appraisal of Adam and James’s comments, but thanks for the links.

  5. It wasn’t a fair appraisal of my comment at all, and I’d really give a shit if it came from someone other than a Total Stranger on Teh Intartron.

    As an artist trained in a classical fashion by (among others) Joseph Jonas, who spent most of the Sixties and Seventies doing things like ghost-pencilling the newspaper strip “Rex Morgan M.D.” and drawing fashion ads (it was common in those days to draw them, rather than show photos of emaciated models wearing the clothes), I learned two things:

    1. Get as close to realism as possible.
    2. Know when to flub realism to make the illustration pleasing to the eye of both sexes.

    I was also taught to draw from life whenever possible, and that exaggerating the physique of both the male and female form was a declaration of artistic incompetence, and to avoid it like the plague. My lovely wife is my usual model when drawing the female form, which is why most of my drawn ladies are built like dancers.

    Your link was hilarious! I enjoyed it.

    Try harder, Tefnut. I was expecting more from someone named after the goddess of fertility. Then again, Tefnut was born from the semen resulting from the god Atum masturbating, so I suppose I expected too much. ;)

  6. Hi Adam,

    First – in the tradition that I picked from, Tefnut is the goddess of wetness and moistness and such, not wisdom. I claim nothing I cannot produce :)

    As for your answer…fair enough, I guess. I did kinda overreact and chose to take both comments and post in the worst possible way.

    The thing is – it’s easier for you. No matter how fair minded you are, you’re still a guy, and therefore you’re not surrounded by images of people like you screaming SEXSEXSEXSEXSEXTAKEME 24/7. You also don’t have to deal with slavering hoardes that try to explain to you that’s it’s OK, and no big deal, and why do I hate sex?

    It makes me (and many other women) FUCKING ANGRY. And then, even when otherwise perfectly reasonable guys dismiss it with a casual “hmm, yeah. It has its good points. I can take it or leave it” – one tends to explode. And you know something? I don’t think it’s all that unreasonable a response. After all – NOT being angry, being calm and rational – that’s the result of privilege. You don’t get angry, because it’s not your body, your sex, your brain, your boobs always being examined.

    Your link was hilarious! I enjoyed it.

    Thanks – I think it’s great, too. Everybody (men and women) find it slightly amusing and slightly disturbing (YMMV) because, of course, men almost never display that way. They ain’t the sex class.

  7. Well, I should apologize for my smartass comments in regards to your nick. I was expecting a spat with a knee-jerk bitchy feminist type, and you’re obviously not that.

    You’re absolutely right: it is indeed much easier for me, and that just ain’t right. My daughter’s 18 now, and I really hated hated hated the society I was raising her in. It took a lot of time and effort to straighten that kid out (and I hate Britney Spears to this day for her idiotic influence on impressionable young girls everywhere), and I’m still not sure she’s as secure with herself as I’d like her to be.

    A big problem with how women are displayed in art, comics, and media in general is that it SELLS. When you’re struggling to pay your bills as a comic book artist, it’s waaay to easy to say, “yeah, I can make those boobs bigger if it increases circulation a little”, and that’s a vicious circle you hate yourself for getting into in the first place. And God forbid if you should want to draw a normal-looking girl when your editor or publisher jumps down your throat with the “that won’t sell” mantra. We all indirectly prey upon each other in that way, and it really sucks ass.

    Your response was totally reasonable, but I took it as something it wasn’t. Sorry about that. You’re obviously smarter than I gave you credit for, and a hell of a lot of fun to talk to!

    It’s not my body or my boobs under constant scrutiny, but it’s my daughter’s and my wife’s, and that really pisses me off. I hate worrying about them when they’re out at night, running errands or hanging out with friends. I’d like to say that there will come a day that we’re all treated as the people we try to be–regardless of gender–but as long as there’s Hollywood and burkhas and superhero comics, I don’t think that day will ever come. :(

  8. “My lovely wife is my usual model when drawing the female form, which is why most of my drawn ladies are built like dancers.” “It’s not my body or my boobs under constant scrutiny, but it’s my daughter’s and my wife’s, and that really pisses me off.”

    So stop drawing your wife naked and sending it out to be published! Problem solved!

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