Friday, September 29, 2006

Variety, Dammit!

I had a laugh and a rant about the whole Wizard How-to-Draw books, and sketched up a fury stupidosity about it here in my livejournal. But the fact is, I really, really enjoy drawing hot ladies. Well, and hot guys, too. But ladies are easier and more fun. I see the fun in drawing hot ladies, even as I can see the sexism behind stating that female superheroes must stand differently than male superheroes, because without the sexy pose, she might as well be male.

And I see some backlash from the ranting going on in some of the posts linked from the latest WFA . The "why can't I have my sexy ladies?" all-or-nothing mentality, because everyone knows all feminists really want is no more fun or sexy thoughts. And you know, rolling eyes already.

Hello internet, you can have BOTH. And then some.

I am amazed I still haven't linked to John Troutman's webcomics here yet. I mean, he's one of my best friends and I like his comics, but also because a) he likes girls (A LOT) and draws them (A LOT) while b) he's worked very hard to draw lots of differently shaped girls with different personalities and interests and occupations because they're all his characters and he wants to write his stories well. He also has lots and lots of female characters and I get so much joy from situations where I feel like I want another male character, instead of the usual reverse. So long as not everyone is attracted to the main guy, it's okay. (Good thing for Trout's comic that most of the female characters are the main guy's sisters! No harem manga here!)

I am really, really sick of the straw argument that when feminists complain about the depiction of women in comics it means that you can't have fan service. Or comics that are nonsensical and the heroine can wear her high heels and corsets and kick ass in exclusively sexy poses. Stupid, fun comics have a place. Honestly, we need our crack, whatever it may be.

We just also want sensible, realistic portrayals in realistic, sensible comics. It's okay to have green alien babes in bikinis that would simply fall off in the real world if your science fiction is pretty much magic with different terms. And elf chicks who battle with no armor if you've got a story where a group travels around and never needs to carry food or hunt or sleep. This is suspension of disbelief writing. It's fun. You bend things and don't have to explain it.

But if you've got a world where heroes have to sleep and shit and things are practical, please please please don't give your ladies the same costume you would in cracktastic world! Or the same figure when she's supposed to be working out everyday. She'll look like an athlete, not a model. She'll move like an athlete, dress like an athlete, not like a Barbie doll.

Or you can have BOTH. Which brings us back to Trout's comics. For the most part, his ladies run around looking like normal ladies, making pretty faces and funny faces. But every once in a while he switches the "camera" to show the point of view of his main male character, Basil Flint, when he sees his love interest through "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World Cam" (aka TMBWITWC). You can have your cake and frost the lense you view it through, too.

To go back to the superhero comics, my point is that a lot of the time, the camera is always on "TMBWITWC" setting. This makes sense if the entire comic is on the same fantasy setting, but it doesn't if the rest of the comic, especially the male characters, abide by real world rules. If you're writing a realistic, gritty comic where you have reasonable sounding explanations for how super powers work (instead of just "oh, alien!" or "oh, magic!" or, uh "'s a webcomic!"), then ladies take off their high heels and use them as weapons, they don't wear them into battle.

I think people get too accustomed to how the silliness works that when they try to make superheroes more real life, they forget which translates over and which doesn't.

And seriously, I love me some Catwoman in high heeled, thigh high boots in a costume that cannot exist in real life (because, well, zippers where?). Just like I like campy Batman where inexplicable things come out of the pouches on his utility belt and guns have endless bullets.

But as soon as guns run out of after the amount of bullets they can actually hold have been shot, that's when Catwoman wears reasonable shoes and not every movement she makes is maximized for ultimate sexiness. She gets to move like a real person.

There's not an either/or, though. There are shades of reality, afterall, in fiction. All of comicdom runs the gamut, really, especially in webcomics, which is why there's very little to complain about in webcomics in terms of general trends outside those of society in general. There are shamlessly sexist webcomics drawn just for the wank factor, but they don't pretend otherwise. There are people trying to write good stories, or cracktastic hilarious stories. The problem you get into with superhero comics, Marvel and DC, is sometimes it seems like different writers are going to give us real, fleshed out stories with characters to indentify with and symapthize with, and then suddenly their women are preening and posing in every panel. It's not so much that we want only realistic stories, but that when we get them, we don't want them with the unrealistic trappings that seem to be there only because it's supposed to be what sells. Sure, it may sell other books, but if people are buying a book for its realism and different tone, that's what's going to sell it, not constant pin up poses. Readers who are attracted to men have no problem being attracted to, lusting over, slashing, appreciating the hottness, etc. male superheroes who don't show off handsome faces, don't always show off their bodies, lurk in shadows, and generally aren't constantly drawn for aesthetic reasons. Why not do the same for female superheroes? Are men (and others who like the ladies in various ways) incapable of seeing hotness in various ways?

I hate having to remind people, but sexism hurts everybody. Remember when that Dove "Campaign for Real Beauty" came out? Stupid or not, the reaction I most heard from men was "FINALLY! HOT WOMEN IN ADS!". They wouldn't necessarily be talking about the same model, either. This is why guys often have different favorite artists, because there is no one best way to draw a hot lady for all of maledom.

I was sketching out character designs for a project and drew a thin and wiry, athletic girl with a round face and messy, almost punky hair. My buddy and partner in webcomic crime Andy thought she was hot. I thought she was hot. Trout didn't. He liked the curvy, fleshy other girl. So did I. And then Andy tries to make me draw gothy girls, who I don't think are hot and neither does Trout. But I consider that a challenge to myself as an artist, to draw people I don't find attractive to myself. Andy also pushes me to draw bigger guys, when I like soccer player build, not football. Then there's the problem with drawing people not in shape. Skeletal people are easier to draw, because, well, skeletons and stick figures are easier. Skin tight clothes are easier than realistic folds. I guess I just expect way better art from professionals than what I can produce. I want people to learn from so I can get better. I don't want to look at a "How-to-Draw" book and think that I more realistically, even with my cartoony style.

I'm going to try and come back to this topic later, because I'm being extra rambly today and not as cohesive as I like to be, but I'd already had a pot of tea this morning when my husband brought me coffee, and well, buzz. The problem is there's a lot going on here. How women are depicted, perceived audience wants, selling comics to a broader audience vs existing, the general sameness of superhero comics, wank material, meaningful stories vs fun stories, realism vs fantasy, personal taste in hotness, the place of hotness in storytelling... No wonder I seem to have lost all my essaying skills.

So, Summary: Variety. It wins.


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