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27 Responses

  1. meg w
    meg w July 29, 2009 at 1:15 pm |

    AWESOME blog post. I was expecting something about how short wolverine is supposed to be though hehe.

  2. s.
    s. July 29, 2009 at 1:32 pm |

    Fantastic post. While the dimensions of female comic book characters has always rubbed me the wrong way, the exaggerated male characters seem to be cut from the same cloth – though the male characters would probably have bigger cod pieces if they were really equitable.

  3. Bakka
    Bakka July 29, 2009 at 1:57 pm |

    Banshee (an Irishman): Ok, this is geeky, but in Irish Gaelic, Bean means “woman” and si (sometimes translated as of the side, or other side, but ‘si’ also is the Irish Gaelic word for “she”). Perhaps this is the first transgendered superhero too?

  4. Tamar bat Avraham
    Tamar bat Avraham July 29, 2009 at 2:17 pm |

    If you haven’t seen it you might be interested in this (regarding comic character body types vs real folks): http://www.karenhealey.com/papers/comparative-sex-specific-body-mass-index-in-the-marvel-universe-and-the-real-world/

  5. Willow
    Willow July 29, 2009 at 2:43 pm |

    How to draw male and female superheroes

    It’s an actual “How to Draw Comic Characters” guide, with…commentary.

    @ Bakka:
    I kind of remember reading an interview (I might be making this up) wherein the interviewer pointed out to the artists that banshees are, by definition, female. They essentially said, “We didn’t know that.” But I like your idea.

  6. Bakka
    Bakka July 29, 2009 at 2:48 pm |

    @ Willow, oh, they did not know that? Well, I was momentarily hopeful…

  7. Michael
    Michael July 29, 2009 at 3:03 pm |

    @ S. in response 2,

    There is an image of Captain America in which it almost seems that he is hiding a baguette in his shorts.

  8. Pega
    Pega July 29, 2009 at 3:06 pm |

    That was a great post! I too was an X-Men fan growing up. Economics drove me out of my comic book geekery years ago (I just couldn’t afford to keep feeding my habit lol), but even after ‘giving them up’, I would still grab an X-Men once in a while just for nostalgia’s stake.

    I agree with your take on body image and unrealistic drawing for the most part. In my own experience though, it needs to be broken down a bit more. While the male and female bodies are both unrealistic, the male images are marketed as unrealistic. No one (at least very very very few) expects the average attractive man to look like a comic book hero. He is a hero! He is unusual! He is not supposed to look like the average man on the street! Female representations however ARE marketed as what the average attractive woman should look like. Take Spiderman and two non-heroes - J Jonah Jameson is not quite so unrealistic as the hero, but MJ? Still has a huge bust, waspy waist and the perfect hourglass figure.

    So, while I think the body image thing affects both male and female, for the males it’s less ‘what you should be’ and more ‘what you could be’. For the females? It’s ‘what you are supposed to be’.

  9. Bakka
    Bakka July 29, 2009 at 3:16 pm |

    @ Willow, did you see the post on Alas, a blog (and probably elsewhere) that links to the gender-inverse of that document. http://bit.ly/ZC6GZ (link in paragraph 5 from top). Hilarious!

  10. preying mantis
    preying mantis July 29, 2009 at 3:53 pm |

    “While the dimensions of female comic book characters has always rubbed me the wrong way”

    Man, I just about gave up on comics back when they went through that phase where 99% of the female characters seemed to look like Mystique in the first row of pics–you know, where the body is approaching 40% boob. Stupid! exclamation-point-heavy! dialogue!, guys shooting laserbeams from their pinky fingers for great justice, plots that would make soap operas blush, I can put up with. Every lady in sight inducing a “wtf? just no, guys” response, not so much.

    It wasn’t too long after that that you couldn’t get away from the crazy Liefeld guys, either, so it was just easier to pretend that everything was happening in an alternate reality where even the UPS delivery guys were in chronic danger of collapsing into themselves from the sheer mass of their musculature and turning into gravity sinks from which no protein could escape.

  11. preying mantis
    preying mantis July 29, 2009 at 6:12 pm |

    I feel like I should also point out that while both male and female figures are intensely exaggerated, the point of the male figures is generally for the reader to identify with/aspire to. The point of the female figure is generally for the reader to masturbate over. I’d say that’s a pretty important difference.

  12. shah8
    shah8 July 29, 2009 at 7:10 pm |

    I don’t think you can get into that kind of geek steeping without any kind of prolonged discussion of the writers! Chris Claremont 80’s! Grant Morrison’s run!

    Anyways, I think the best superpowered character evah is Storm’s depowered days with the mohawk.

    I don’t think much of the X-men franchise these days, and structurally, in most ways, um…Magneto’s right. I get irritated to the extent to which X-men is based on a white-washed set of ideas about the 60’s civil-rights movement. I think Bendis with Ultimate Spiderman, and *especially* the His Amazing Friends set, does the real lifting about tolerance and living the best way you can, dispite the whole obligation to help others spiderman ethos.

    Ah, one last thing, back in the early nineties Harbinger, among other comics distributed by Valiant was supposed to draw more realistic looking people. Did you like what they did? Many just complained that the artwork wasn’t good.

  13. Ren
    Ren July 30, 2009 at 3:38 am |

    Mantis: you sure you speak for all women there? I for one would love to look like Domino…

  14. Angiportus
    Angiportus July 30, 2009 at 9:15 am |

    Pega and Preying Mantis, you nailed it on the artists’ motives for figural distortion. It’s one of the many reasons I don’t buy comics, and just check out a few from the library sometimes.
    I read years back of experiments where they’d put giant-size fake eggs in bird nests, and the birds would care for these instead of their own real ones, because their normal responses were crudely overwritten by this super-stimulus. I think the same sort of thing is happening with humans here, and I had hoped this species was smarter than birds.
    A while back there was some news bit about how some people were demolishing a house or something and found some ’70’s porn pix hidden inside a wall. They were appalled at the images because these were not airbrushed, starved, etc. Makes you wonder how they could ever get it going with a live woman.
    Distortion/stylization in art is nothing new…didn’t the ancient Greeks used to make their statues with tiny hands and feet? Were they the ones that invented that 8-heads-high bit? 40 or some years back, my mom took a correspondence course in art aimed at would-be professionals. The textbook told students to do the 8-heads-high thing, or even 9 in the case of fashion ads for the paper, which then were drawings. And play up sex diffs, real or mythical. [The small heads, I read, were to give an illusion of great height, like everyone was 7 or 8 feet tall–and normal humans look odd in contrast.) Particularly ludicrous is when you have a hero and heroine together and she is half a head or more shorter but her crotch is at the same level as his–not going to happen, folks. The Alas post also discussed the positions characters are shown in, and the connotations of each–ridiculous but active poses for the men, and ridiculous passive ones for the women which would seem to bring the risk of spinal dislocation or inability to breathe.
    I looked into more recent comic art drawing guides, and was appalled to see the same damn crap repeated as some unquestioned gospel. I for years had thought they just use a template to draw women, the shapes are all the same and no one I know looks like that. One wonders how much this is actually distorting people’s thoughts, on what they themselves will draw someday or who they want to go to bed with. Can’t we at least educate ourselves on which giant fake eggs we will chose to sit on, and why we make that choice? Do we even have a choice, unless we learn to look around, and control what gets put into the nests of our minds?
    Great post, Ren.

  15. preying mantis
    preying mantis July 30, 2009 at 11:30 am |

    “Mantis: you sure you speak for all women there?”

    What in particular are you asking, here?

  16. RenegadeEvolution
    RenegadeEvolution July 30, 2009 at 12:17 pm |

    Mantis:

    “the male figures is generally for the reader to identify with/aspire to. The point of the female figure is generally for the reader to masturbate over.”

    do you think that all women comic readers feel that way about the male vs female figures? (not being snarky, curious)

  17. DireSloth
    DireSloth July 30, 2009 at 12:46 pm |

    I agree with the sentiment occasionally expressed above about male/female bodies in comic books. Men and women’s bodies may be IDEALIZED to roughly the same degree, but they vary in how much they are SEXUALIZED. Walk down the aisles of your local comic shop and you’ll see what I mean. I can all but garentee you’ll never see a cover with a male hero posed like a pinup model, yet I believe there was a controversy recently over how a certain artist for a certain major comic book company traced parts of his covers from porn video stills.

  18. preying mantis
    preying mantis July 30, 2009 at 1:43 pm |

    “do you think that all women comic readers feel that way about the male vs female figures? (not being snarky, curious)”

    No, I think that’s (generally) the intent of the production team–the folks actually doing the figure distorting–who (again, generally) couldn’t give two fucks what female readers do with the images and storylines.

    What any given female reader takes away from an artist’s work is largely her own deal and is going to vary pretty wildly based on how she identifies with or interprets the image and context.

  19. napthia9
    napthia9 July 31, 2009 at 2:33 am |

    I’m not an X-men fan (or really much of a Marvel comics fan; as someone said earlier, Marvel comics conceives of discrimination in a way that makes Magneto look way too reasonable), but yay for women like comics and liking what you like. Domino’s coolness definitely transcends the things I don’t like about Marvel Comics, and Marvel Comics has paved the way for things like the first openly gay hero and multiethnic superhero teams.

    However, all I could think about when I read the bits about unrealistic body images was that “but men are objectifed/unrealistically drawn too” is a space on the freakin’ Sexism in Comics Bingo Card. It’dve been nice if other women who like comics could’ve been given some credit for having common sense and legitimate complaints, instead of suggesting that we never noticed that real live men do not have muscles like Cable.

  20. RenegadeEvolution
    RenegadeEvolution July 31, 2009 at 11:41 am |

    Napthia 9: Well, that part was not there to insult your intelligence or that of other women. AS an artist, I did however want to point out in that piece that comic characters are often intentionally drawn to be unrealistic and the (IMHO) odd disparitety between the listed hieight/weight ratios for male and female characters. I also assume, perhaps incorrectly, that people who read stuff I write oh, might hiave children- male or female- who read comics and are just not as observant and wise and adult comic readers- because comics- when read by their actual target crowd, youth- do a lot to put out unreal body expectations for both males and females. So, I rather hoped that if someone who had read my piece there, when asked by Young Reader Jane or Joe “why is character X PERFECT physically” that person could tehn explain to Jane Or Joe that comic drawing styles themselves are designed to present unatainable physical looks and whatnot. They are not, in fact, “perfect”, they are impossible. Sometimes, not everything I write, is just about the women. Shrug.

  21. Rockit
    Rockit July 31, 2009 at 7:58 pm |

    I think the reason the female characters are drawn like that is simply that a lot of the artists aren’t used to being around real women and so use their imaginations instead, or base it around, as Diresloth pointed out above, porn.

    Also, given the circumstances I’m amazed no one’s mentioned Power Girl. Having someone like that on a page actually made me embarrassed to read comics in front of other people.

  22. Torri
    Torri July 31, 2009 at 11:12 pm |

    pretty much what Preying Mantis said. The distortion of Males is generally to make them look stronger (appealing to the male audience) the distortion of Females is generally to make them more sexually appealing (again to the male audience).
    Which is why I will continue to be irritated at the treatment of women’s bodies in comic art even if I still enjoy comics.
    Same goes for games and fantasy art ^_-

  23. napthia9
    napthia9 August 1, 2009 at 10:22 am |

    Nothing wrong with writing fun posts about comic books, or even cross-linking them to sites which are pretty much “just about the women” because, hey! Squeeing is fun! But if all you want to do is squee, stick to that. Examining the validity of a “critique of comics” is not squee. If you want to do that, then do the research. Otherwise you will slight someone, regardless of your intentions.

    As for helping parents with children disappointed because they don’t resemble a Liefeld drawing… I’m not sure what to say. The kids young enough to have trouble distinguishing impossible cartoons from reality are probably at more risk from Looney Tunes than X-Men (which is for teens&up, not kids). I can also say that when read comics as a kid, “comics are stylized, not realistic” wouldn’t have assuaged my uncomfortable feelings. I didn’t look at comics and feel bad about myself because I didn’t have boobs like that. I looked at comics and felt bad because the endless, pointless promenade of cheesecake shots* told me that other people thought the most important thing about me would always be my T&A- not my ability to kick ass, not my wit, not my desires, but my desirability to others. I reacted with anger, not breast implants- but I also stopped reading comics for a while because it made me feel bad and just flat-out unwelcome in comics fandom.

    *Many of which interfered with the ability to take the heroine seriously as a fighter. (Skirts, high heels, & latex wedgie-producing thongs are not good crime fighting gear. Nor do I particularly want the camera positioned so I can see outline of the heroine’s pad when she kicks the badguy, kthxs.) Almost none of the beefcake-y shots interfered with the hero’s credibility as an ass-kicker.

    Maybe this didn’t bother you, but it bothered me and many other women. If you want to squee, that’s great. It would just be a lot easier for other comics-loving feminists to squee along with you without having to rebut arguments from the Anti-Comics-Feminist Bingo card. ( http://girl-wonder.org/girlsreadcomics/?p=66 ).

  24. napthia9
    napthia9 August 3, 2009 at 3:34 am |

    If your post was badly written, uninteresting, or too introductory for my tastes, I could move on. What drew me to it was the oddness of a a post which acknowledged disparities such as women suffering more intense body-image pressure or being represented more unrealistically than men, but didn’t distinguish between the actual nature of the critique and the strawcritique spread about by people trying to present the critique as illegitimate.

    The post asks us to consider whether or not we ought to critique comics for presenting unrealistic images of women’s bodies. It answers by pointing out that comics are also unrealistic about men, and that often the lack of realism is done intentionally. This line of reasoning is sound, except the critique under examination does not exist.

    Because it is obvious that few men have as chiseled physiques as the average superhero, no intelligent, rational person would complain solely on the grounds that few women have the physique of a superheroine. Since we know the critique of women’s depiction in comics gained traction among people with working brains, we also know it focused on something else. That something may be sexism (as described by other commentators), or the proliferation of unrealistic body images in general, or the decision to draw impossibly beautiful women instead of impossibly athletic women.

    With that in mind, please understand why a post treating the strawcritique as if it were real is so frustrating.

  25. Ren
    Ren August 3, 2009 at 11:29 am |

    napthia: I guess perhaps due to the fact that I do hang around with a lot of people, including male ones, who often take the whole super-athletic or unrealistically beautiful thing to an extreme for themselves I come at it from an angle where it is not necessarily straw, but something that affects people I actually know & like and thus I found it worthy of mention. I absolutely think that such imagery, whether it be in comics or any other form of media, impacts women and girls far more often, far more deeply, and far more negatively than it does men. No question. But within my experiences (mine alone here), I do know probably almost as many men who kill themselves in the gym or have used or considered using steroids to get that “look” as I know women who constantly diet or consider really drastic levels of plastic surgery to get that “look”. So when I write such things- that is where I am coming from. I DID not mean to down play the adverse affects of such imagery on women, and if I totally came across that way I guess I appoligize, but because I do know men who have also been affected by such things, *I* found it worthy of mention.

  26. napthia9
    napthia9 August 5, 2009 at 11:52 pm |

    Thank you for the clarification. Having read your second post and your response, I better understand the point you were trying to make. I very much agree that men are also hurt by the unrealistic body images that comics present to them.

    I interpreted your original post more along the lines of “well, comics women are given uncommon height-weight-bra size statistics, but men look unrealistic too, ergo claims of sexism are overstated” because that is (distressingly) a common response to any attempt to critique sexism in comics, and because the comments regarding men came after a preliminary statement wherein critiques of unrealistic female images were given only “some validity,” and presented as having no awareness of the existence of unrealistic male images.

    Most feminist critique on comics acknowledges it exists- the answer to “but men are unrealistic too” on the bingo card discusses that, as well provides evidence for why complaints that female comic book characters are sexualized in a way that the male characters aren’t, isn’t just talk coming from out of our asses. (Unless we’re Vicki Vale- thanks Frank Miller! :P) Perhaps because so much feminist critique of comics is generated in response to misogyny on the part of other fans and pros, there is not much discussion of how sexism in comics negatively impacts men. Unrealistic images of men in comics and their impact on male readers (or het/bi female ones, for that matter) is still a matter ripe for discussion. In that light, I’m sorry this post did not generate comments on that topic.

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