by Jon Bogdanove

originally published on facebook (images added)

 

 


It is a fact that superhero comics rely on the unrealistic idealization of physical form. The secondary sexual characteristics of all genders will always tend to be emphasized, if not always exaggerated to ridiculous proportions (both boobs and muscles). It is part of the mythic nature of the genre. We depict superhumans in a superhuman reality. Muscles, boobs, and poses that highlight them will always be part of that.

It is sometimes a pretty thin line between depicting an idealized physique and objectifying a character. To some extent, it is a matter of opinion. Tastes differ and someone will always find something objectionable in anything you draw.

I do my best not to be offensive to the tastes of my audience. Moreover, I try to do my part to promote and support positive trends in our cultural evolution. I think I avoid a lot of criticism of my female figures, primarily because I think of the characters I draw as people. One of my strengths as an artist has always been depicting nuances of behavior that help make even extreme-looking characters feel real to my audience.

 

In other words, I find the best way not to objectify a figure is to not objectify your characters. As long as they are real people in your imagination, you are going to draw them moving, gesturing, talking and acting like real people, despite how extreme or unrealistic their physiques are.

I will draw a woman character in a cheesecake pose only if it is characterologically appropriate to that moment in the narrative. In other words, I avoid drawing women in gratuitously sexy poses, unless the character has a story-based reason to do so.

Poison Ivy and Catwoman use their sexuality tactically—even as a weapon—so it is appropriate for them to vogue alluringly when they are employing that strategy. Wonder Women would probably never use her beauty in that way.

If a plot called for it, Big Barda might act sexy toward her husband, Mr. Miracle—but her approach would be totally different from Selina’s or Ivy’s. Barda has no need to weaponize her sexuality. So, I would try to depict her sexy behavior in a manner consistent with her personality and the circumstances of the scene.

A trickier character to deal with sexually is Lois Lane. It is part of why I love her so much (weird how fictional people can live in your brain as clearly as real people, isn’t it?). Lois is an archetypal Tough Broad— a woman working in a macho, very male-dominated industry. It seems like she’s dealt with more than her share of cronyism and gender bias.

Lois works very hard to not let her physical attractiveness limit her professional credibility. It is actually pretty hard to imagine her cheese-caking around for any reason (perhaps undercover, to get a story?)… But, Lois is also a complex, interesting character, who is very different where Superman is concerned.

As an old-school, proto-feminist Lois has little respect for weak men—especially weak men who seem to thrive on male privilege. Conversely, she is clearly attracted to strong men, regardless of privilege. She definitely both loves and has the hots for the ultimate strong man, in spite of the fact that he goes in drag as a weak man. Complex.

There is also, IMO, a part of her— a verboten corner of her psyche— that is turned on by the idea of being rescued and swept away by an immensely powerful male. Human sexuality is varied, and it is not difficult to imagine that this nearly superhuman Tough Broad might harbor a bit of a Damsel-in-Distress kink. In the day-to-day, though, she and Clark have a remarkably functional relationship (ideally). A Superman for a super-woman. They clearly understand the difference between consensual sexual fantasy and the ethical treatment of your fellow human beings.
Lois is a wonderfully rich and complex character to draw, but depicting her sexual behavior requires more insight and thought than just thrusting her boobs and twerking her butt.

It’s no excuse, but, I am a dude. Like many lonely, adolescent nerds, I learned to draw women for the onanistic urgencies of youth. As a grown up, especially as a professional storyteller, I strive for a higher standard of maturity and sensitivity. To be fair, I’m guilty of drawing titillating female figures on occasion. I’ve been censored more than once for drawing boobs—not for their size (both times were for moderately-sized characters), but for their “sqwooshiness’ or tactile appeal. But, I rarely draw sqwooshiness gratuitously—and never without a story-or-character-based mandate.

Occasional sqwooshiness aside, I continue to draw both men and women with impossibly idealized, exaggerated physiques. I work in a genre where that is the type of character I am most called upon to depict. It’s Batman, not Fatman (sorry Kevin). I also like the overtly sexualized women of Frank Frazetta, Adam Hughes , nd Frank Cho. It’s art. People draw what they like to draw. You don’t have to read it or buy it. Draw what makes you happy, instead.

Like those guys—like most nerds, I’m probably oversexed—so I can’t promise I’ll never lean in to the sqwooshiness more than is necessary when I draw women—but, over the years, I have received comparatively little flack about my depictions of female characters. I think that is because I can’t help but think of them all as real people— with feelings and way more backstory and psychology than ever makes it to the page. It’s harder to objectify someone you empathize with so intimately and work with 12 hours a day. I’m a storyteller first, and a creeper last, I guess.

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. Great piece; totally true and I completely agree. But the problem is that almost all of those who object are naive, if not ignorant, of art history. This is nothing new! Michelangelo was doing the same thing on chapel ceilings 500 years ago (that’s half a millennium). The Baroque and Mannerist artists did the same thing, all the way up to the 20th century pinup artists half a century ago. Art is idealism, and idealism is by definition “unrealistic.”

    For most artists, the goal is to depict beauty, and that definition of beauty is as individual as snowflakes. Michelangelo felt the human form was the most beautiful in the universe, and to an straight guy, what is more beautiful than a beautiful woman? (And for many, “beautiful” equals “sexy”, which can mean “oversexed” to others.)

    The best thing about art is that you are able to draw whatever YOU want. If you don’t like the status quo, CHANGE IT. How do you do that? Become the best in your field. The top 5% of any field are the ones who change the norm. It’s that simple. NOT easy, but it shouldn’t be. Don’t give me crap about readers and editors’ prejudice because in comics, no one can tell what your gender is unless you volunteer it. I had no idea what sex Shannon Wheeler, Kim Thompson, Dale Messick, Ramona Fradon, J.L. Straw and others were, and it didn’t affect my liking (or disliking) their work one bit.

    As one of my illustration teachers once said to me, “You want to do something ‘different’? Really different? Do something GOOD.”

    By spending more time learning and drawing and less time complaining, you get good.

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