Friday, December 19, 2008


Alright! Let's get contentious.

Let's talk about the depiction of women in comics.

To be honest, it's actually one of my favourite topics. I have a real issue with the depiction of women in comics. Ironically, it's not really about proportions. I draw my men just as ridiculously as I draw my women. And those artists who draw girls with massive, gravity defying orbs on their chest and pencil thin waists just slide over into the realm of hilarity and cartooning for me. Some people love that, and that's their prerogative. For me, it's not even sexy, titillating or even offensive. It's so far removed from reality that I access it on a purely visual level - ie. is it a good picture of what it's trying to do?

My real issue with the depiction of women is about context.

Is their sexuality or nudity being used to provoke only a sexually arousing action in the reader. If it is, then I have problems with it. If the figure manifests power, concern, worry, elegance, awe or something else, then I'm happy. But too many realistic artists have cleavage in your face and porn star mouths (you know, that vacant half hanging open look). And that bothers me.

I've also been given more stories featuring female nudity in the HEROES comics than any other artist. No, I haven't actually counted, I'm just making bold, generalising statements cos they suit my agenda. But let's look at the last six stories I've had to draw, and let me explain how I dealt with them:

INTO THE WILD part 1: "Catfight" between Sabine and Connie

I think Timm and Jim would be the first to say they were just having a laugh when they wrote the "cat fight". Their direction was cheesy and campy and VERY funny. But as I mentioned in previous posts, it was important to me that this fight create a sense of gravitas in our protagonist and antagonist. While it would have been funny to have drawn it as campy as they wrote it, I just think the context did our characters a disservice. This is my directional call, and perhaps another artist would have made it work, but I knew I couldn't. And as I mentioned, I'm pretty particular about the depiction of women in comics. I tried to make the fight look vicious and tough and brutal. Given the lack of offended comments, I think I did ok.

I even tried to do something smart with it. Sabine was wearing a red top (the opposite end of the colour spectrum to Connies's red top). So when we see the blue top, on a subconscious level the fight is actually bringing the two characters closer together visually as well as emotionally.

INTO THE WILD part 2: Connie and Julien in bed

Ok, so they're consenting adults and for the story to progress and have meaning they need to be intimate. This is tough, as we want to feel their intimacy without being exploitative. It is a bit racy though, with Connie having her bra still on and having it visable, but I figured we'd seen worse, a lot worse. It also wasn't a huge close up of her breasts, so I figured I was ok there. I like to think I exercised a fair level of discretion and tase when drawing this scene.

Annette's incredibly romantic lighting really helps sell the idea that they're making love not having sex or f@cking.

INTO THE WILD part 3: Donna in the bathroom

This scene had been previously established by the amazing Alitha Martinez. Seriously, has any other HEROES artist stepped up as much as she has? I don't think so. Compare her earlier work with her latter work and you will know what I'm talking about. She's doing some brilliant stuff!

Oh god, it would have been so easy to do some serious cleavage and leg shots here, but that would have been not only inappropriate but also distracted from the action beats. I'll be honest, my real problem with this whole story arc is the outfit that Donna wears. I just think it's inappropriate for a mission, but then again... it's designed by a girl (Alitha) so I will just take a big can of shut the hell up.

SUM QUOD SUM part 1: Elle in the bathroom

I include the coloured version and not the black and white version as I feel that the electricity is the focus rather than her nudity. Without Annette's amazing effects, it just look like a hungover naked Elle.

When designing this page, front and center is her expression. It's right in the middle and everything else frames it. I spent so long creating the feeling of pain in her eyes and on her face, but also manifesting a sense of "toughing it".

This carries over to STUCK IN THE MIDDLE'S shower scene, but I had the same mindset. During the course of our lives ie. bathing we are naked. The trick I find is to not have the woman in a sensationalistic, sexy pose, but to also acknowledge that she is indeed naked. She needs to be in a naturalistic position, but the appropriate areas need to be covered up. As soon as it looks like she's actively covering herself up we head into dodgy (er shady or sketchy) territory. I'd do the same for a guy, by the way.

And if you think this is a sensationalistic, sexy pose... well... let's just agree that you and I have very different lines in the sand.

SUM QUOD SUM part 2: "Bikini fight" between Elle and Abby

The beauty about this entire story arc was that I actually got to make suggestions and have Ollie listen to my thoughts. One of the things that I was wracking my brain on was how to have an electrocution incident without the chicks running around in bikinis. He had already done the rain, so that was out. There was a sensationalistic subtext that bothered me. But when reading through the story it just seemed really logical.

Elle needs to be someplace she can relax, and it has to have water. The jacuzzi seems logical. And what else are the girls going to wear?

So my challenge was to not sensatioalise it. I had to make the depiction of the characters realistic and not distort their poses, bodies or actions. I like to hope that I managed to erase any sort of sexual subtext to this scene without taking away from the beauty of both of the characters. It's a tougher juggling act than it sounds! But I think just being aware of this negates the sexualising effect.

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE: Mill's shower scene

This was really tough. The whole point of Mill's cameo here is to sexualise her in Ryan's eyes and thus let the incident reflect badly on him. It hopefully illustrates what a douche he is by giving him an unhealthily pervy streak. So I had to walk a fine line here.

On the one hand he has to find her sexually arousing, on the other hand I don't want to offend anyone with her nudity.

So I approached it in two ways. First up, I decided to make her pose as naturally as possible. I wanted her to look like a woman washing herself. I also needed to cover up as much of her as possible with her arms. I wouldn't normally raise my right arm like that to wash my right shoulder, but I didn't think it was out of the bounds of a natural movement.

The other thing I did was make her avoid any eye contact with the camera. This bit is really important. If she was looking at us it would be very sexually confronting. Instead I tried to have her off in her own world and very unaware that she is being looked at. I kinda hoped that it would make the reader feel a bit like a perv too. You're watching someone in a vulnerable state who doesn't know they're being watched. Perhaps that uncomfortable feeling that some readers felt is from that rather than the sexualising of her figure? Maybe you KNEW you shouldn't be watching her here and that made you uncomfortable? That reaction from you is what should make you also detest Ryan.

So, I tried to keep her pose as natural as possible, but Ryan's character needed to be served as a pervert, so instead I showed as much of her as I was comfortable. I remember the original framing was somewhere around where cut off jeans would hang on her hips. But it was just too much. I pulled back so we could see less of her. I felt this served him enough.

I ran it by a very close female friend whose opinion I value and she wasn't offended at all. I asked Annette's opinion before she coloured it. I mentioned to Annette that if she wanted to cover her up with steam to just go for it.

But Annette seemed comfortable enough with it to largely leave it as it was. NBC seemed comfortable enough with it to let it go through, so as far as I was concerned, it was mission accomplished.

Speaking of Annette, I thought her lighting and colour palettes were exceptional here. From the brown to the blue, to directing your eye to the hole in the wall on panel 4. It was all so brilliant.

NEXT: I doubt I will be posting next Monday as I will be landing in Melbourne that day (I leave Sunday night and arrive on Melbourne on Tuesday - er your Monday! 17 hour time difference plus a 15 hour journey - I end up losing 32 hours!). So basically unless Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown fires up the DeLorean I don't know how it's going to happen. I will try, but I don't like my chances. I will still make sure there's three posts that week though.


thepoohguy said...

Sheesh, it's Christmas. I think we'd be ok if you didn't post 3 times next week!

Have a safe trip and a very Merry Christmas!

Level said...

Of the 118 Heroes comics about 27 of them have a naked or nearly naked female. You have drawn 9 of them, which is one third, and half of your 18 total.
Alitha Martinez is in second with 5 of her 10.

You have also drawn the most with naked or nearly naked males, with 4 of about 19.

bu11dog said...

You've always been tasteful with your drawings and none of them have been distractions from the novels imo. In fact I completely missed that Elle was naked in the one until you mentioned it here.

Kelly J. Compeau said...

There's nothing that irks me more than the ridiculously unrealistic portrayal of women in comics, with those large, gravity-defying, perfectly round orbs, and barbie doll thin waists. I don't come at this from a feminist stand-point. I'm thinking like an artist who strongly feels that works of art should have at least SOME grounding in reality. Otherwise, I can't relate to it. I can't relate to the character as a human being. It just becomes a fleshy, humanoid-looking...thing. An object.

When I was drawing/colouring the last pages of the first issue of The Black Tower, I got really nervous about how those hotel roon scenes might go down -- both with die-hard comics fans and the general public at large. I was expecting a huge backlash, scorn-filled emails from people who didn't want to see that kind of "filthy porn" in a webcomic that was other-wise very family friendly. Well, I'm very relieved to report that, out of the 12,000 + people who've read the premier issue, I got a total of 3 scathing emails, and 5 more from folks who said they were unprepared to see that kind of thing (drugs use and half-naked prostitutes) but nonetheless found the issue very entertaining. They'll continue reading future issues, so long as I put some sort of parental warning up on the website, so they can check it out before letting their kids see it. I did just that, and there have been no complaints since.

I'm very proud of my work, and especially proud of the realism I showed in all my depictions of various woman found in The Black Tower webcomic.

Jas, your depiction of women in the Heroes comics is spot-on. They are all beautiful, sensuous and intelligent HUMAN females, with all the strengths and frailties I'd expect to find in any woman walking down the street. Kudos, babe!


Ryan Stewart said...

Funny. Right after I read Stuck in the Middle, I called Ruth over and asked her what she thought of it. She was impressed with your very realistic depiction of a naked woman. I thought it was great.

Level: should we have nudity stats at Heroes Wiki? :)

Flawedprefect said...

I vote for Level's stats on who's drawn how much of what. Boy - this post brought me back to the days of folks bagging out Gen-13. Apparently, Kaitlin ran around with "water-balloons" strapped to her chest.

Your art depicts people; I've never found any of it sexist at all - I mean, NBC is a family sorta channel, I gather, and so the website would have to follow suit. So if you're doing something naughty, someone would have picked you up on it already, I'd have thought.

So Merry X-mas for now, dude! Welcome back to Oz, albeit briefly.

jasonb said...

thepoohguy: Do I owe you a book? I'm sure I do. Lemme sort that out.

Level: You're totally amazing dude. You see, if I'd known you were counting I would have hunted you down for this info first. Or did you count after?

bu11dog: thanks buddy! I think Elle was my best nude appearance too. Cos it's so subtle.

KJC: Heya! Great to hear from you again. And you're totally right. I believe in warning people about the contentious nature of material, but not censoring. We're all adults and can make our own choices... but it helps if they're informed. And people,do follow that link. The Black Tower is muchos fun... and there's sex and drugs. =)

Ryan: Thanks buddy. I think I get more heat cos I do draw realistic women. If they're "cartoony objects" like KJC says, perhaps I would fly under the radar more. Well, you have your stats. It's just up to you if you want to include them!

Paul: And that's been a huge yardstick. If NBC are happy, then so should we. Happy new year right back atcha!