Figuring Out How I Feel about Women in Comics
So, if you want to make it in comics, apparently, you have to know how to draw impossible women in impossibly contorted positions. This was never really one of my goals, and I’ve been reflecting on why. I’m not claiming any kind of moral high ground, here. Not saying I’m better than other people. Really, my attitude is that I’m lucky, fortunate, that I look at things the way I do. I’m no one to judge. I could easily have turned into a Vampirella fan. But why didn’t I?
Perhaps because I was influenced at an early age by Bill Watterson’s grumpitude. In one comic, Hobbes points to a comic book and asks Calvin, “Is Amazon Girl’s superpower the ability to squeeze her figure into that suit?” I was also fortunate enough to read several issues of Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise as a teenager, thanks to my sister’s good taste in comics. I grew up with a notion that spandex-bound superwomen weren’t worth my time.
More recently I’ve enjoyed browsing through the Escher Girls tumblr, laughing at what passes for art in comics, sharing the annoyance of the bloggers. And I’ve read horror stories about would-be comics artists being rejected because the women they drew were not “industry standard.” And as a would-be comic artist myself, the depiction of women in comics has become a real concern of mine. So, something I wasn’t interested in (drawing “perfect” women in poses that showed off their boobs and butt at the same time) has become something I actually ought to articulate a position on.
I guess my position is this: if it weren’t for the fact that the dominant art styles in the industry basically demand objectified women in comics, we could laugh off all of the offenses against aesthetics, anatomy and good taste that are committed. In other words, I wish I could just say, yes, immature artists and editors are going to create these images, but so what? Let the dregs sink to the bottom; let the creme rise to the top. But I know I can’t say that. The dregs have been comfortably at the top for years. So, as an artist I have to make a stand. If I want things to change, I have to be part of the change.
Therefore, you won’t see gratuitous objectification of women in Żużel and the Fox. You’ll see at least two major characters who are adult females with attractive proportions. But they’ll be wearing period-appropriate clothing. They will be posed, panel by panel, in ways that help me tell my story. Not in ways that attempt, at every juncture possible, to show off both their boobs and their butts.
Nothing against Sexiness
Here’s the thing. I do think sexual tension is an important element of fiction. I have nothing against sexiness playing a role in a comic book. And I don’t begrudge Juanjo Guarnido the few panels here and there where a female figure is shown off in the Blacksad stories. But that’s because it always makes sense in the narrative context. Art-wise, his anatomy is accurate, although it is idealized.
In Żużel and the Fox, I hope to introduce meaningful sexual tension between the characters of Rudek and Magda. And if I can do it without showing any skin, I think it will be all the sexier.
The key, I think, is how you define sexiness. To me a panel like this (chosen as a random example) is not sexy:
There’s no narrative reason for this character to be dressed or posed like that. But a panel like the following is sexy to me:
And no, not because I’m into cats. Because in the context of the narrative, when we get to this panel, the sexual tension between Blacksad and Alma is at its absolute highest. There are plenty of other ways we could contrast these two panels, but let’s let the subject rest.
Passing the Bechdel Test
As I’ve learned more about gender bias in the comics industry, it’s also become more and more important to me that Żużel and the Fox pass the Bechdel test.
But so far, in what I have scripted, I don’t know if I’m passing. There’s a scene where a group of women are having tea, but most of them are nameless, and their conversation is garbled because the P.O.V. character doesn’t understand their German speech. So this doesn’t count as women characters having a conversation about a subject other than a man.
There’s also a sequence where Frau Spröde, Żużel, and one or two nameless women interact. It’s part of a montage, though, so, again, there’s no conversation.
In book II, I have scenes between Żużel and Magda planned. I also plan to give Frau Weißerwolf, noted author on parenting theory, a female assistant with whom to discuss strategy.
I see that I’ll have to make changes. So, ultimately, the Bechdel test has become a kind of revision tool for me. And while I’m ashamed to need this kind of tool, I’m glad to have it at my disposal. I want my story to be meaningful, multidimensional, relevant. And if I limit the story to the male perspective, I know that it will suffer as a piece of art.