Wednesday, May 23, 2007

COMICS: Adam Hughes vs. Womankind

Big news from the front lines!!! Hang on to your hats kids, this one is going to knock your socks, shoes, teeth and face right freaking off due to the life-altering message that I have to bring to you to-day!!! It's huge. Big. Pearl Harbour has been invaded, JFK has been assasinated and we've found life on Mars (and they've already sent AN INVASION FORCE!!!), but you won't give a hot-damn about any of those things after what I tell you!!!

Feminists are pissed at the comics industry.

In the immortal words of Martin Lawrence, "This shit just got real."

So, we've come across another example of an industry that is perhaps not as progressive as it should be, or even as it claims to be on some days. Women are objectified, brutalized and otherwise disrespected within fictional narratives in sequential graphic (and in this case, statue) form. Perhaps these predominantly male artists really do hate women. Perhaps they have an agenda to destroy the minds of our children (someone please think of the children), with all respect between the genders gradually dissolving until an all-out war of the genders consumes this planet (someone please think of the rainforest), ironically mirroring a comiclike dystopian storyline.

Artists Adam Hughes (the guy that made the statue in question) had some things to say on the subject:

"My idea was pretty simple, I thought – classic Mary Jane, from the days when Peter and MJ were boyfriend and girlfriend, and she’s found his Spider-Man costume in the laundry basket... She’s not [actually] doing his laundry, because I don’t know anybody that does laundry in a basket on a table. Even if you don’t have a washing machine, you’d do the laundry in the sink."

But what of the sexually suggestive pose, Adam?

"Well, Mary Jane isn’t a superhero, so you can’t really do anything with her that’s not some version of her just standing there... That’s pretty much all I was shooting for. Yeah, she’s sexy, yeah, she’s dressed like a sexy chick…but look at her history – that’s how she’s been portrayed for years, even when she’s not doing chores. Mary Jane is a bit of a bimbo. She’s been a supermodel and a dancer, an actress and a model…so I gave her a cute, sexy moment."

To be entirely honest, it's nothing that we haven't seen before. Frequenting local comic shops, I see things like this all the time, and don't think much of it. These statues aren't marketed towards kids, and they're certainly not marketed to reflect the sum perspective on real women from those in the comics industry. I don't personally know anyone that owns these sort of things, and I imagine that Hughes' reasoning makes perfect sense to those hardcore fans that collect
statuettes and the like because of an aesthetic preference (which I assume is tied to some kind of historical or nostalgic appreciation).

However, playing the Devil's Advocate, one could argue that a historical appreciation for a particular cartoon aesthetic amounts to the same as having blackface statues in your yard. Frank Miller is no-freaking-torious for using a film noir aesthetic in his comics, and I'm honestly never sure if this is because he thought those things were cool when he was a kid, or if he actually thinks all women are whores.

Hughes comments on the typical portrayal of women in comics:

"You draw what you like and I like beautiful women. It's weird because I did a poster of Heroines of the DC Universe for DC Comics a few years back and I was up there looking at proofs of the poster and this one woman who works there came up and said, 'Oh, my God! Look at that. No woman is built like that.' She was pointing at the way I drew Catwoman. 'No woman has a waist that small! Totally unreal.' This must have been a low blood sugar day for me. I didn't have my Wheaties, I don't know. I was just in a pissy mood and said, 'You know what, I don't look like Superman, but I don't go around bitching about it.' [laughter] And it's true."

Taking the human form to an extreme has been the hallmark of comics illustrations since the idea of the superhero originated (something that comic-based films have struggled with). This enhances the narrative because these characters can't possibly be real, and neither can most of the situations they encounter. There are exceptions to this, where a semi-realistic human form is used for characters encountering the difficulties of the real world. However, how many kids want to read about the real world?

(I seem to be coming back to the idea of children and comics perhaps a little much for this post, but be sure that I do have a larger point about that for a later entry.)

I believe that the majority of the mass-media-attention seeking "feminists" are not really seeing the real problem (and I never denied there was one). They criticise the human form as it's represented in comic books, but the real issue is in the narrative. The devil is in the details my friends, and I don't believe that anyone who talks about comics on Oprah or The View hasn't read a comic book since puberty, if that. (For those of you curious enough, there are certainly many female fans who are actually comic readers asking for a more progressive industry who have many good points to be made.)

For those of us who do frequent the local comic shops, maybe we are sick of the grisly fate that many a female companion has suffered. It has been the stuff of legend within the comics industry since Women In Refrigerators came around, and maybe enough is enough. If not because girls don't want to see it, then because at times it's simply not compelling storytelling. Why kill female characters? Hell, why kill any character? A big reason is that readers haven't responded well to characters that are, for lack of a better word, shite. Many characters of questionable quality tend to be women, unfortunately.

The real issue, I think, is not that the (primarily male) comic writers hate women, it's that they don't have a clue HOW to write compelling female characters. I'm not a woman, and I have no idea what their internal motivating factors would be in a fictional context. There are a scant few male writers who can write a female character as well as thier male ones, and I believe this to be the problem.

Joss Whedon is one of the few writers around today with a very progressive attitude and the actual ability to write Kitty Pryde such that girls (and guys) can identify an sympathize with her on the same level that young boys have felt about Spider-Man for the last forty-five years. He seems to get that to write a flawed female character, you do not necessarily need to paint her as "the victim" or the polar-opposite "woman warrior." After all, what kind of range would real people (in tights) have if this was all they were allowed to be? Brian Michael Bendis' run on Ultimate Spider-Man is of a similar situation, with absolutely compelling female characters supporting Peter Parker in a way that has never been done in the mainstream Marvel Universe.

In short, the problem is always less than what you've been told it is, but more than nothing. Maybe someday Stephanie Brown will get a memorial in the bat-cave too.

For some more discussion on this, check here. As always, let the comments be your battleground.

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