Monday, October 08, 2007

This one'll be quick because I'm short on time.

Bellatrys has been puzzling over an X-Men cover for the last couple of days, trying to figure out what makes a feminine pose and costume and what makes a masculine one. Meanwhile, and between her and Willow they've figured out precisely what's wrong with some of these cheesecake covers. First, take a look at the original cover, and the three remixes Bellatrys made. Now Willow's comment on the Xena one:
Personally I'm very surprised that my first thought on the Xena one was get up. The spine's the same, the ass up is the same - though it's covered. Maybe it has something to do with Xeam = Strength to me.

But I don't find it gratuitous. I just go "Xena Get Up!" and worry about the bad guys and who was strong enough to do that to her.
Look at Conan and Storm again. The most prominent part of each picture is the exposed left buttcheek, there's also a good central view of her exposed back and a little bit of the side of her breast. The first thing you notice in the picture is the exposed flesh and that sets the tone of the whole image.

With Xena, her plain leather skirt covers her butt (it falls just perfectly to) and her breasts are fully covered, and the what stands out is her armor, not her flesh.

Superman is drawn the way his costume normally is, covered up with a shiny uniform. Not particularly provocative.

Every part of a piece of art is important, because the artist is trying to set up an overall mood. Every line in the drawing needs to support that mood somehow. A piece of superhero art is supposed to evoke a sense of heroism, even when the character is flat on their face. You are supposed to look at it and be impressed with what knocked them down, and ready to see them stand up in the next panel. That's what a cover image should be. Its supposed to make you want to pick up the book and look inside to see who they're fighting and how they kick the bad guy's ass after being thrown so badly.

When an artist focuses too much on making the subject of the piece look sexy, as Larocca (arguably) did with Storm and Bellatrys did (purposefully) with Conan by put so much attention on bare flesh, they destroy that. If the viewer's eye is first draw to a titallating image of a character's butt and thigh, you've lost the chance to make them worried about anything other sex. The viewer is not thinking about how the character got to be face-down on the ground, the viewer is focusing on the character's butt. The viewer is not anticipating that this character will crawl to their feet and punch the bad guy in the face, the viewer is thinking about the possibility of even more exposed flesh. Its not a matter of femininity or masculinity so much as sexualization period here.

This is one of those points that subjective, some people might not think that Storm in particular is a distracting amount of skin (comparatively, it doesn't seem like a lot except that her butt is the focal point of the cover) and its certainly not the worst cheesecake I've ever seen but its a good example of an artist slipping over the line and losing the desired effect. Its not just that its unnecessary, it is actually harming the overall image by screwing with the artist-viewer communication. If you go out of your way to draw cheesecake you lose a lot of the drama superhero comics are supposed to give us. Pinups are one thing, a cover scene like this is another. (Interior artwork is the worst time to be cheesecakey at all, because then you are interrupting the story itself by distracting the reader, but that's another complaint entirely.) The cover is supposed to make me want to buy the book. I'm supposed to look at that on the rack, get worried about what they'll do with Storm (granted that image makes me worry about how they're handling Storm but not in a way that makes me want to see what they're doing to her) so that I'll pick it up to see who tossed her and how she gets back on her feet.

The bottom line is that in a visual medium too much sexy can hurt the story. Artists need to be more thoughtful about what they put in an image.


  1. "A piece of superhero art is supposed to evoke a sense of heroism, even when the character is flat on their face."

    This is so what I was trying to get at when I skimmed through Marvel's covers way back when and kept thinking "why are all the women scared!?!"

    But this is a much more nuanced argument, and yet still a clearer argument, and therefore vastly superior argument.

    (Still though, why do they always look so scared?)

  2. "If the viewer's eye is first draw to a titallating image of a character's butt and thigh, you've lost the chance to make them worried about anything other sex."

    Maybe it's just me, but I'm fully capable of simultaneously worrying about sex, the bills, global calamity, my dog's upset stomach, and superheroic ass-kicking. One fragmented input does not short out my emotional responses across the board.

    Which isn't to say that you're wrong about the impact of such an image... maybe that's how it works with the average reader. But if so, that says more about such a reader than it does about the artist and his goals.

  3. roger,

    That sounds awfully insulting insulting to artists, writers, etc. imo. For your argument to be an adequate rebuttal to Ragnell's, craft would have to have very little significance on the impact of stories.

  4. Roger,

    You multitask, much of the world does. Successful multitasking even with worry is a part of successful every day life. Still are you denying the impact of society in how you worry?

    In the case of Storm's cover, my first reaction was an inner recoil and the hearty desire not to know what was going on and how she was being paradaded for the male (majority comic readers) gaze. Now it's possible that being a woman and constantly having society tell me how to act, dress, eat, what to eat, how much I should weight, where to walk, what's dangerous for me, what's not so dangerous for me, who to date and why, which parent to honor more and where my place is - that I may be more sensitive to subtle shadings in society's speech regarding women.

    But your response makes me wonder if I've not just been recieving extra tutoring from society as if I were nothing more than large child with breasts, but have instead been brought up learning a whole different language. A language that men are not required to know, not even artists.

    Yes it says a lot about the reader if they immediately think the pose is sexualized - it says they live in this society and have huge experience in what sexualized images look like.

    I don't particularly like the campaign and how it's meant to manipulate women (mostly white) albiet in a new and supposedly 'feel empowered' way. But Onslaught has a point.

  5. Riiiiiiiiiight.

    SO if stratecially placed skin is exposed weno longer worry about the character.

    Uhhuh. Got a bridge in brooklyn to sell us too there ragnell the large?
    As Roger maybe thats the way it works for you, but I suspect that has a lot more to do wihtt he fact that you and your ilk are specifically looking for any image that can be considered sexualised so that you can woman about it on your blogs and inflict your suicide motivating rants on people you know.
    The fact Is all of thsose scenes evoked the same exact reaction from me, and expect from most others. "WHy is He/she on the ground? WHat happened?"

    But then what do I know Im just the veiwer obviously we need an angry fat chick to tell us what we're really seeing.

  6. RMM -- Keep your trolling to your own fucking blog. If you want to talk here, you can be respectful.

    I'm leaving that comment up so everyone can see what an ass you are and that you can't spell, but if you keep that shitty attitude up I'm deleting any other comment you post and you can just whine about me being unfair on your own blog if you want.

    Now, if you like to repeat your point without the personal attacks and with something that at least approaches an attempt at proper spelling and grammar, do so. If not, piss off.

  7. Hey guys, fat people are incapable of being right, ever, so we should just ignore them. THIS IS A SCIENTIFIC FACT, FOR REALS YO.

  8. I frequently see the "mad" in his comments but damned if I ever see the "man" or the "rational." They're also nearly impossible to parse or read- his blog's just as incomprehensible- because his spelling and grammar are so terrible.

    I hate to be one of those guys, but it really does make a difference when it's that bad.

    Anyway, I see your point and agree. I'm with Roger to an extent too in that I can multi-task.

    But to me- and I think in this I'm like you- the big thing is a hero comic cover should denote some form of heroism, be it heroism revealed, heroism denied, heroism in peril. The implications of the Superman image, despite superficial similarities to the Storm image, are clear- there are visual cues in a male image that aren't generally there in a female image.

    Some of this, maybe most of this, is our programming. But another aspect of this is the artist's intent. Objectively speaking, it's obvious that female supers are drawn to be provocative in a way male ones never are. That's why there's such a dissonance whenever someone remixes these covers and substitutes a male character for a female one and uses the exact same visual cues.

    Is it a miscommunication between the artist and the reader? I don't think so because the artist frequently IS selling the sexual aspect of the situation. Is it a form of "bait and switch?" Yes, quite often.

  9. WILLOW!!!!

    You've got some serious issues...I doubt you actually understand where they stem from.


    I doubt you do either.

    Refrain from psychoanalyzing the other commenters in my thread.