Saturday, July 15, 2006

This Again

I had this post on top for two days and figured I wouldn't revisit it, but the Feminist Community on Livejournal doesn't allow non-members to post and I had to respond to this comment.
But comics *art* different from "regular" art.

To compare comics to "regular art", you might look at the difference between Ingres and PP Rubens.

Ingres painted all of his "odalisque" paintings so that, if the woman existed in real life, she would have to have up to three extra vertebre. In the "Grand Odalisque", this is most true. The sitter is portrayed as disproportionate in order to convey the artist's personal aesthetic.

Rubens does much the same. His female sitters aren't technically real. They portray an aesthetic of beauty for the time and portion of the world in which he lived. Most of Rubens sitters are heavy hipped with a slightly rotund belly. However, Rubens portrays a slightly more realistic woman. She has wide hips, a belly, a more realistic bosom perhaps. But she's still just an image, a style of beauty.

I'm not sure which artist you're referring to when you envision a non sexualized or aestheic or realistic view of the natural form. Art does not depict life. Art depicts a vision of the artist. Picasso painted multitudes of women, but they were in his vision. He painted the parts he wished to portray in a way that he found aesthetically pleasing. Degas and Manet painted figures of an irreputable position, but in a aesthetically pleasing light, where they would not be under the usual circumstances.

Comic art is much the same. The artist isn't looking to recreate life. He's looking to present an aesthically pleasing subject. Whether that subject has breasts that are too large or legs that are too long, or a chest that is far too rectangular and a waist that is strangely small in comparison. It isn't life they are expected to depict, but a cartoon image of pleasure.

How many cartoons do you see that are real? Anime babes with huge eyes and strangely colored hair. A tomcat that stands on two legs. A sponge in clothing. Pink and purple ponies with glitter hair that talk.

Comics are just cartoons. They're images that reveal a certain brand of entertainment.
I'm not sure what the point of Rubens-Ingres art tangent she started off with was, but comics art is meant to present the best picture to support the story. Bottom line.

There are different styles, yes. But we're not talking about Looney Tunes or Manga here. We are talking superhero comics, specifically Marvel Comics. There's a certain style to that. Stylistic art is acceptable, wonderful even -- look at the Daredevil story by David Mack that Echo first appeared in, it was beautiful. But those stylistic elements are there because they fit with stylistic stories -- dreams and abstract concept pieces. There's a certain style that goes with it. Traditional superhero stories have their own atmosphere and artistic requirements. Some stories have soft, playful cheesecake like Terry Dodson's for a soft playful atmosphere. Some stories are sweeping epics that require a good cosmic background artist. Martial arts stories require an artist who can show the human body as a weapon. Art is necessary, in superhero books, for characterization and plot. Daughters of the Dragon is a Kung Fu/Action story. It's a martial arts book. Emphasis should be on the fighting and the skills of the characters.

If the artist wanted a more dynamic pose, that makes initial sense, she was very still in the first rough sketch. However, it was easy to tell she'd just landed solidly and skillfully and was planning to move again. She is peering into the window, reacting, even in the rough outlines to what she's viewing. There's room for the defined musculature of a well-trained martial artist. Her proportions roughly follow the ones traditionally used. The artist is clearly capable of skilled, balanced work.

The second picture, however, the landing is clumsy. I wouldn't describe it as dynamic at all. Her feet are skidding outwards beyond her control (her right foot even appears to be shaving wood from the porch -- was it changed so she would make noise on landing? Some martial artist!). Her back is bent in a painful and dangerous manner, you can see very little musculature. Her wrist is angled in a painful manner that adds no support to her upper body. This is not the landing of a skilled martial artist. This is an untrained girl who's gotten in over her head! Even her grip on the sword is loose!

The characterization is completely different for the two panels.

Which one do you think fits Colleen Wing, experienced martial artist?

Giving the benefit of the doubt, I'd call this sort of thing a bad artist covering his lack of skill with cheesecake, but here I'm going to judge by the potential of the first panel and say I see something much worse -- a good artist sacrificing characterization for sexualization. And that's the biggest problem. Breasts, skin, even flat out plastering She-Hulk's butt over half the panel doesn't really annoy me as long as it fits with the story (and they throw in a couple equivalent shots of the men). It's when the story and the character are put secondary to fanservice.

Art is vital to the medium, people. Artists need to get it right. There is room for cheesecake, room for beefcake but the character has to come first.


  1. Beyond even "the character has to come first" is "the story has to come first". Of course the characterisation should be part of the storytelling, but think of all those Image style comics that bring the story to a crashing halt so they can give you a pinup moment.

    It doesn't matter how good the picture is, or how well it characterises the person, if it stops the story flow then it is a bad thing.

  2. VERY good observations that the primary goal of comic book art, as opposed to gallery art, is usually to visually tell a sequential story, not to just be a "pretty picture" outlet for the artist's personal preferenceds. (I don't like the phrase "support a story" as to me it renders the artist subordinate to the writer; supporting is more what a spot-illustrator does in a venue like children's books.)

  3. Writers are artists. Stringing the proper words together to fashion a story takes as much talent as connecting lines and curves to form images.

    It doesn't matter if the artist is supporting the writer or vise versa. The pictures must convey the story and the personality of character.

    Very interesting post, by the by.

  4. So, if I'm reading that comment correctly, inappropriate sexualization is "okay" becasue it's "only" in a comic book? And this is in a feminist community?

  5. That use of "only" is often used as a way of diminishing the value of something and denying others the right to be affected by it.

    I'd see it a lot in bullies in online games who would justify their bad behaviour by saying it was "only" a game so people did not have the right to be upset by their activities. It may have been a game, but it was a game that even the bullies were putting a huge amount of their life into. There was nothing "only" about it.

  6. Only a game, just a joke, whassa matter, doncha have a sense of humor. It gets old, doesn't it?