Wait a minute — scratch that, reverse it. In an interview with Kelly Thompson of our CBR sister blog Comics Should Be Good, Ross Campbell, writer/artist of Water Baby, Wet Moon, and SLG’s upcoming superhero book Shadoweyes, says that when people complain that his work over-sexualizes his mostly female protagonists…they’re absolutely right:
Kelly: At the same time that you’ve been praised by many (both critics and fans) for your portrayals of women, you’ve also drawn some criticism from people that think you are fetishizing or over-sexualizing some of your female characters…what do you think about that?
Ross: I agree. Haha.
Kelly: You agree with the criticism?
Ross: Yeah. I think they’re right, and I look back on my older stuff and I cringe. Which is normal, I cringe regardless when I look at my work, but I think I definitely got out of control with the sexualization, particularly with Water Baby. And what made it worse was that it wasn’t even intentional, I wasn’t sitting down to try to make a specifically “sexy” or titillating book like you’d see Milo Manara do or whatever, and that I didn’t intend it makes it seem to worse to me.
Kelly: Yeah, that was my next question – intention vs. just natural evolution of art.
Ross: It just came out that way, like I didn’t even realize it until I started becoming more aware of it and what I was doing. I just regret that it took me so many years to “get” it.
Kelly: So you have deliberately changed your drawing process…I actually think that’s interesting and laudable. That you’re more interested in the message you’re perhaps sending then just, “this is fun to draw, and this is how my style looks right now”.
Ross:At first it was kind of like that, yeah. Like I reached a point actually while I was greytoning Water Baby, I think, that I started freaking out and almost tried to keep the book from being released and not wanting to finish it, and I was like “what am I doing, look at these characters’ boobs and everything, what is wrong with me?!” So after that I really had to train myself to draw how I wanted to draw, but I think it’s become more natural now that I’ve been moving in that direction for a few years, but it’s still a process.
Kelly: I find this fascinating…and admirable, I have to say. Few artists seem to have a vested interest in not contributing to exploitation. Especially to the degree that they’ll train themselves not to do it.
Ross: Yeah, I just don’t want to be part of that. And I think there’s a big difference between having characters just be attractive or sexy in a “natural” way (natural in quotes because they’re still drawn characters) than them being like…crazy sexpot male gaze characters for no reason. And I think there’s a place for those types of characters, it’s fine if an artist wants to do that, I still enjoy looking at some stuff like that, but not really in the types of stories I want to do.
For what it’s worth, I actually disagree with Campbell about whether his stuff is exploitative. Obviously, his style isn’t “natural” per se — on some level he’s choosing to draw attractive characters. But the range of the characters he’s rendered attractively — in terms of body type, weight, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, personal style, intelligence, personality, pretty much every variable — is so broad and impressive that, to me at least, it’s a million miles away from a Supergirl upskirt shot or your average brokeback-pose sexy amazon-woman superheroine. Never does he single out an unrealistic ideal and present that as the one and only acceptable form of sexiness. It may not be “natural,” but it feels like it comes naturally through Campbell’s view of the world, and the characters with which he’s chosen to populate it. Still, I’m happy to see a cartoonist considering this issue at all, you know?