She Has No Head! – This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

by  in Comic News Comment
She Has No Head! – This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

So a couple weeks ago I posted a round up of my favorite news from SDCC 2012. It’s now only fair that I talk about what I found to be the most disappointing news to come out of SDCC 2012.  And I’m only going to talk about one thing, because the continued weirdness when it comes to characters like Stephanie Brown and Cass Cain though depressing as all get out, is both expected, and perhaps in a way, tied to what I’m going to talk about anyway.

This image, which is not perfect, but which I happen to really adore on multiple levels (and independent of knowing ANYTHING about it), has been making the rounds (I first saw it at Escher Girls, and then at DC Women Kicking Ass, Brian also wrote about it when the news first came out) with the story that the artist was given these notes about it while at a portfolio review in SDCC:

“Her breasts are much too small and do not have the lift that superhero women should have. Her jawline is fat and her neck much too long. The style of her hair is clunky and does not flow in a sense that a super human would. Her hips, waist and thighs are too big and she honestly looks fat. No one is going to want to read a comic with a fat female protagonist. I honestly recommend looking at issues of Sport’s Illustrated to get the right anatomy. Those women are the peak of human perfection, and that is what we want in this industry.”

Now, let’s be very clear here about two things before we get into this:

#1. Technically, this quote says “look at issues of Sports Illustrated” which does not necessarily mean Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. However, I pulled cover images for the last two years from Sports Illustrated. Here are the four covers in 2010 and 2011 that feature women and that are NOT the Swimsuit Issue:

These women do not look to me unlike Selkiesiun’s Batwoman image, so I can only assume (without buying every issue of Sports Illustrated and poring over every image) that this portfolio review person is referring more to what we all think of when someone says “women” and “Sports Illustrated”, which are the notorious Swimsuit Issues. Here are the two Swimsuit Issue covers from 2010 and 2011:

And I think, it’s not a leap for us all to agree that the swimsuit covers look far more like most traditionally represented superheroines, than the first four covers.  So, while the comment wasn’t explicit in what it meant, it’s pretty obvious to even the casual observer what he or she meant.

#2.  The artist has come forward to say that it was NOT a comment made by DC or Marvel and though she admits that she heard similar frustrating comments by multiple portfolio reviewers, the above remark was the most harsh and did not come from DC or Marvel.

But does it really matter?  In fact, I think it’s perhaps MORE alarming that this came from a smaller publisher.  At this point, we expect the smaller publishers to be a place where you can do something a little different than “traditional” mainstream superheroes.  So, while I would have almost expected a comment like this from the big two (and would have been disappointed in them) I am quite frankly stunned to hear a comment like this coming from a smaller publisher.

Before we even get into what’s so disturbing about this, let’s just look more closely at this illustration. Check out these two images side by side…notice my red lines, which I copied and pasted (and then slightly resized to fit the new drawing, while keeping the dimensions exactly the same).

So this woman’s drawing, which is apparently of a “fat female protagonist which nobody wants to read about” has almost the exact body dimensions of Marilyn Monroe. Monroe, who is still considered one of the most beautiful (and sexy) women of all time, and someone that when you search her name brings up over 75 million results on Google.  Yeah, clearly NOBODY is interested in someone that looks like her.

This small-minded attitude is not uncommon, many people share it, but it’s alarming to see it in someone that is set up to give a professional critique of work at an international event as big as SDCC.  And it’s indicative of an ancient and flawed mind-set in comics that women can only be and look one way in order to be appealing.  I’m not going to get into the whole “well men are objectified in comics too!” thing, mostly because I’ve already done that and I’ve said all I need to say on the issue.  But independent of that whole other issue it’s just depressing that we’re living in (and have allowed to be created) a comics universe in which Amanda Waller is now a younger super thin version of what she used to be…and so many other variations on that same theme. We have yanked all of the variety of out comics, all of the variety that actually makes things interesting. Comics seem to have made giant leaps in logic about their audiences, because I don’t believe for an instant that people will only read stories about “typical supermodels” – if so how do you explain the brilliant Terry Moore’s entire career?

It’s also particularly vexing to read about someone’s personal idea of “physical perfection” when we are currently under absolute siege with thousands of examples of “physical perfection” via the 2012 Olympics. And what does watching the Olympics, the supposed the height of perfection and skill help us see? We see wonderful variation. EVERYWHERE.  The physical perfection of the female swimmer is different than the gymnast, and the tennis pro and all three are different than the runner, fencer, archer, weightlifter, etc.  It’s a fantastic reminder that skill, talent, and even “perfection” come in so many different sizes, types, and shapes.

In an effort to turn a negative into a positive (and forgo a full on rant for something more productive) I’ve decided to start up a new project (because I don’t already have enough to do apparently).

I’m calling this new project “THERE’S THE DOOR, SPACEMAN” in homage to one of the best moments for a woman in comics, courtesy of Darwyn Cooke’s excellent The New Frontier.  The goal of this new tumblr is simply to bring to light what an antiquated and alien thought process it is to say that female comics characters can only look like perfect Sports Illustrated specimens. We are simply beyond that. As intelligent beings with a variety of tastes and interests I refuse to believe that all we want are supermodels. Some of the most interesting, fun, and gorgeous art being done out there right now, whether fan art or otherwise, thinks well outside the box of a “traditional supermodel style.”

So the point of the Tumblr will be to celebrate and draw attention to great art done by great artists, that is outside the mainstream “supermodel type.”  It doesn’t mean artists who also draw in a more typical supermodel style are wrong – you all KNOW I love a lot of traditional art, this is not about judgment or tearing down – in fact the entire point is to have variety, and as a result I hope THERE’S THE DOOR, SPACEMAN” will be a safe space to celebrate that which does NOT look like traditional supermodel comic art, cause heaven knows there are plenty of spaces already available to celebrate that.

I’ve put some images up to get us started, but I encourage (and in fact NEED) you all to begin submitting too.

You can submit art directly to TheresTheDoorSpaceman[at]gmail[dot]com

There are some guidelines on the Tumblr about how to submit (in the initial post). But the short of it is, unless it’s a recognizable piece (say, the cover or images from a published comic) please always include a link to where you found the image – preferably a link to the original artist.  You should also include a short once sentence descriptor which identifies the the image and the artist. You are also welcome to include a short comment about why this image moves you. Images submitted without a link will not be posted. And I reserve the right to reject images based on whether or not I feel they fit the criteria (etc).

As a warning, this is my first time running a Tumblr (somewhere Sue is celebrating) so forgive any rookie mistakes.

Go forth and conquer, my lambs! Prove that we’re interested in way more than just the usual and expected portrayals of supermodels in our comics.