Erik Larsen, the creator of Savage Dragon and publisher of Image Comics has weekly column at Comic Book Resources called “One Fan’s Opinion” in which he likes to express his views on a variety of subjects ranging from his fandom of Captain Marvel to continuity in the Image Universe (or Multiverse.) It’s usually a pretty entertaining read but recently he’s stuck his foot in his mouth.
See in Larsen’s May 5th column he talked briefly about the history of censorship in comics. He starts out mentioning the sometimes racially insensitive, sometimes lurid books of the Golden Age which gave way to the pin-up happy Good Girl books and shocking horror books of the 50s which inspired a backlash ultimately leading the industry to adopt a strict platform of self-censorship.
So far so good.
Then he talks about the lack of censorship in today’s modern comic market and begins to decry the voices of those who talk about censorship. But who are the people that Larsen is bravely standing up against? The moral police who would have your local comic shop shut down for having the audacity for carrying an issue of XXXenophile? The self-righteous jackasses who are boycotting the new Batwoman comic because they think there shouldn’t be any homosexual characters in the DCU? No…
“Because whenever things start to push the envelope once more, the censors rear their ugly heads. This time as vocal critics on the Internet. But they’re not going after the horror books this time — no, not yet.
It’s the ladies. “
Yes a common complaint among female readers for years has been with the way that male artists draw super heroines. Heck Sequential Tart used to have a whole column dedicated to man’s inability to draw plausible looking breasts . Now writers for blogs like I Read Comics and When Fangirls Attack are chirping in with requests for more believable female figures , and dammit Erik Larsen isn’t going to take that lying down. Oh no. WE MUST PRESERVE THE GIANT BOOBIES!
“The Phantom Lady’s only distinguishing characteristics are her ample cans. That’s pretty much all she has going for her. Ditto Power Girl. To tone them down is to strip them of their identities. And frankly, that’s what they’re supposed to look like! It’s not a situation where an artist took Catwoman and distorted her to fit his fetishes — these characters started out busty as all hell — drawing them that way is drawing them right.
If you don’t want the Barbi twins to look like the Barbi twins, don’t use the Barbi twins.”
Remember that stupid Barbi Twins comic that Topps put out in the mid-90s? I don’t think a lack of cleavage was a problem with that book.
I don’t just like Power Girl because of her bosom (though as a male I find it part of the appeal) I like her because she’s the plucky kick butt first and take names later type character that Supergirl should have been. The only reason Power Girl has huge breasts is because Wally Wood thought it would be a lark to draw the character’s chest a little larger each issue just to see how long it would be until the editors caught on. (They never did by the time Wood left the book.) Still despite the character’s convoluted history, I think it’s kind of insulting to both her creator, and her fans to say “she’s just a pair of boobs.”
Larsen goes on.
“Self-censorship is still censorship. Drawing a comic about the Barbi twins and having them have chests like Little Lulu because of a few balkers on the Internet strikes me as pretty cowardly.
Is that where we’re all headed? Artists censoring themselves because of a few vocal whiners?”
Really I’m confused at this point? Is Larsen hinting at buying the Barbi Twins Adventures franchise from Topps? I’m sure you could get it at a decent price these days.
But really let’s get in at the real issue at hand here. Larsen is telling us that creators appeasing the female fans who want to see more realistic body types in comics WRONG! THE VERY FATE OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT RESTS ON POWER GIRL’S MASSIVE CHEST! THE GIANT BOOBIES MUST RUN FREE! FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN SOMEONE SAVE THE BOOBIES!
Should all women in comics be plain or homely because some real women find attractive comic book characters threatening or offensive?
Ok I’m not an expert on what women want in comics, but can ANYONE point to a specific instance of someone asking that all women in comics be physically unattractive? Because the only arguments I can see is ones asking for women to be drawn in a less dubious fashion. Of course I’m not the one shilling a topless She Dragon statue in this month’s addition of previews.
“If every comic book woman looked like the Phantom Lady I think there would be a serious cause to complain, but we all know that that is not the case — just as we all know that somewhere out there, there are women that exist that do look like that (they just don’t live anywhere near me). ”
Thankfully not all the women in super heroine comics have huge breasts and improbable costumes like Phantom Lady. No dear reader I have compiled an impressive list women in superhero comics who do not have huge breasts.
Paul Sebert’s Complete List of Small Breasted Super Heroines
2. Kitty Pryde
1. Spoiler/Robin IV (Deceased)
1. Uh… that girl from Leave It To Chance
This Completes Paul Sebert’s Complete Lists of Small Breasted Super Heroines
See a whopping six characters, five of who are still living in present continuity. Hooray for diversity! Hooray for positive female roles in comics!
“Let Power Girl look like Power Girl and Little Lulu look like Little Lulu (and if you haven’t been buying Dark Horse’s reprints of the classic Little Lulu comics, you’re missing out on some excellent kids’ comics, by the way — if you know a kid that you’d like to encourage to read, you can’t do much better than handing him or her one of those volumes).”
There he is talking about Little Lulu again. For the record, I would like to be the first to declare the addition of the LITTLE LULU LAW to vernacular of the internet comics fandom. From now on I declare that anyone who compares Little Lulu to superhero comics featuring semi-realistic figures automatically loses any debate. Remember that column by Michael San Giacomo of Phatom Jack fame comparing Cameron Stewart’s Brilliant Catwoman run to Little Lulu? Of course you do. It was a almost universally despised insipid piece. Remember Michael San Giacomo ever doing ANYTHING after that infamous column? Of course not. DO YOU SEE THE RISK YOU’RE RUNNING ERIK LARSEN?! THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU!
Anyway after some relatively rational discussion of the depictions of various ethnic groups in comics, Larsen ended his May 5nd column with this feel-good message.
“In the real world people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and some of them are beautiful and some aren’t, but there’s an incredible variety there. I’d like to see more diversity in comics and less cowardice. Everybody doesn’t have to look like the same boy and girl with slightly different heads. Women can be fat and skinny and busty and not so busty and everything in between.”
Hey that’s a fine message… and but well where are the different body types in your comics Mr. Larsen? I don’t recall ever seeing any skinny heroines in the pages of Savage Dragon. On the other side of the spectrum I don’t see any Francine from Strangers in Paradise types in any of your works. I suppose you could point to Horridus as a VERY different body type.
Anyway this column didn’t go unnoticed, as Larsen undoubtedly received more than a little feedback from female comic fans. Which leads us to his June 2nd column.
Last time out I had opted to defend superhero costume designs — a dubious option, I’ll grant you, but kind of fun given the ridiculous costumes foisted on all too many characters both male and female.
The opposing view (at least as articulated in the letter I received) is that while most male costumes are the result of either tradition (Superman, Robin or even J’onn Jones) or have costumes designed for the sake of effect or intimidation (Batman, Spider-Man), female characters are — almost exclusively — costumes designed to arouse males.
There is something to that, to be sure, but really, if you’re going to excuse costumes as being “traditional,” then you’re doing your argument a tremendous disservice. Wonder Woman would be part of that “tradition” after all, as would the Phantom Lady and J’onn Jones wears less than many females (the Phantom Girl included). Many characters from the ’40s, both male and female showed a lot of skin. Namor wears swimming trunks — and briefs at that — and Hawkman wears less clothing than Hawkwoman.
Ok… Larsen starts off with a good point, but I think he loses his way here. Are we to buy the notion that J’onn J’onnz’s character design is intended to arouse females? And isn’t the reason why Namor’s costume a pair of speedos might have something to do with the fact he has to you know… swim? But the thing isn’t so much with the amount of skin shown but how it’s shown. Can we really point at any illustrations of Hawkman or Namor that are particularly fanservicey? I mean to this day most artists still seem afraid of even implying the notion that there might be a bulge in male character’s tights.
True, a lot of women’s costumes are designed to be sexy. Few female costumes are intimidating. But few male costumes are truly intimidating as well. The much-cited examples of Wolverine and Batman both have underwear on the outside of their pants! Who’s intimidated by that? And let’s not forget Robin with his naked legs and Subby in his Speedos. I think a lot of people conveniently forget about or intentionally ignore characters that don’t support their argument, both male and female. Catwoman has, at times, been clothed from head to toe and had fairly restrained proportions. The Invisible Woman wears the same costume as the rest of the team — she wears more clothes than the Thing. The Silver Surfer is buck naked!
Here Larsen just gets silly. Jokes about characters wearing long-underwear on the outside aside. Robin of course hasn’t had his legs exposed in over 15 years, and even if his legs were never really focused on the way a male lead in a shoujo manga might be. As for Catwoman who could forget that she spent a decade looking like an over-endowed purple dominatrix in a costume designed by Tarot creator Jim Balent? What about that dark period in the early 90s in which squeaky clean Sue Storm ran around in a stripper costume that Psylocke would call scant? Would anyone in their right mind call Thing fan service. Oh for the record, Silver Surfer is pretty much genderless when you really think about it.
Oh and it gets better…
“I mean, there have been a number of gruesome torture scenes involving ripe young females squirming and arching their bodies in poses designed to titillate. That’s caused a few women to get bent out of shape and pissed off at the comic book industry as a whole, as if every person involved in the creative process, on every book from every publisher was guilty of perpetrating the very deed that was depicted.
And that’s not entirely fair.”
Ok it’s probably not fair to blame say Todd Nauck for the torture scenes in War Games for example… but shouldn’t someone at the editorial level at the very least be held responsible if a comic publisher resorts to some particularly unpleasant lurid content. I mean if you want to put a torture scene in Savage Dragon I suppose that’s your right Erik… but do you really think it’s in DC’s best interest to have a Batman storyline revolving around a 16-year-old girl being tortured to death at the same time they’re selling Batman toys at Target?
Which isn’t to say that it’s “right” to depict such things either, but people do get tortured on occasion so it’s not entirely unrealistic (although they seldom look “sexy” in the process, I’ll grant you). And I don’t think anybody would argue that it’s better to actually perpetrate such things than to read about such things. If your creepy cousin Chester can get his rocks off to a Matt Baker drawing of a supple female in bondage as opposed to snatching somebody’s daughter and hauling her into a darkened alley, then it could be argued that maybe ol’ Matt was performing a public service.
So torture scenes in comics really save lives?
Back to the state of reality…
My call was for “more diversity.” I bemoaned creators drawing all characters as though they were Barbie regardless of their ethnicity. My point was, essentially, to suggest creators balance things. If you have a busty woman in a book, consider not having other characters be busty as well. The Phantom Lady should not have the same build as Wonder Woman or Kitty Pryde or Little Lulu.
Ok… I honestly don’t think that Larsen has dripped off into Dave Sim-esc misogynist la-la land. But let’s be serious for a moment. I think Larsen actually started out his March 5th column with good intentions, calling for more variety in the body types presented in comics, while defending his love of cheesecake art. Well there’s room for art of characters like Power Girl and Phantom Lady in this industry… but the problem isn’t that there isn’t a shortage of buxom females in comics. It’s the opposite. Can you really blame female readers for being put off by the fact that so many super heroines look like Playboy models? Does it seem right that Wonder Woman is so often drawn with Phantom Lady-esc breasts? Does it seem right that Super Girl now looks like Paris Hilton? Couldn’t we at least have some more heroines that look like say… Alyson Hannigan or Natalie Portman rather than the Barbie Twins? And on the other side of the equation why occasionally show male characters in a sexualized light, or are we as male readers still too homophobic to acknowledge that guys have nipples, genitals, and asses?
If there really was something vaguely resembling an movement to censure artists right to draw cleavage Larsen might have a point. But in the end he just decided to flare up at a relatively small, but important segment of the fandom.
And for that… despite whatever good intentions he had talking about censorship, race, and body types he might have had Erik Larsen ended up looking like well… a boob.
(For more reading on this subject check out the excellent rebuttal column “You Are A Candy Bar Maker In A Low-Carb Age at Girl-Wonder.org.)