Some of you have already seen Milo Manara’s cover art for Spider-Woman #1, which generated a great deal of unhappiness across the internet. As io9 pointed out, she basically looks like she’s wearing body paint. One of many complaints raised was that a male superhero would never have been drawn like this.
Au contraire, says some dude on the internet, who heroically stood up to defy the “Social Police,” those “preachy, bloviating, pharisaic shit-heads,” and to explain why everyone who was upset about this cover was wrong, and it’s really a non-issue.
What his point seems to mostly come down to is the fact that J. Scott Campbell did a Spider-Man cover just like Manara’s, and you didn’t hear the Social Police converging on Tumblr for an outrage-fest then! Total double-standard and made-up non-controversy. So there!
Let’s take a look at both covers, shall we?
You can click to enlarge the comparison, and yes, there are some superficial similarities here in that…well, they’re both crawling. But where Spider-Man is clinging to a spherical mass of webbing and bad guys, Spider-Woman is perched on the edge of a rooftop, thrusting her ass at the city skyline for no particular reason.
There are some issues with Spider-Man’s artwork. For starters, what the heck is going on with his fingers? And his costume is almost as tight as Spider-Woman’s. You can see a few small wrinkles in his suit, which is a step up from hers, but they’re both wearing some serious butt-huggers.
Internet-dude’s whole rant sounds vaguely similar to the, “What about the Romance Covers?” response I got for pointing out the oversexualization of women on SF/F cover art.
So let’s take another look at these two covers.
Point 1: One of the basic rules of climbing is to keep your body/hips close to the wall. Or if you’re a superhero, to whatever surface you happen to be climbing. Which is exactly what Spider-Man is doing. He’s hugging his climbing surface. Spider-Woman, on the other hand…she’s not climbing. She’s posing.
Point 2: Look at how the two characters are drawn. Both are in skintight costumes. Spider-Man’s costume highlights his muscles. We’re seeing a physically strong character with extra finger joints. Spider-Woman, on the other hand, is drawn to highlight the curves of her body, sans muscle. It’s not about drawing a character who looks strong or powerful; it’s about drawing boner-bait for young teen boys.
Point 3: Even if both characters were equally sexualized (they aren’t), you have to consider the larger context. I have nothing against sexuality, or against characters being portrayed in sexual ways. But when we’re consistently reducing female characters to sexually appealing/inviting caricatures, regardless of whether or not it’s appropriate to the character or the story, then we have a problem. When women are being drawn time and again in ways that prioritize exaggerated sexuality at the expense of all else, we have a problem.
The problem here isn’t one cover. The problem is one more cover. One more woman reduced to a sexual object. One more woman portrayed in a way that de-emphasizes any strength she might have — because women can only be strong up to a certain point, and only if they’re also sexually submissive to the male reader/viewer.
Are there exceptions? Of course. Are guys sometimes sexualized? Absolutely. But don’t try to pretend that the sexualization of men occurs on the same scale as that of women, or that men are sexualized in ways that rob them of strength and agency the way women so often are.
Or to put it another way? Double standard my ass.
September 22, 2014 @ 1:49 pm
I liked The Oatmeal’s take on drawing Spiderman like Manara’s Spider Woman (may not be safe for work).- http://theoatmeal.com/blog/spiderwoman
September 22, 2014 @ 2:09 pm
Have you seen the work where someone rendered SpiderWoman’s pose using CGI and then shows how that really just doesn’t work?
http://imgur.com/FmE7mJz (decidedly NSFW)
September 22, 2014 @ 3:05 pm
I’ve been going back through some old Avengers story lines recently where Spider-Woman is featured pretty regularly and her costume always seemed to divert attention from her character or the story. The artists would draw it so that it was tight enough to show her belly button and that each breast had its own pocket. It always left me wondering who was making her costume and why/how they were able to sculpt it to her exact body shape. It just doesn’t make sense.
September 22, 2014 @ 7:16 pm
Really admire how you are able to write so sensitively (and thoroughly) about another’s perspective. At the risk of sounding sexist, I honestly don’t know a lot of men who can do this!
September 22, 2014 @ 8:13 pm
I mean, what kind of chafing and infections is that poor girl going to get? She’s not going to be either sexy OR effective at fighting crime when she’s scratching and slathered in medicated ointments.
September 22, 2014 @ 8:27 pm
I am certainly not discounting anything you said here, it’s all perfectly valid… this particular cover though, you said she’s posing. My first impression, and each time I look at it, I see Spider-woman just climbing over the top edge of the building and the artist drew her at the moment she was bringing her right leg up and underneath of her for footing in order to standing. A little posing, yes, as I wouldn’t be in that specific position after just climbing up over something and trying to get a leg under me but pretty close I think.
Also, I would argue that anytime you have a man being drawn, or thrown on the cover of a romance novel, in which heavy or detailed musculature is either exaggerated or blatant, I never see it as he is strong or capable. I do see it as sexualized in that having those kinds of physiques impose an incorrect mental norm that men are supposed to live up to, in exactly the same self-deflating way women compare themselves to celebrities that are thin and’beautiful’. With work and college I certainly don’t have time to hit the gym as much as all these beefcakes do. And it’s apparent women are attracted to such displays. I think it was Mythbusters that talked about women being attracted to biceps, like men glance at boobs.
Again, your argument and examples are valid and I’m not trying to take that away because like you said, time and time again those displays are essentially just boobs and ass shots with some form of woman attached to them (completely uncaring in who is connected those parts). But I wanted to comment on the assumption that it seems men aren’t sexualized because they are drawn or displayed as strong and capable when, I would posit, those physiques are a form of sexualization in which average men cannot live up to.
Men that were sexualized but in a way that provided character were the times of Magnum PI, Don Johnson, William Shatner (Star Trek era, not now), etc. Now, it’s Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Craig, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale (both Batman and Equilibrium versions), and even Matt McCounehey(??) when he;s trying to be hot and uber cut. Channing Tatem and what’s-his-name of Thor, and Captain America guy. As a writer, you have all the time in the word to be at the gym to look like those guys, don’t you? After all, you stay home all the time so you should be working out while thinking of ideas, right? 🙂
September 23, 2014 @ 12:20 am
Nobody ever said male superheroes aren’t idealized males. However, here’s the difference: When men are drawn with their big physiques, they’re drawn primarily based on whatever action they’re taking. if they’re fighting, they’re in an athletic pose, with the sexiness a secondary side effect. A frequent and non-incidental one, but most definitely secondary to them catching criminals and being skilled.
When comic book women are drawn (By this sort of artist anyhow), they seem to always be drawn to be viewed sexually first, and doing their ostensible activity secondly.
I can cite examples of artists who had the sense to do it the other way around. One of my go-to examples in another version of this discussion is George Perez’ run as artist on Wonder Woman, back starting in 87. (His run as writer lasted well after he dropped the art to someone else – someone who put her in more boobs and butt poses.) Wonder Woman is still an idealized female form in a way too skimpy outfit, but he draws her flying, fighting, praying (And this is relevant as she prayed in the nude), with his focus on the action first, and any sexiness was an incidental secondary effect. An inevitable one, yes, because gorgeous athletic young woman in skimpy outfit, but the emphasis was on her doing and being. Even the couple of covers that approached pin-up still seemed to focus on this being WONDER WOMAN, complete with personality, that one was admiring.
September 23, 2014 @ 12:39 pm
Well said. It’s worth noting that the emphasis on sexualising female superheroes really took off in the late 80s and early 90s with a wave of new artists shaking up the medium. I read and bought comics very heavily from around 77 to 92 and there was a HUGE shift towards the end of that period, with sexualisation of impossible lissom teenage females suddenly on every cover. Perez was an “old school” artist (was always my favorite Avengers penciller) and had no truck with the style of Rob Liefeld et al whose hyper-exaggerated forms pretty much set the new style, which some artists today obviously grew up with and see as “how comics should be done”.
September 23, 2014 @ 1:32 pm
My only comments would be:
“it’s about drawing boner-bait for young teen boys.”
Well, it’s possible that some of those teen boys are responding to the male figures that way.
Jim C. Hines
September 23, 2014 @ 2:42 pm
Totally possible. But I doubt this is usually the goal when the artists are drawing the male figures…
September 24, 2014 @ 7:57 am
I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I linked to this article on FB yesterday and became the target of an angry rant about censorship and art being “just” art.
And what really struck me was this: What in the world would make a comic book publisher put their new, supposedly strong and capable heroine onto the cover of their first edition in what basically amounts to a submissive porn pose? Take away the background and all that’s missing is a boot she can lick. Seriously.
What kind of message does that send out? What does this say about Marvel’s idea of a strong heroine?
Jim C. Hines
September 24, 2014 @ 11:41 am
It definitely makes me wonder what they were thinking. Especially given that this is what the artist is known for, so why did they seek him out, knowing his style and subject matter?
September 24, 2014 @ 7:43 pm
That’s my basic position. I don’t have a problem with the picture itself. It’s not the actual cover of the comic and it’s a piece of erotic comics art by an artist whose specialty is erotic comics art. He delivered what he was asked.
The question is why was he asked to do it as an alternate cover image to launch the new Spider-Woman comic. With oodles of comics artists to choose from, including female ones, why Manara among the ones used for alternate cover images? And obviously it’s because they wanted an erotic art piece of Spider-Woman. Saying it’s simply art is not true. It’s erotic art.
So quite clearly, the publishers of the Spider-Woman comic or their bosses wanted an erotic art piece of her and published it. But instead of simply saying, yes, it’s an erotic piece because we thought some of our readers wanted an erotic picture of Spider-Woman among the other pictures and like her because they think she’s sexy — instead of coming out and admitting that this was their goal, as was clear to everybody because the artist is Manara — they frantically lied. It’s not that sexy, they screamed! It’s just a picture! By a renowned erotic comics artist.
Which means again quite clearly that they thought the main appeal of Spider-Woman in her own series is that she is porn, rather than that she was a good character to do a series about and artistically interesting. Not simply a female character who could be eroticized in a portrait should Manara or any other artist have wanted to try it out, as often happens. To Marvel itself, Spider-Woman is just porn. (The actual chosen main cover for the first issue is also fairly torture sexualized and cut off Spider-Woman’s leg, but less obvious and not an erotic piece.)
And when they found out a lot of other people did not feel the same way and resented the declaration, they tried to pretend that this wasn’t how they saw the female character. That it was just one of a dozen portraits they commissioned and should not be seen as erotic, even though that’s the main reason to use that artist, which they agree is his style. Which was even more insulting to readers than commissioning the portrait. When you tell your readers that you think they are so stupid that they don’t know what erotic art is, the odds that you are committed to an interesting series about a strong and smart female superhero go down substantially. Should have just put her in a whipped cream bikini and have done with it.
I like sexy stuff. But people who put out sexy stuff because they think that’s all a female character is worth and lie about it, are incompetent assholes. Tom Brevoort, who took point on it for Marvel, seems to either not have been asked or to have evaded the question of why they chose Manara for Spider-Woman. And that’s pretty typical. Commission the erotic image, then step back and say, hey it’s not that bad and some people get upset about anything. And they think that’s the way to launch the title, while women who object to it on the Net get the usual rape and death threats.
I like to think that this is just one part of Marvel because I like Marvel’s stuff. But the reality is that these comic companies, large and small, see female characters often as added porn, not true characters. And that’s not going to change until the (largely male) people running the shops change. Which actually has nothing to do with erotic comics art at all.
September 25, 2014 @ 1:45 am
I’m just glad I’m not the only one that is having trouble getting past the suit being vacuum-sealed into her crack. Every time I see this image, I find myself shifting uncomfortably in my chair.
On reading comics | My Geek Out
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