Escher Girls (http://eschergirls.tumblr.com) is a Tumblr blog which looks at the misrepresentation of the female form in comic books. From an artistic point of view, I love the blog and the majority of the submissions, comments, and redraws. It’s also a great place for resource material if you are someone who prefers to draw women in a more realistic style.
What annoys me is some of the comments that pop up in a very small minority of these images. For example:
Holy crap, and there I was thinking this was just a bad drawing due to inexperience… Well, I was partly right: it’s due to inexperience at drawing real women.
It’s comments like this that make me go:
The artist’s lack of experience aside, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that “real women” have no place in superhero comics. When a Marvel/DC PR guy tells you “Oh we’re squeezing as much female independence and strength as we can into our female characters” what he’s really saying is “We’re putting as much sex appeal as we can into those skin tight outfits to the point where their bodies defy any logic, but we’ll tell you something else to get you off our backs”.
The main target audience of superhero comics always has been, and always will be, the guys at the bottom of the social ladder. These were guys who were lonely, nerdy, and very horny, who have little to no chance of getting actual girls. This audience would turn to a variety of different sources, such as comic books, for erotic material. In more recent years, the comic book as a source of teenage male fantasy is being threatened (and this threat may actually be one of the main causes in the decline of comic books sales).
The threat is from high speed broadband, and the easy access to pornography that comes (oh hoh hoh) with it.
While there’s always been the exaggerated sexualisation of the female form in comics (as discussed here http://www.comicsbulletin.com/main/columns/likes-boobs-reads-comics and here http://www.comicsalliance.com/2012/02/16/superheroine-sex-art-story/), your main audience didn’t have anything else to turn to pre-internet days (unless your father was really bad at hiding his girly mags). So your main audience would buy comics filled with lots of fantastically sexy ladies, to help get through the hours they spent alone and horny. This was not the only reason they bought comics, but it was one of them.
These days it’s not only easy to get porn, but it’s available in huge amounts. So your main audience is abandoning comic books as a source of erotic material, and turning to the world of free online porn. What do you do to get those lost sales back? You do this:
Then why aren’t the female characters in superhero movies so exxxaggerated? I think this is due mostly to the fact that Marvel and DC understand that movies are a social affair, with far more mixed viewership when it comes to gender. As a result, female viewership of a superhero movie is going to be naturally higher, so they avoid using porn stars as their lead actresses. This is not to say all of a sudden you’re getting a 50/50 split along gender lines at the cinema, but it’s definitely safe to say that there are more women who watch superhero movies, whether they go with male friends or a significant other, than there are women who read superhero comics.
So before you comment about the place of real women in superhero comics, remember this: your stereotypical reader of superhero comics (lonely, horny, teenage male who has little or no access to real girls) is being exposed to a huge variety of intensely sexual media. His idea of a “real woman” is whichever porn star is his current flavour of the week. Whether comic artists like it or not, when they draw a girl on a cover or on the inside pages of a comic, that girl is being compared to these porn stars. So they have to draw something that compete with that, in order to get the buyer’s attention.
The end result?