Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Rant: Artistic Expression or Bad Taste?

Yes, I know, you were all expecting my Critters 4 review today. Don't worry, it'll be here Friday and you can read all about how a movie about killer aliens is somehow weaker than the other films simply because they put it in space, which is a strange statement when I think about it. I mean, that's not the only thing that stands out.

After all, Brad Dourif is in it reminding you that he can play something besides a killer doll.
But today I felt it time to chime in once more on the never-ending debate that is sexism in comics. Ah yes, because it is the well that never dries up. Actually, it's the well that is, quite frankly, overflowing and flooding the entire village. It's no secret that comics are generally seen as a boys club, often featuring female characters that are marketed towards fulfilling adolescent fantasies. Because of this the public at large have grown to see comic fans in a very particular light. A rather unflattering light that often involves living in a dark basement and rarely bathing.

Worst. Article. Ever.
Keep in mind, I write this very article while smelling kinda ripe myself, but that's because I don't bathe much when I get depressed. The problem is that many comic book guys out there do make it a rather hostile atmosphere for people who aren't "in the loop" and that makes it hard for people who might want to start reading. Especially when those people see what they think is no big deal as a big deal. And a lot of times, these people happen to be women who aren't fond of seeing their gender oversexualized. Now, there is room for sexy in the medium. I am a huge supporter of that sort of thing, as some of my first comics were heavy on that sort of thing. When you're cutting your teeth on Conan, Vampirella, and Heavy Metal, you get used to seeing sexy women. But those books cater to a very specific audience.

No, not these guys. I don't think they could handle the Heavy Metal movie, honestly.

The real issue comes when it's pointed out that the superhero books do not cater to a wider variety of folks, including women. Instead, they're long only really catered to young heterosexual men who really dig seeing a everyone wearing the tightest of tight spandex. Especially the women. This is where the minefield exists. Even whispering about this subject means you're going to be asked which side you fall on when it comes to designs of female costumes or specific art. Hell, there was a single piece of art that created a massive shitstorm that still gets brought up. The art in question was drawn by a popular pornographic artist who was hired by Marvel to do a cover. Is the art really all that bad or sexist?

Not really, especially since Spider-Man has used the same pose a million times.
Yeah, I never really got the offense over it. Really, I find it more offensive as a Manara fan, because it's really not his best work. Jessica looks like she got smacked in the face with a cooking pan. But the thing is...Marvel knew what they were doing when they hired him. He'd done much better work for them in the past and no one talked about it. But this cover was designed specifically to stir up talk. It was meant to create controversy and it worked. But, where I don't find it all offensive in even an objective way, the attitude that came from those defending the piece was extremely offensive. Seriously, people, let's tone it done with the anti-feminist rhetoric. Calm down and go read a Manara book, for fuck's sake. Rub one out, you'll feel better.

If you make a mess, just blame it on ghosts.
Why am I talking about all of this again, seeing as how I have brought up similar topics of discussion in the past? Well, it's probably because a couple of respected artists decided to make a thing out of their disdain for criticism and change. Erik Larsen, being the first, went on a long drawn out tirade about how he felt putting female characters in more practical outfits was "bulky and clumsy and unattractive". He cited the popular new character Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel) as an example of this. Okay, first, ew. She's a teenager, Mr. Larsen. She's not supposed to be a sex object for your fantasies. Second, no woman should have to be seen as, or treated, as a sex object. That's a bad thing and complaining that there's not enough of it is kinda skeevy.

But still not as skeevy as complaining that a high school girl isn't dressing sexy enough.
But Larsen also contradicted himself, as he did say that the "bulky" outfits were unrealistic before then going on to say comics shouldn't be worried about realism. You can read all about this whole thing over here. The crux of his argument though is really one simple truth: he feels women being drawn in outfits that aren't oversexualized is threatening him in some way. And that is a sad truth about a lot fans, as they seem to feel the same way. I've heard complaints about the new Squirrel Girl book (which is great and one of the most fun things out right now), saying that the art isn't sexy enough and that she's being drawn in a way they find unattractive. But do you know who does find it attractive? The people reading it. Probably because they came for something different. After all, not everyone wants to jerk off to their superheroines. Which brings us to the next artist who wanted to be involved in the hullabaloo.

Some people just want to see the world burn. Some people just like drawing butts a whole lot.
Now, this art is by the incredibly talented Frank Cho, a guy who I have always loved the work of. And Mr. Cho is known for drawing women in a very attractive manner to many guys out there. To put it bluntly, he's a cheesecake artist. A very good one too. Recently he ended up coming under fire when he drew a sketch of Gwen Stacy on the Spider-Gwen sketch cover and posted it online. Now, it's clear he wanted to make a point about the Manara cover, but was this the right character to go with? She's also underage, which gets back into that skeevy area Larsen treaded into. But I wasn't really offended by it, as she is a spider-powered person and this pose makes sense becau...wait a minute, Spidey is staring at her ass. Dammit, Frank. Yeah, anyone with sense sees this for what it is: Frank Cho is getting free publicity for himself. It's working great too, just like it did for Marvel when they pulled the Manara thing in the first place. But it actually is in poor taste, as he's poking the bear in a very blatant manner. Do I understand why people are getting pissed off here? Yep. He does too.

This right here could easily describe the entire argument.
So, we now have Frank Cho and other artists crying out that it's all about artistic expression and they should be able to draw whatever they like without complaint or censorship. On the other side, we have folks who are calling things like what Cho is doing blatant sexism and a reflection of what scares women away from comics. What do I think? I think nothing is getting solved and all this is really doing is getting Cho tons of coverage that he was barely getting before. Is it in bad taste? Of course it is. Are you really sitting there and telling me you think sexualizing a character in high school isn't bad? Because if so, I think you might want to reevaluate your life. Unless you're actually in high school, you've got not business lusting after those kids. People (even fictional people) should be treated like people, not like objects or fantasies. Yes, it's okay to fantasize, but it's not okay to force that fantasy on everyone. Speaking as a comics fan, the medium is going to die if we keep scaring new readers away. This means change is inevitable, as many new readers might not want to see women running around in skintight body stockings. Squirrel Girl, Spider-Woman, Batgirl, Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Gwen...look around you, guys. It's a new age and it's not really a bad thing, as those are all great books. Change can be good.

But don't get me wrong, it can be hideously bad too.
We need to stop treating comics like they're our exclusive territory, fighting over them like there is something to actually be gained for it. To survive, we need to be welcoming and open to new ideas and designs and different points of view. And we need to be respectful of those views, not a gaggle of belligerent smelly assholes who think it's okay to be sexist just because we have some preconceived notion that feminism is somehow against us. Yes, this is a feminist issue and comic fan issue, but those things are not mutually exclusive. Feminists are comic fans now and are going to sound off about the shit they don't like just like everyone else does. If I can bitch about how silly Commissioner Batmechabunnyman is, and you can bitch about how Superman looks a bit too much like Channing Taintyum, then they're just as entitled to bitching about whatever. Do I think spelling this out will really solve anything? Hell no. I don't have the readership, the respect, or the fame to garner such a result. I just wanted to talk about how I feel regarding this particular topic, which is something a lot of other people have been doing. So, until I get rebooted into a sexy young guy who reviews vinyl and seasonal ales, I'll be here shitting out words and hoping they make some kind of sense. Later days, bleeders.

I'm still kinda in awe of how silly this looks. Dem molded robot muscles. I can't stop laughing at it.

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