Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Spider-Woman's (now) Famous Butt

I wasn't going to write this since there are so many wonderful criticisms already circling the internet, but since a conversation was sparked among friends on Facebook via an article I shared, and since several people have asked for my opinion about it, here goes:

In case you've been living under a rock, the controversy I'm referring to started when the variant cover for 'Spider-Woman #1' by Milo Manara was released. Now, it is important to keep in mind that it was announced that 'Spider-Woman' would be getting her very own series at the Women of Marvel panel at this year's San Diego Comic Con. These panels are wildly popular sit downs where some of the prominent female writers, artists, creators and editors at Marvel speak openly with fans about topics ranging from sexism in the comic industry, to getting a foot in the door, to their favorite series. Make no mistake, these panels exist because Marvel (and the comic industry as a whole) has finally started to acknowledge that women not only read comics, but crave story lines that don't involve putting a superhero's dead girlfriend in a refrigerator, or the brutal rape and murder of an otherwise capable and formidable female superhero in order to elicit her male counterpart's heroic revenge story arc. Considering, then, that this series has essentially been touted as another instance of Marvel's current strides to court female readers, it came as more than a slight shock when we found out that Marvel had tapped legendary erotic artist, Milo Manara, to create 'Spider-Woman's variant cover. This is what he gave us:

Is she mooning the city, or is that just an open invitation? (Image from Comic Book Resources)
Now, there is a list of basic things that are wrong with this cover art that need to be touched on before we delve into the controversial, sexualized depiction of Spider-Woman. In my opinion, this is an all around poorly produced piece of art. This isn't the caliber of work one would expect from a professional artist working in the industry since 1969; it's first year art student quality, at best. His lines are sloppy, the shading is either too heavy or too soft, and her features are flat. While realism isn't exactly the first word that comes to mind when we think about comic art, artists should take things like human anatomy and basic physics into account when drawing figures. Manara, clearly, did not. In fact, she appears to be in need of medical assistance: her right shoulder is dislocated, her left shoulder is missing, her right hand appears to have been run over by a car, and judging by her left leg, her thighs are twice as long as her calves. That's all without even touching on that anatomic nightmare going on between her chest and her enormous butt (which, taking perspective into account, I've estimated to be about 4x the size of her head).

All that being said, the overtly sexual nature of the art Manara produced is not at all surprising considering the genre he is famous for is erotic art. Hell, thanks to the crack work of the good folks at The Mary Sue, we know that he didn't even bother to get too creative when given the task:

That's another Manara piece from erotic comic, 'Click'. (Image from The Mary Sue)
What is surprising is that Marvel would tap an erotic artist like Manara to create the variant cover of a series that is being held up with others (like the new 'Ms. Marvel') as an example of their move to appeal to more female readers. Speaking to Comic Riffs last February, Marvel's editor-in-cheif, Alex Alonso said these new stories
"...are not the big-breasted, scantily clad women that perhaps have become the comic-book cliche. They are women with rich interior lives, interesting careers and complicated families who are defined by many things - least of all their looks." 
That sentiment simply does not jive with this cover art. What's more, 'Spider-Woman's writer, Dennis Hopeless, doesn't seem to understand the move either. He voiced his disapproval in response to concerned fans on Twitter earlier this week:

In response to all of the criticism over the now infamous cover, Marvel's VP of publishing, Tom Brevoort, offered no real explanation other than to say that we should have expected this kind of art from Manara. (Well, sir, we did. Thanks for avoiding any explanation as to why you guys chose to go with him for the cover art though.) He did go on to say: 
"It’s also, for a Manara piece, one of the less sexualized ones, at least to my eye. Maybe others feel differently. But given that the character is covered head-to-toe, and is crouched in a spider-like pose, it seems far less exploitative to me than other Manara pieces we’ve run in previous months and years."
First of all, that spandex body-suit is only considered fully clothed by the most technical sense of the words (especially since comic artists typically get more than a little liberal with their contour shading, and that I've never seen more defined ass cheeks outside of actual porn), but I'm willing to look past that since that type of suit has always been the go to standard for superhero costuming regardless of gender. More importantly though, I'm not sure what spiders Mr. Brevoort is used to encountering, but that's a very loose representation of a "spider-like pose" if ever I saw one. Just for a little perspective, here's a typical depiction of SpiderMan in one of his "spider-like" poses:

If Manara drew this, that dude's face would be nose deep in spider balls right now.
Come on, calling the piece "one of the less sexualized ones" is such a weak argument that I'm shocked he even bothered. That's about as strong of an argument as the typical "there are more important things to worry about in the world" line of crap we get spoon-fed every time we muster enough voices against female sexual objectification to warrant a response (which isn't very often). Are there horrible things happening all over the world right now? Absolutely. Are we, as functioning adults, capable of addressing more than one issue at a time? You bet your gigantic ass we are.  

So, yeah, this is a thing that has been covered by bloggers and journalists and general social commentary for over a week (which, given our general attention span, is a loooong time for something to stay in the spotlight), and I doubt that I've said much here that isn't echoing sentiments already expressed elsewhere. That is not, however, going to keep me (and hopefully others like me) from continuing to talk about this. I'd really like to hear some kind of real explanation, or at least a sincere acknowledgement of error with an apology, from Marvel - but logic and past experience tell me that's not likely to happen. So, I will continue to write about and discuss these issues when I see them. Not only for my benefit, or even for the benefit of other women and girls, but so that hopefully more men out there will start noticing when women are being summarily marginalized and start speaking up as well (because that's the only way things are really going to start changing).

1 comment:

  1. It's comforting to know, I guess, that they don't have any input on the cover art. I'd like to hear some words from the people who DO approve the art, though.