Now is an interesting time in comics. Thanks to such strong female titles like Ms. Marvel, Spider-Gwen, Silk, Thor, Spider-Women, and Wonder Woman, there are more women reading comics than ever before. The industry is putting out stand-out titles with good stories that put focus on strength of character and tenacity. Despite the growing trend, the treatment of women in comics is a work in progress. There have been some bumps in the road. Women are still being objectified. While costumes are covering more skin nowadays (See: Spider-Gwen, Silk, Ms Marvel – even Wonder Woman got a recent full-bodied costume redesign), female characters are still drawn with unrealistic forms and are often posed in sexually suggestive positions. When it’s bad… I mean when when a comic cover drops that is borderline soft-core porn, the Internet lashes out. A lot of the outcry is hyperbolic (hey, that’s the Internet for you) but artists are being called-out and often crucified for the decisions they make. In some ways, this helps dictate the marketplace and forces creatives and publishers to think more carefully about their readership and the type of content they’re putting out there. On the other hand, online lynching stifles creativity and freedom of artistic expression. Artists shouldn’t be bullied into submission.
Now, a recent event amongst comic artists has poignantly showcased what happens when culture goes to war with itself.
Head on past the jump to get the scoop on the showdown of the century (or at least this year). *Note: Get some coffee ready, this is a long read.
In a post on Facebook with over 200 comments, veteran artist Rob Liefeld addressed the recent controversy over Frank Cho’s Spider-Gwen cover and the response from Spider-Gwen artist Robbi Rodriguez, which provoked a response from several other industry pros.
For those not familiar with the drama, comic artist Frank Cho drew a parody image (above) of the infamous Milo Manara Spider-Woman cover for his blog featuring popular new character Spider-Gwen. Little did he know what fury he wrought upon himself and comics culture itself.
The Mary Sue’s Sam Maggs took issue with the cover in an article titled “Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should,” saying:
Here’s the thing: yes, Cho has always drawn some cheesecake stuff, and there will always be a place for that in comics. It’s why we don’t write daily articles about stuff like this and this. But by taking a shot at this particular cover, one that caused so much discomfort among lots of comic book readers, it shows a clear disregard for the perfectly valid outrage over Manara’s original Spider-Woman variant; an incident that, we should note, made our list of the “Worst Moments in Female Fandom in 2014.”
Aside from being an obvious poke at “those angry feminists” who “overreact” to things, the cover is also an unfortunate but elucidating look at what some men think about women who are trying to carve out a space for themselves in the frequently misogynist world of comics – where they feel objectified and overly-sexualized on a regular basis. What makes this sketch even moreinappropriate is that the Spider-Gwen book is clearly aimed at a teen audience, meant to entice new, younger female readers to Marvel comics. Plus, Gwen herself is a teenager.
In response, Cho doubled down and posted the following on his blog:
Wow. What a crazy couple of days it has been. My parody cover sketch of Spider-Gwen aping the infamous Manara Spider-Woman pose sent some of the hypersensitive people in a tizzy.
To be honest, I was amused and surprised by the uproar since it was, in my opinion, over nothing. It’s essentially a small group of angry and humorless people ranting against my DRAWING of a pretty woman. It’s utter nonsense. This world would be a better and a happier place if some people just grow a sense of humor and relax.
Now, I’m getting bombarded by various bloggers asking for an interview addressing this “scandal”. Instead of me wasting my breath and precious time over this non-issue replying to all the interviewers, I’ve drawn another cover sketch in response which will, hopefully, answer all the questions.
Oh, the drama doesn’t stop there. Spider-Gwen creator Robbi Rodriguez instigated things further by Tweeting Cho “Be Lucky you’re never around me”.
He followed up on Facebook with a longer explanation and a response to those who were critical of his tweet:
Thanks for my making my feed entertaining. You kids have knocked out one more of my career goals.
Let me start by saying, for one, that wasn’t a physical treat. It would have been an earful similar to this post, just with more cursing. Trust me – a good ton of the pros in the business would want to do the same.
Two, I don’t take back what I said. It’s my opinion and feeling on the matter, and you can take it or leave it. I didn’t put it out there for discussion. I’m a prick that way. Also, it isn’t something I haven’t expressed before. You can find a few tweets on fan art, and I’m well aware I can’t control what fans do. I know it doesn’t hurt the ground swell that the industry has made so far, but it does hurt what ground has been made regarding the influx of new readers when a pro does work in that manner.
That tone has its place and its audience, and it doesn’t make you wrong for liking it. Shit, I like most of Milo Manara’s main work. I think they’re fantastic works within their subject and context. But out of context it can come off as tasteless since this country is still not mature about sexuality and sexual expression. More importantly, it becomes trashy when we are in the midst of the biggest new reader boom in years. At ECCC I never heard so many “this is my daughter/son’s first comic” or “my wife has never picked up a comic till this book” or sister/brother, or other non-reader. It’s fucking fantastic that the industry broke that wall. But every time I see those 10 gratuitous variant covers I cringe as I sign while said new readers watches.
Shit son, this isn’t about censorship because most of the people bringing up that argument don’t even know what that word means exactly. If you, as pro, want this medium and industry to be taken seriously, like we have a chance to now, then start fucking acting like it and change with the times. The definition of body image has changed in of all entertainment in the last decade. And it’s not a matter of changing the style of your work – it’s a matter of thinking about your work outside of your bubble.
Really, it just took me getting over telling non-readers that that I work in comics, because it was embarrassing to have the only image associated with the medium be “big tits, big guns.” We are making some great headway now. You don’t know how many time I’ve seen Saga at the bars I draw in, and it’s fucking amazing. It’s fucking amazing because these are not old readers, these are fresh young minds just getting into the medium. But once they see works like the Cho sketch cover or the J.Scott covers, it puts the medium back in the basement-troll stereotype zone. Trust, you may not see it, but it’s there.
So guys, (and this is the guys here) we have a chance to make this industry more legitimate than it has been in decades. Don’t fuck it up by sticking to your old ways. With the new influx of fantastic female creators, you need to do your part to build the business. This may be our last great chance to do so. Growing the fuck up will help us all out in the long run.
This is just my opinion and not a discussion I have no time for. I have fucking work to do.”
Which leaves us with the latest in this industry showdown – Deadpool creator Rob Liefield has come out to tell people to chill, and quit lynching artists and creatives:
Allow me for a minute to direct this diatribe specifically at my comic book brethren… In recent times I haven’t joined in the fray but this time I have to stand up. I just finished reading a disturbing rant by a fellow who took, in my humble opinion, uncalled for shots at two stellar talents in my industry, in our industry, Frank Cho and J J Scott Campbell. Let’s establish here at the outset that these two are a pair of comic book wizards, visual stylists that have been at the top of the comic book mountain top, and have entertained the masses for nearly two decades. Both men are famous for their renderings of the female physique, an art form once referred to as “cheesecake” by possibly the best illustrator comic books ever saw, Dave Stevens. Campbell and Cho have entertained myself and most of you with their outstanding work on Gen 13, Avengers, Star Wars, Danger Girl and X-Men over the years. Again, both are Titans in comics and illustration, having spent entire weekends with both gentlemen on the convention circuit, I can tell you that both men are outstanding human beings. From my experiences with both they are generous, warm and have a great sense of humor. It has been publicly suggested recently that each stop drawing in their respective styles, equating them with being “dirty” and “perverted”…. Say what???? What’s going on here? Is Jessica Rabbit a shameful cartoon to today’s audience? Betty Boop? This rhetoric has been increasing of late and I find it completely distasteful that we are now calling out talents such as Frank Cho, J Scott Campbell, Milo Minara for their svelte female figures. Hey, pal, whoever you are, this is fantasy, it’s not real you know. We draw warrior men and warrior women. You know who also puts a little sway in their female figures? How about Jim Lee, Marc Marc Silvestri, Erik Larsen,Todd McFarlane, Adam Hughes, the list could go on forever but now each of my comic book brethren are being crucified and I would suggest that the wide majority of us who support their work get really loud and stand up and say this isn’t okay. Don’t suggest your fellow artist is somehow below you because he draws a voluptuous figure. These aren’t pornographic images, it’s just healthy female heroins, sometimes illustrated in a dynamic manner or an occasionally cheeky way. So I’ll end here by asking us all to stand up for two of our own, each who deserves better than threats or suggestions that they change their trademark and very successful styles! I’ll tell you what, we could all use MORE comics from Campbell and Cho, two time tested commercial powerhouses, not less.
It didn’t take long for one of the names mentioned, J. Scott Campbell, to chime in as well:
Thank you Rob, not only for the generous and tremendously kind words, but as you so elegantly said, for standing up for what it is that we do. I do think it’s perfectly fine to draw and depict, healthy, strong, beautiful, pretty, yes… dare I say occasionally “sexy” and alluring women in our industry. Can it go too far..? sure, as can anything that’s considered art. But I think we self regulate just fine, we have for decades. But this groundswell that’s going on with these blogs with an agenda and this faux outrage, suggesting that us artists who are predominately known for drawing attractive and pretty women need to “grow up” and suddenly leave the industry that we love and that loves us because of a noisy few… despite the evidence that the books we work on are selling in the high stratosphere is preposterous! Thank you for standing up for us Rob! I sincerely hope more start joining us! If you love what we do, stand the hell up for us and don’t let these message boards and rogue artists dictate the narrative any longer!
I’m fed up J, and I tell you, so many others are as well. We need to speak out, stand together. All stylistic expressions can exist together.but not at the expense of our personal stylings. And this recent attempt to shame guys who have been adored for years is deplorable.
Couldn’t agree more Rob!
Let’s stand up for our fellow artists, peer and fan alike. I’ve had idiots attack my work before and I’ve always been carried by fans who refused to be swayed!
And Campbell shared his insight into how the controversies are affecting careers:
The industry is watching all of these interactions and the policies of the big companies are changing as they’re reacting to this garbage. We’re starting to feel the conservative safeness in their choices more and more. Some of the artists you love are actually getting less and less work because their styles are deemed as “too sexy” now according to these loud voices of the minority.
This really, really lights me up. J and Frank have contributed to the firmament of our business, they are both pillars and the dis-respect is ridiculous. Deplorable even. Stand up and be heard if you support their work.
Comics is a small community, and we are established, accomplished veterans with considerable fan bases. We need to stand up for each other when one or more are disparaged.
I operate outside the corporations and am less likely to fall under their discipline. Increasingly I see fellow artists look away and this last month it’s been open season on my fellow professionals, guys who I have always been in awe of and respect.
And Campbell agreed again:
I’m doing the same more and more Rob, so there’s an inherent freedom in knowing if push comes to shove, I’ll be fine doing my thing other places, but I’m in no hurry to be forced out by a few loud mouths who scare the big companies with their rhetoric.
Again, I’d have been fine if he shared his opinion, that’s perfectly fine if you have a passionate POV. But it’s the crummy way he went about it. I can disagree with my fellow artists and writers in the business without completely disrespecting them or telling them to adapt to my way of thinking or get the hell out! I mean… The nerve…!
Rob wanted to clarify that Marvel and DC can still hire him:
To clarify, I’m all for doing work for the big two, but my observation is that many peers won’t speak up for whatever reasons.
And then Frank Cho chimed in:
Wow. This post just grew like wild fire when I took a break from the computer. First and foremost, thank you, Rob Liefeld, for the wonderful opening post. Despite your haircut, you’re a pretty smart guy. Second, everything J Scott Campbell said. People need to lighten up and stop these silly overreaction and outrage over drawings on paper. Third, Robbi Rodriguez. With his horrid attitude and short-sightedness, I predict a short career in comics for him if he doesn’t change. Now I’m gonna go back to my drawing table and draw more naughty pictures that will crack the internet in half. 🙂
Philip Tan had this to say:
Rob Liefeld I know, don’t get why so scared, the companies themselves aren’t directly involved… Speak out when wrong is wrong…
Especially when they have to step on those who came before to grab attention.
Joyce Chin joined in as well:
I spoke up about the absolutely appalling behavior, and the senseless outrage, and got a bunch of crap for it, because apparently women who want women to speak out, only want them to do so if it’s the same opinion they have about it.
And the implied shame to both Frank and JSC…. Horrible
And their fans. Not at all good.
But Joyce, you need artists like Mr. Rodriquez to speak on your behalf, for your protection… 😉
When i got into comics, there were nearly no women in it, didn’t need to have someone trying to speak for me then, or now.
Liefeld made a call to action:
The point I’m returning to is that when attacked in this manner, the need to step up and stand together. Neither JSC or Cho did anything wrong. They shouldn’t be demeaned, embarrassed or insulted and I come from a shrug it off and laugh culture but as I pointed out before, unfortunately, we can’t afford to be quiet. This was wrong, and deserving of sticking one’s neck out for.
Chin went on:
Mostly I don’t get pissy about stuff, but I have had it with being told multiple times a day via comic sites what women want/are scared of/should draw/should write/should read, and how female bodies or sexuality or any showing of skin are BAD. There is plenty of room in print and on the internet for all forms of entertainment. Walloping people with fake PC bullshit and threats of violence is just crap.
No one needs to leave the sandbox. Comics are so mainstream now, it’s a HUGE sandbox. I just wish people would quit firing shots across the bow at each other and let people do their comics their way.
And more Liefeld:
Again, equating the work of my peers with “shame” and suggesting that they are somehow the reason that comics have been held back is a tremendous insult and obviously untrue. The statements reveal a serious disconnect as to what both Cho and JSC have achieved. Their work is definitely not keeping the industry from growing…
Here’s what Jason Fabok had to say:
I really don’t get it, especially from pros. I’ve personally had a really bigtime, and new, artist dismiss me to my face because I draw to “house style” for him. Therefore I’m not worthy of his respect. But I choose to show respect and love that fellow artist back because I refuse to sink to a level where I’m judging his personhood based on his art. This is comic books. It’s art and a job and it’s fun. But sadly there is a lot of this going on. Some “indie” artists are really looking down at the “mainstream”artists in a lot of online and personal circles and it needs to stop. As long as good art is being produced, whatever the theme, it’s all good. People have forgotten what humility is in our world today and instead spew prideful garbage out of their mouths. Humilty, I believe is the secret to all success. It’s worked for me.
To which Liefeld responded:
Great approach Jason, will serve you well. Sometimes we have to stand together to brace the onslaught from the new frontiers seeking attention and validation!
And Chin spoke about male and female portrayals in comics and movies:
Yes, SUPER hard to broaden those minds. When I drew Superman, my figure and light reference was taken from gay cheescake photography. I was SUUUUPER objectifying Superman as a beautiful, sexually attractive being, but NOOOO, the narrative all has to be about the poor victimized other lines on paper because women are supposed to fit into some pre approved sex negative box to not have people crying foul. Womens physicality and sexuality are not bad things, neither are mens.
Oh but please tell me about how all women feel.
And to make it clear, I am not against pretty much any type of comic being published you can find in a comic shop. There is room for everyone. We should all be just celebrating our nerd cultural diversity instead of planting these ridiculous flags and trying to tell people what to do, say, or like.
A commenter named Ron who deleted his comments disagreed, and Chin responded:
Yes, and what you are doing is determining value only because of physical appearance. I LOVED Wonder Woman as a kid, the Superfriends version and the TV version. In an era where most women in adventure TV and movies only had the role of falling down in heels, she was a hero, she had her own adventures. That she was in a swimsuit and boots did not define who she was or what she could do any more than Ripleys one scene in her tank top and panties defined all with her character in Alien.
And who are you to define what a sell out is or not? How bout we all just draw and write and do what we like? Is it so hard to comprehend a vast fandom of people who all like different things appreciating those differences instead of trying to put everyone into an approved box?
Take a stand? I got into comics as a pro more than 20 years ago, when there were only a handful of women in comics, and worked on some of the biggest titles in comics. Superman, Spiderman, etc. Really? I need to make more of a statement for equality of women in comics? Yeah some bad stuff is in comics, but a lot of good stuff too.
Your taking a stand is trying to tell me what women think?
Definition of objectification
verb (used with object), objectified, objectifying.
1. to present as an object, especially of sight, touch, or other physical sense; make objective; externalize.
I’ve drawn objectified Batmans standing on gargoyles. I’m a sinner.
Campbell also responded:
I’m curious, if one is so focused on not objectifying the human body, male or female, how does that same person find themselves a fan of super-hero comics with their tight form fitting uniforms over their athletic greek-god-like physiques…?! The contradiction is fascinating..!
“Objectification” has always been treated in the media as a very one-sided issue. Men are objectified too. The difference is, other men don’t really give a $#!t…
Someone suggested critics make their own comics. Chin agreed:
Well that’s the thing, with online comics, kickstarter, all these alternative publishers, and books coming from the big two that offer really cool storylines, diversity, and great art, why on Earth draw battle lines? Comics right now, is at the coolest point it’s ever been in terms of it’s ability to appeal to a big audience, and more of humanity. The gender mix at cons has pretty much reached equal. When I first got in, there was never ANYONE in the ladies bathroom at SDCC.
Most of the people who come up to me at cons with books to sign that I’ve done of Xena, Sonja, Vampirella etc. are women. A LOT of Campbell and Chos fans are women. There are a lot of women now drawing superhero comics who love depicting the female form as powerful, positive, and with ownership of their own sexuality. Yet nearly all the coverage of what women want in comics denies that any of that, our voices, our likes and wants, exist. It’s as unfair and uncool as denying that there is misogynist content in comics.
Here’s what Dan Panosian had to say:
I dig Robbi’s work. But for me it’s tough for me to get behind someone when he’s mentioning Gwen as one of his kids and then using the F word again and again. If Spider Gwen fans can find anyone on Twitter and a lot of them are these young kids [ with Twitter, following their idols ] – then they can read his rant. How do you determine the difference between an obscenity laden essay by the Spider Gwen artist and Manara inspired sketch cover?
In my opinion, for what it’s worth, if you wanna sway people to your side and rally the masses on this particular subject – you may want to clean up your own act first and set the proper example. I get it, adults curse. He’s upset. But his rant and the way it was presented was “R” rated compared to the, I don’t know, “PG” rated illustration by Frank. Or the stylings of J Scott Campbell. Kids read the internet too – they don’t just look at the pictures…
Also, the tweet implies a threat of violence if they’re ever near one another. “Here’s my take on the Frank Cho sketch cover. You’re drawing dirty pics of one of my kids. Be lucky you’re never around me.” Not a very PC way of expressing an opinion when the goal is about respect [ whether that respect is specifically focused on young readers or not ]. Violence or threats of any kind are not a good examples for youth, teens or even adults. Should the offending party listen more closely because he may get beat up?
Not trying to start a fight just some food for thought.
Dan, I always respect anything you have to offer and I agree with your post. My biggest issue was the shaming of JSC and Cho and the irony that JSC is doing popular covers for that book. I mean it’s really low and shows a lack of respect for both men’s work and career!
As did Alé Garza:
What I find humorous is the underlying lines being drawn by this so called “younger” generation against us “old” guys… I’ve heard it a more than a few times and seemed to be a prevalent incognito theme with his rant… Even more disturbing to me, is when did I become part of the “old” guys?! These kids wanna take us on it seems like they’re the saviors … Tsk tsk I just laugh and eat my tums
In the end, here’s what Liefeld thinks should happen:
I agree that there should be an apology. If not public, then private… To both men.
So what do you think?