Adam Hughes’ Remarks on Women in Comics

30 Sep

After reading this, I was slightly offended… but let me post it and then explain myself (it’s from a recent interview on Comic Book Resources):

His new book of cover art

What’s the specific challenge of working on female characters? There are some artists who draw women who are anatomically impossible, who overemphasize sexuality or go to absurd lengths to tone it down. What’s the key for you as far as balancing these elements and do you think that’s more complex than balancing elements with male superheroes?

I think portraying female superheroes well carries more challenges, surely. No one complains that Superman’s impossible physique distorts the self-image of young boys. And yet, young girls are apparently very, very fragile, I’m told. If you glamorize female characters the same way male ones are glamorized, you (along with Madison Avenue) are apparently driving little women into boob jobs they shouldn’t get. Is this true? I don’t know. All the women I know are pretty tough characters, and any self-consciousness they have about their personal appearances is their own hand-crafted baggage – they don’t blame Barbie for their insecurities. Blaming society or big business for an individual’s personal peccadilloes is an easy attack, and its over-use as a rhetorical tactic has weakened the argument (and hurt the case of the few who actually have been so affected). Most women are stronger than society gives them credit for, and what does it say about an individual who’s emotionally threatened by a cartoon drawing? I’m not built like Batman, but I don’t bitch about it. Life’s rough – get a helmet.

That being said, the challenge for me, personally, is making sure there’s an actual character under the breasts and behind the eyes. Yes, I draw women as pretty as I possibly can, but I try to make sure there’s the sense of a real person floating around in there somewhere. Selina Kyle is far more interesting to me because of her character traits than her looks. “Then why don’t you draw real looking women, Adam?” I get asked, usually by real-looking women who don’t actually buy comics. The answer is: things sell better when they are wrapped in pretty packages. We buy the cars that look nice, we listen to ideas that worded and presented interestingly, and we like our icons to be attractive. 4 out of 5 times, that attraction is physical beauty and/or handsomeness.

My response to the last part.  I suppose that it’s true that things sell better when the women portrayed on the cover are not “real women.”  They are women of fantasy and objection.  When I think of male superheroes the first three adjectives I think of are: Strong, Power, Honor.  The first three I think of for female superheroes are: sexy, slim, pretty.  Now, I know this is personal, and it could very well be for just me, but I find it rather upsetting that those are my three adjectives for women in superhero comics.

The issue that there isn’t a problem with male superheroes is because their defining features, although out of proportion and extremely muscle-y, build the ego of men.  It’s a power fantasy that male readers buy into.  But, how can female readers buy into a comic with a female heroine when the fantasy is purely sexual.  And, for that, I find it to be demeaning.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Adam Hughe’s artwork about 75% of the time.  But, I find his views expressed in this one interview upsetting because it reflects the norm.  He’s right, you can’t sell comics unless they’re glossed over, ideal, and often selling sex symbolism.  And, for that, I get sad.  But, I also know that in my work, I have to combat that in order for there to be change.

I would spend more time analyzing this, but I have a study date with a friend that I’m late for.


One Response to “Adam Hughes’ Remarks on Women in Comics”

  1. HeartlessSoulEater October 13, 2010 at 10:50 PM #

    I find it interesting the you point out several times you are only responding to the last part. Mainly because almost any counter argument someone disagreeing with you can be found in the first part.

    For claiming you want to help equalize women in comics you are looking at the problem solely from a male point of view. You say men don’t care because the impossibly buff men give men an ego boost and the impossibly sexy women give them something to drool over. The women are left out because they have no interest in drooling over the superheroins. Have you every considered the possibility that women read about superheroins for the same ego boost men get from the overly buff superheroes.

    I have a friend who is in love with Harley Quinn. She is bisexual so I thought it was a sex thing. When I asked why she liked her so much and she listed several reasons, none of which related to how she looked. It’s one thing to complain about a comic that is insanely overly sexual but when you start complaining simply because a main female character has a nice body is just straight up censorship.

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