Marvel E-i-c “Male characters not as sexualized as female characters”

Marvel Comics has been seeking to diversify their output in the last few years.  They currently have 8 books headlined by female characters, and several more in the pipeline. Though these women are largely white characters, a few, notably Storm and Ms. Marvel, are not.  It’s clear Marvel is making strides to appeal to female readers (a demographic that makes up around 46.67% of the readership-a fact that I wasn’t aware of).

Marvel has made missteps along the way though.  The most public of those missteps is commissioning artist Milo Manara to draw an alternative cover to the upcoming Spiderwoman #1.

Manara’s alternate cover to Spiderwoman #1

The cover has drawn the ire of many comic book readers and the backlash has been covered by mainstream news sources such as the Telegraph, the Guardian, Elle magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and even a parody by the Onion.  To be clear though, the problem isn’t just with Manara’s art (Milo Manara is a European artist well known for his NSFW erotic art), though there’s an element of that (after all, he chose the specific position to draw Spiderwoman in, a position that is not only sexually objectifying-look at her butt, the readers’ eyes are drawn to it-but anatomically incorrect).  There is also a problem with the art by regular interior artist Greg Land, who is known for tracing and using female porn models for photo referencing.  The problem goes further than that even.

The problem is with the depiction of female characters in comics.

The problem is that women are too often sexualized or sexually objectified (why, one might make the argument that the treatment of women in comics is <gasp>sexist; the preceding was snark for the humor impaired).

Marvel Comics’ Editor-In-Chief, Axel Alonso, recently spoke about this problem, as well as Marvel’s commitment to diversifying its output, especially with regard to appealing to its female readership.

Alonso also explains that, although Marvel has no official policy, the company has been making an unspoken move towards diversity.

“Slowly we have made progress on that front,” he adds. “We believe there’s an audience of women out there who are hungry for this and we want to make sure they get it. This is affirmative action. This is capitalism.”

Someone needs to explain to him what affirmative action is.  A comic book company putting out comics with female characters as the star is a great thing. It needs to happen more.  That’s called progress (or common sense), not affirmative action.

Alonso admits this is an issue: “I don’t think men are as sexualised as women. But the long and short of it is we’re making efforts to change that trend as it exists.” In a recent statement, he explained that the Spiderwoman cover was a result of “mixed messaging” and apologised to anyone who was upset by it.

I get the sense that Alonso has some awareness of the problem, but he still doesn’t fully grasp the outcry against Manara’s art. Especially problematic is that he things that men are sexualized at all in comics.   I’m going to close this post with a comment I made at the above Telegraph article in response to the idea that “men aren’t sexualized as much as women”:

I’ve been reading comics for over 20 years. In that time, I don’t recall mainstream comics sexualizing men *at all*. It’s probably happened once or twice in that time-I don’t claim to have the memory of an elephant, though when it comes to comics, I *do* have a pretty good memory-but overall, female characters are the ones sexualized in comics. Not men. Part of the problem is a lack of understanding of the terms ‘sexualized’ or ‘sexually objectifying’. What happens to male comic book characters is that they’re *IDEALIZED*. They’re drawn with “perfect” bodies, with sculpted forms, with *ideal* male forms (though with some narrow definitions of “ideal”). Comic books, even today, and especially over the 75 or so years they’ve been around, have heavily catered to male readers. Specifically cisgender, heterosexual male readers. Comics as a medium have rendered male characters as male power fantasies, not as sexualized images. The men in comics have not been drawn in such a way as to make readers view them sexually, which is part of what it means to sexualize them. Contrast that with the depiction of female comic book characters (and no, I don’t claim that all female comics characters are rendered this way. In fact, for the vast majority of the history of comics, they were *NOT* rendered in a sexualized manner-you can’t look at Silver Age comics, for instance, and claim female characters were sexualized therein; the problem is a modern issue, and probably more of a 90s-through today issue). The focus on T&A. The use of the artistic “camera angle” to focus the readers’ eyes on a woman’s breasts or butt, often both at the same time (which is anatomically incorrect much of the time). This is where the sexual objectification comes in. When female characters are sexually objectified, the artistic camera angle focuses on specific body parts of women-those sexualized body part-breasts and butts (though legs and bare tummies are objectified as well), to the detriment of the female character. This doesn’t happen to men. You won’t open a page of a comic book and find panels that focus on mens’ crotches or their butts. You won’t see too many pantsless male characters, and art focusing the readers’ eyes on naked male legs. Focusing the readers’ eyes on the shirtless chest of a male character is not sexualization. Comic book artists, aren’t appealing to gay men or women by drawing shirtless male characters (I’m sure they might be in a few cases, but from the creators’ side, the industry is dominated by heterosexual men, and even the most progressive of them likely isn’t drawing in such a way as to appeal to women or gay men; incidentally, I don’t want my comics to do that; I’m a gay man, but I don’t read comics to see sexually objectified men). That’s an idealized male form.
Characters in comics are idealized (the overabundance of which is another problem on its own), but only women face sexualization and objectification. Alonso needs to listen to what female readers are telling him. He, like many people, are viewing this issue through the lens of their experience-their privilege. It’s ok to have privilege, but to overcome this problem, you need to look at this issue not through the lens of your experiences. You need to listen to the complaints and try to view things as women are seeing them. I hope Alonso, and other comic book creators will do this one day. When that happens, the medium of comics, that I dearly love, will be that much better.

Marvel E-i-c “Male characters not as sexualized as female characters”