Michael Davis: Manara's Spiderwoman #1 cover is "just" an image

Arist, writer, mentor, and entertainment executive Michael Davis offers his opinions on the ongoing shitstorm at Mavel over Milo Manara’s alternate cover to Spiderwoman #1. Before I get to his comments, I want to address a few things he said at the onset of his post:

I admit I’m a bit of a girly man.

Most of my friends are women. Women raised me, I collect Barbies, and my favorite movie is My Best Friend’s Wedding. I tend to see things from a woman’s point of view, and I’m convinced in another life I was a woman.

I once attended a Barbie convention in—of all places—Georgia, and had the best time. Yuk it up fanboy, and when you’ve had a couple of real good belly laughs, think about this: my Barbie collection is a helluva conversation starter. I have yet to meet a woman who did not think a man who shows a bit of his feminine side was not damn sexy.

Feel free to engage in what for some, will undoubtedly be a jest fest filled with gay, limp dick, and sissy boy witticisms. I’ll spare you the trouble of debating whether or not I’m gay. I am.

To be honest, I would like people to NOT do any of that.  Don’t shame people because they enjoy things you don’t.  Don’t demean another human being or use the sexuality of others as an insult because they don’t conform to your archaic notions of proper behavior of the sexes.  Courtesy of our views on gender, a man who enjoys Barbies or expresses what he deems his ‘feminine side’ is viewed as unmanly.  As if there’s a definition of man that all men are bound by, and that definition excludes certain activities and views.  One of the things I learned after becoming a feminist is that gender roles are stifling.    They prevent the full expression of human nature, by binding us to social constructs on what constitutes proper behavior and they do so for no discernible reason.  No one is harmed by a man enjoying Barbies.  If a man wants to express his feminine side (leaving aside the idea that there’s a “side” to express; I think whatever feminine qualities Davis is referring to are human qualities that exist in all of us to varying degrees), let him.  Who is harmed?  No one.

Digression over.

As a man who embraces his feminine side, I’ve been watching with mild amusement the Spider-Woman/Milo Manara brouhaha. Here’s my two cents: Milo Manara is going to be Milo Manara, and what you see is what you get. Don’t be mad at Milo for doing what he does, that’s just silly. You want to be mad at something, be mad at Marvel.

I’m convinced being mad at Marvel will make a difference. I’m sure of it because I’m also sure Marvel cares. Marvel cares that without even trying they have usurped any and all post-San Diego Con conversations. They care about the massive amount of press surrounding the book. Press, sure as shit, that will lead to sold out multiple printings and mucho bucks for Mr. Mouse and company.

By and large, I agree with Davis here.  Marvel commissioned Milo Manara to create the alternate cover to Spiderwoman #1, knowing full well that his work is erotically charged. That they did so on a book specifically marketed at women, as part of a push on their part to appeal to women readers, places a huge amount of responsibility for the crappy cover on the shoulders of Marvel.  How they could think this decision was somehow congruent with appealing to women is beyond me.  It’s a great example of being tone deaf.  Marvel has been criticized (and let’s be clear here, it’s not just Marvel, they’re just one in a long list of examples) for the lack of diversity in its output.  This attempt to appeal to female readers is a laudable effort at increasing the diversity of the books they produce.   Diversity is not the only area where Marvel has been criticized though-many people, a lot of them women, have criticized Marvel for the depiction of women in their comics.  From the sexualization of female characters to the sexual objectification of same, Marvel has had (and continues to have) a problem with the depiction of women in comics.  It seems they decided to pay attention to one issue women have been criticizing them for, but downplaying or even ignoring one of the other big issues women have been vocal about.   The cover to Spiderwoman #1 is an example of sexual objectification and sexualization of female characters.  That sends a mixed message to readers (remember, women are the readers Marvel is ostensibly reaching out to with its push to create more female headlined books):  “We’re listening to you.  Sometimes.”

“Your concerns are valid. Except when they’re not.”

This conflicting message doesn’t negate Marvel’s recent track record (they currently have 8 books with women as the lead characters, with more on the way very soon, and more, IIRC in the pipeline).  It does, however raise doubts as to how much the company understand the concerns raised by women.  Davis goes on to say:

On Tumblr, Tom Brevoort, the senior vice president of publishing for Marvel Comics, said “the people who are upset about that cover have a point, at least in how the image relates to them.”

I like Tom, but as statements go, that’s pretty lame. It’s the ‘you have a right to be upset over something that upsets you’ line. It’s a non-statement, a safe company line and who could blame Tom for taking it?

Then he added that Manara has been “working as a cartoonist since 1969, and what he does hasn’t materially changed in all that time. So when we say ‘Manara cover,’ his body of work indicates what sort of thing he’s going to do.”

In other words: “Yeah, we knew what we were going to get when we hired him, so deal with it.”

Whoa! Gangsta!

Frankly, I’m impressed that Tom came out like that. You can’t win a war when you’re fighting an army of ‘what I think.’ It’s impossible, so why not just tell the truth and be out?

Everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion and seldom, if ever, will someone’s point of view change on subjects like this. I’m the last person (girl that I am) to reject what any woman sees as offensive but (yeah, but) all this for a drawing?

I was largely with Davis up to this point.  Now he veers off into the all too common isolationist view:  this is just a drawing.  Yes, it’s “just” a drawing, but it’s a drawing that does not exist in isolation. It’s not just this drawing.  It’s this drawing plus Greg Land’s cover.  It’s this drawing plus Greg Land’s interiors.  It’s this drawing plus the sexualized depiction of women in comics.  It’s this drawing plus the problem of T&A in comics.  If it was “just this image”, I doubt the outcry against it would be as huge as it has been.  It’s not just this image.  It’s this image set against a backdrop of the ongoing problem of women in comics being treated as sexual objects, rather than fully realized characters with agency (which itself is set against the backdrop of how society treats women in general).

Davis goes on to say something even more wrong headed, and displays an amazing level of ignorance:

Unless I’m missing something, Marvel is going to make a grip on this, then, like always, the subject will be shelved. That is until the next image of an imaginary character with impossible powers is put into a pose that makes some people upset. Then it’s outrage time again.

I get it.

What I don’t get is where was this level of outrage, this level of media coverage and broadcast saturation was when, not long ago, a woman was threatened with rape because she dared critique an artist’s depiction of some other comic book drawing.

That you didn’t see it means you weren’t paying attention, because there was quite a bit of media attention paid to the rape threats Janelle Asselin received because she criticized the cover to Teen Titans #1 (that’s five different links to media criticism of the rape threats against Asselin).  People rightfully called out that offensive, misogynistic bullshit. Aside from how wrong Davis was about that, he is using the rape threats against Asselin to change the subject because he doesn’t think it’s a big deal that Manara’s work sexually objectifies women.  For someone who claims such affinity with women, he is clearly not listening to their concerns in this case.

Do better Davis. Do better.

 

Michael Davis: Manara's Spiderwoman #1 cover is "just" an image
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Michael Davis: Manara’s Spiderwoman #1 cover is “just” an image

Arist, writer, mentor, and entertainment executive Michael Davis offers his opinions on the ongoing shitstorm at Mavel over Milo Manara’s alternate cover to Spiderwoman #1. Before I get to his comments, I want to address a few things he said at the onset of his post:

I admit I’m a bit of a girly man.

Most of my friends are women. Women raised me, I collect Barbies, and my favorite movie is My Best Friend’s Wedding. I tend to see things from a woman’s point of view, and I’m convinced in another life I was a woman.

I once attended a Barbie convention in—of all places—Georgia, and had the best time. Yuk it up fanboy, and when you’ve had a couple of real good belly laughs, think about this: my Barbie collection is a helluva conversation starter. I have yet to meet a woman who did not think a man who shows a bit of his feminine side was not damn sexy.

Feel free to engage in what for some, will undoubtedly be a jest fest filled with gay, limp dick, and sissy boy witticisms. I’ll spare you the trouble of debating whether or not I’m gay. I am.

To be honest, I would like people to NOT do any of that.  Don’t shame people because they enjoy things you don’t.  Don’t demean another human being or use the sexuality of others as an insult because they don’t conform to your archaic notions of proper behavior of the sexes.  Courtesy of our views on gender, a man who enjoys Barbies or expresses what he deems his ‘feminine side’ is viewed as unmanly.  As if there’s a definition of man that all men are bound by, and that definition excludes certain activities and views.  One of the things I learned after becoming a feminist is that gender roles are stifling.    They prevent the full expression of human nature, by binding us to social constructs on what constitutes proper behavior and they do so for no discernible reason.  No one is harmed by a man enjoying Barbies.  If a man wants to express his feminine side (leaving aside the idea that there’s a “side” to express; I think whatever feminine qualities Davis is referring to are human qualities that exist in all of us to varying degrees), let him.  Who is harmed?  No one.

Digression over.

As a man who embraces his feminine side, I’ve been watching with mild amusement the Spider-Woman/Milo Manara brouhaha. Here’s my two cents: Milo Manara is going to be Milo Manara, and what you see is what you get. Don’t be mad at Milo for doing what he does, that’s just silly. You want to be mad at something, be mad at Marvel.

I’m convinced being mad at Marvel will make a difference. I’m sure of it because I’m also sure Marvel cares. Marvel cares that without even trying they have usurped any and all post-San Diego Con conversations. They care about the massive amount of press surrounding the book. Press, sure as shit, that will lead to sold out multiple printings and mucho bucks for Mr. Mouse and company.

By and large, I agree with Davis here.  Marvel commissioned Milo Manara to create the alternate cover to Spiderwoman #1, knowing full well that his work is erotically charged. That they did so on a book specifically marketed at women, as part of a push on their part to appeal to women readers, places a huge amount of responsibility for the crappy cover on the shoulders of Marvel.  How they could think this decision was somehow congruent with appealing to women is beyond me.  It’s a great example of being tone deaf.  Marvel has been criticized (and let’s be clear here, it’s not just Marvel, they’re just one in a long list of examples) for the lack of diversity in its output.  This attempt to appeal to female readers is a laudable effort at increasing the diversity of the books they produce.   Diversity is not the only area where Marvel has been criticized though-many people, a lot of them women, have criticized Marvel for the depiction of women in their comics.  From the sexualization of female characters to the sexual objectification of same, Marvel has had (and continues to have) a problem with the depiction of women in comics.  It seems they decided to pay attention to one issue women have been criticizing them for, but downplaying or even ignoring one of the other big issues women have been vocal about.   The cover to Spiderwoman #1 is an example of sexual objectification and sexualization of female characters.  That sends a mixed message to readers (remember, women are the readers Marvel is ostensibly reaching out to with its push to create more female headlined books):  “We’re listening to you.  Sometimes.”

“Your concerns are valid. Except when they’re not.”

This conflicting message doesn’t negate Marvel’s recent track record (they currently have 8 books with women as the lead characters, with more on the way very soon, and more, IIRC in the pipeline).  It does, however raise doubts as to how much the company understand the concerns raised by women.  Davis goes on to say:

On Tumblr, Tom Brevoort, the senior vice president of publishing for Marvel Comics, said “the people who are upset about that cover have a point, at least in how the image relates to them.”

I like Tom, but as statements go, that’s pretty lame. It’s the ‘you have a right to be upset over something that upsets you’ line. It’s a non-statement, a safe company line and who could blame Tom for taking it?

Then he added that Manara has been “working as a cartoonist since 1969, and what he does hasn’t materially changed in all that time. So when we say ‘Manara cover,’ his body of work indicates what sort of thing he’s going to do.”

In other words: “Yeah, we knew what we were going to get when we hired him, so deal with it.”

Whoa! Gangsta!

Frankly, I’m impressed that Tom came out like that. You can’t win a war when you’re fighting an army of ‘what I think.’ It’s impossible, so why not just tell the truth and be out?

Everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion and seldom, if ever, will someone’s point of view change on subjects like this. I’m the last person (girl that I am) to reject what any woman sees as offensive but (yeah, but) all this for a drawing?

I was largely with Davis up to this point.  Now he veers off into the all too common isolationist view:  this is just a drawing.  Yes, it’s “just” a drawing, but it’s a drawing that does not exist in isolation. It’s not just this drawing.  It’s this drawing plus Greg Land’s cover.  It’s this drawing plus Greg Land’s interiors.  It’s this drawing plus the sexualized depiction of women in comics.  It’s this drawing plus the problem of T&A in comics.  If it was “just this image”, I doubt the outcry against it would be as huge as it has been.  It’s not just this image.  It’s this image set against a backdrop of the ongoing problem of women in comics being treated as sexual objects, rather than fully realized characters with agency (which itself is set against the backdrop of how society treats women in general).

Davis goes on to say something even more wrong headed, and displays an amazing level of ignorance:

Unless I’m missing something, Marvel is going to make a grip on this, then, like always, the subject will be shelved. That is until the next image of an imaginary character with impossible powers is put into a pose that makes some people upset. Then it’s outrage time again.

I get it.

What I don’t get is where was this level of outrage, this level of media coverage and broadcast saturation was when, not long ago, a woman was threatened with rape because she dared critique an artist’s depiction of some other comic book drawing.

That you didn’t see it means you weren’t paying attention, because there was quite a bit of media attention paid to the rape threats Janelle Asselin received because she criticized the cover to Teen Titans #1 (that’s five different links to media criticism of the rape threats against Asselin).  People rightfully called out that offensive, misogynistic bullshit. Aside from how wrong Davis was about that, he is using the rape threats against Asselin to change the subject because he doesn’t think it’s a big deal that Manara’s work sexually objectifies women.  For someone who claims such affinity with women, he is clearly not listening to their concerns in this case.

Do better Davis. Do better.

 

Michael Davis: Manara’s Spiderwoman #1 cover is “just” an image

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”

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"

What the hell is wrong with people?!

Anita Sarkeesian has a Page of Hate and  Trigger Warning,  It is not pretty.  The comments are vile, misogynistic, degrading and utterly repugnant.  No matter what someone does, they do not deserve such vile comments.  Remember though, all Sarkeesian wants is for game developers to treat women in video games more respectfully.  For this, she’s barraged by misogynistic internet assholes?  These people who crawled out of the woodwork to call Sarkeesian a ‘cunt’, a ‘whore’, and call for her to get raped?  These people show why feminism is still needed.  Fuck the lot of them.

What the hell is wrong with people?!

The alternate cover to Spiderwoman #1 is unacceptable

Marvel has made great strides in recent months to diversify their output.  No place is this more apparent than in the increasing number of titles meant to appeal to women.  Storm, Elektra, the all-female X-Men book, She-Hulk, the upcoming Thor relaunch, Black Widow, Ms. Marvel, and Captain Marvel are all books headlined by women.  This is a move to diversify and I fully support it.  Joining the ranks of these titles is the upcoming Spiderwoman book by writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Greg Land (I’ll state for the record that I do NOT like Land’s art).  The launch of this book comes at the beginning of a big Spider-Man related storyline called ‘Spiderverse’, which ought to help sales of Spiderwoman initially.  

There’s a problem.

A big problem, in my opinion.

It’s a problem that continues to plague the comic book industry, and one that I thought was getting better.

Here’s the regular cover to the upcoming debut issue:

 

Here is the alternate cover by artist Milo Manara:

Notice a difference?

Manara’s cover is blatantly sexist.  The focus of the image is clearly on Spiderwoman’s ass.  This is an issue of sexual objectification of women in comics, which, as I mentioned above, is an ongoing problem in the comic book industry.  Men are never drawn like this.  While male heroes in comics are male power fantasies with idealized bodies, they are not sexually objectified.  The focus of artists is not on bulging crotches and plump asses of male characters.  Yet this is a focus for female characters. Nowhere is this made more apparent than at the Hawkeye Initiative.

About The Hawkeye Initiative

Created on December 2nd 2012, The Hawkeye Initiative uses Hawkeye and other male comic characters to illustrate how deformed, hyper-sexualized, and impossibly contorted women are commonly illustrated in comics, books, and video games.

After seeing the origin posts on Tumblr, Skjaldmeyja started the The Hawkeye Initiative as a means to keep track of the artwork that was quickly being created, with the blog’s name taken from the tags on Hoursago’s post.

Here is an example from the Hawkeye Initiative:

On the left, a gender swapped Psylocke. On the right, the original image of Psylocke.

Here is another:

 

These are only two examples in a multitude of images found in comics.  Women are drawn in sexualized poses that you never find men in.  The “camera angle” so often used to depict women focuses on T&A, while the same is not said for men.

This is problematic.  Marvel is supposedly attempting to appeal to female comic book readers in an attempt to diversify, yet the alternate cover to Spiderwoman #1 is exactly the kind of thing that pisses women off (and a lot of men too, like myself).  It doesn’t help.  It’s two steps back when they claim to be moving forward.

Bleeding Cool News has some words to say about this.  Spiderwoman as drawn by Manara bears a strong resemblance to a character on the cover of an pornographic cover Manara drew for a European comic.

The Mary Sue says Milo should be sent back to the drawing board.

i09 says it looks like she is covered in body paint.

Vox says this is not a good sign for women. I agree.

Even Slate has criticized Marvel (I don’t usually see Slate discussing comic books.  In all fairness, the issue is about sexual objectification of women, which is a serious problem in society, and one that Slate does tackle.)

Comments by long time Amazing Spider-Man writer, Dan Slott are not helpful:

Seriously. If Picasso were solicited on a cover, would you be complaining the face he drew had 2 eyes on the same side of its head? C’mon.

I understand what Dan is getting at, but it’s no excuse.  Manara’s cover is sexually objectifying.  Women in society deal with issues of sexual objectification EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  It is a problem caused by men who view women as sexual objects.  It is a problem that needs to stop.  It won’t stop by dismissing it as “this is how he draws”.  It stops by saying “either redraw this, or we will find another artist for the alternate cover”.  I’d go a step further and tell Milo Manara what the problem is and explain to him that in the future if he wants to work for Marvel, he will not draw women in sexually objectifying poses. It is entirely possible to draw beautiful women in ways that do not focus on their T&A.  It happens.  Just not enough.  Come on Marvel.  You can do better.  If you want to acquire more women readers, you had better do better.

 

 

 

 

 

The alternate cover to Spiderwoman #1 is unacceptable

On Beauty

Andrew Wheeler is a blogger and writer for Comics Alliance. Last year he wrote an article about Henry Cavill, British actor who played Superman in the 2013 movie, Man of Steel.  During the article, Wheeler discusses the quality of Cavill’s acting ability, where he’s from, what he’s starred, in and more. He also talks about how attractive he finds Cavill (and I have to say, the scenes of shirtless Cavill when he’s saving the workers on the oil rig…yum yum):

How handsome is he, actually?
If you can’t see for yourself, let me make it plain; Henry Cavill is absurdly handsome. Implausibly handsome. He’s probably in contention for the title of “most handsome man that ever lived.” He’s so handsome that the entire entertainment industry has been secretly colluding to try to make him famous so they can put his face on things and sell them. He’s handsome.
Now, sure, some people will say, “Pfft, I prefer Benedict Cumberbatch”, and that’s OK. Weird, but OK. Henry Cavill is not the universal ideal; just the closest thing we have to it. If it weren’t for his very slightly bumpy nose he might actually be impossible to look at, but like a Persian rug he has one minor imperfection so as not to offend god.
Actually, he has two imperfections. He dresses terribly. Giant ties, ugly shoes, suits that fit like a balloon. Unless he gets a stylist post-Superman, watching Henry Cavill make fashion faux pas is going to become a new sport for supermarket tabloids.

In the United States, by and large, the discussion about movie stars often centers on the skills and abilities of male actors, and the appearance and beauty of female actors. In fact, that discussion extends beyond movie stars. Women are overwhelmingly valued for their appearance, rather than what they can do. Their worth is determined (by others) by how much they do or don’t eat, how much they do or don’t exercise, how much makeup they do or don’t put on, what type of clothes they wear, how they style their hair, how they look before, during and after pregnancy, and more. With men, the focus is much more on their skill set, their abilities, and their personality. The worth of a man is not determined by how he looks. Tabloid magazines don’t ceaselessly document what type of pants a male actor is wearing, how his hair looks on a windy day, or how well groomed his nails are. Yes, our culture does talk about men’s looks, but not the same way (or to the same degree) as we do with women’s looks. You can go to any bookstore and see men’s magazines (usually workout magazines) that focus on the appearance of men. They do exist, and they are part of the discussion. Unlike women, however, there isn’t an overwhelming focus on what men look like, nor is the value of men determined by their attractiveness.

One reader of Wheeler’s article  took issue with how he talked about Cavill’s attractiveness:

 

Reblogging to point out how revolting this article is. After an overly-long introductory geography lesson, the author goes on to talk about Cavill the way most writers discuss actresses—by valuing only his looks. It’s gross. It isn’t okay to talk about women that way, and it isn’t okay to talk about Superman that way either.

Wheeler’s response was perfect:

 

Hi. I’m the author of this article. As you reblogged with my comment in-line, I assume you wanted to make sure that I saw your response, and I think you raised an important point, so I hope you won’t mind if I reply.

First, I’m sorry that you didn’t enjoy the article, and I appreciate your point of view.

However, I don’t agree with you, and I stand by my piece.

Before I explain why I don’t agree, I want to acknowledge that this is an important debate. Our culture talks about women in limiting ways. They are too often reduced to their looks – their hair, their clothes, their weight, their make-up. Hillary Clinton is asked questions that no-one would ever ask her husband. Whether a woman is a scientist, an executive, a writer, an intellectual, she will too often be judged for her attractiveness, and if she’s thought too pretty, she’ll be demeaned, and if she’s thought not pretty enough, she’ll be ridiculed. It is awful and unacceptable.

This happens in acting as well. Men are asked about their performance; women are asked about their appearance. A female actress experiencing a bad hair day, undergoing weight loss, weight gain, plastic surgery, or wearing sweatpants to pick up the kids from daycare, is considered a matter for public scrutiny.

I don’t like the magazines that run those pictures. I don’t like those websites. I don’t like those TV shows.

But that doesn’t mean we can never talk about looks. Acting is both a performance and an appearance business. An actor’s look is part of the package they sell, both to the industry and to the audience. How a person looks – or how a person can look – is part of the job, by design and for a reason. It’s part of creating a character. Sometimes an actor gets work because he or she looks quirky, intense, unusual, intelligent, ordinary, familiar.

Leading actors usually get work because they’re beautiful. There are other factors, but beauty is typically essential, because most popular entertainment is glamorous and glossy. It transports us to a world where stunning people face dramatically implausible challenges.

I like that glamour and gloss. I like beauty. I wish our media showed us the full, diverse and inclusive range of beauty, because I would love to find out if Godfrey Gao or Daniel Sunjata or Alex Meraz or Mehcad Brooks or Sung Kang could carry an action franchise on his back, but even so, I want to watch beautiful people do extraordinary things.

So it seems disingenuous to pretend that these people aren’t beautiful, or to avoid talking about something that is intrinsic both to the work they do and to why they get that work. What an actor wears to pick up the kids from daycare is nobody’s business, but what an actor wears on the red carpet is something we’re expected to have an opinion about, because we’re being sold something.

It’s not the only thing we should have an opinion about. We shouldn’t only talk about looks. We shouldn’talways talk about looks. But it is part of the cultural conversation.

And if we’re going to talk about looks, I think it’s important to talk about men.

Beauty should not be a one-way street focused solely on the male gaze towards the female body. Our appreciation of beauty should run in all directions. As a gay man, I’m used to being told that I should not publicise my attraction to other men. Women face enormous challenges to the free expression of their sexualities.

The very idea that a man could be a sexualised for the appreciation of women is foundation-shaking stuff for some. I was conscious of that when I wrote an article for a comics website drawing attention to a leading man’s attractiveness. I believe that acknowledging sex and sexuality is important, especially for marginalised groups. Silencing those conversations only serves the status quo.

Let’s talk about that status quo for a moment. The corollary to allowing straight and bisexual women to talk about attractive men is that we allow straight and bisexual men to talk about attractive women, right? And therein lies a danger, because straight men already do that, and they do it to the extent that it feels like a woman’s only value is her attractiveness. That takes us neatly back to where we started. To say that we can sometimes talk about female attractiveness creates an excuse for when we always talk about female attractiveness.

I think we need to exercise intelligent discretion on that point, because across-the-board repression is not a good solution. We need to talk about attractiveness as part of a balanced cultural diet.

Was my article all about Henry Cavill’s looks? No. The article talks about who he is, where he came from, what he’s done. But his looks are a big enough part of the article to make the headline.

The premise of the article is an introduction to Henry Cavill. I’ve been a fan for almost ten years, and let’s be clear: I’m a fan because he’s gorgeous. Breathtakingly so. He’s not an exceptional actor, but he is an exceptional beauty. His looks are important to his work. His looks are remarkable, and I remarked on them. (I also mentioned his dress sense, and I should clarify that I’m only talking about public appearances. You can read Tom & Lorenzo on the same subject here.)

If the article had only been about his looks, I think that would have been OK too. We can talk about that one thing in a landscape that includes many other things. Beauty, and what we find beautiful, is part of the language of culture. I think it’s a worthwhile topic.

For female actors, beauty is sometimes the whole of the landscape, and a feature of everything ever written about them. That should not be the case.

Female and male actors should be treated equally and afforded the same respect. They should be asked the same questions.

Sometimes we should talk about their looks.

Thanks again for sharing your opinion.

Wheeler is right. There’s nothing inherently wrong with talking about the attractiveness of men or women.  The problem is when that discussion is overwhelmingly about beauty.  When the vast majority of the discussion is how someone looks, rather than how they look plus what they can do and who they are as a person that’s when there is a problem.  That’s a problem in the United States (and I imagine across the world).  It isn’t a problem to talk about the beauty of a man.  Not in the case of Wheeler’s article, because he also talks about other facets of Henry Cavill.  It’s also not a problem to talk about the beauty of a man in general bc society as a whole also discusses other aspects of men.  When society can catch up and do that very same thing to women–when a woman can be valued for her personality, her passion, her abilities, her skills, and her looks we’ll have made a greater stride toward equality*. I look forward to that day.

 

*The caveat I’ll add to that is the discussion of appearance must be relevant.  The workplace is often the wrong place to discuss the attractiveness of others.   Bosses shouldn’t discuss how much they find their subordinates, or peers.  Context is important.

On Beauty