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.
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.”
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.