Actual Women?

As fans of Buffy probably already know, from March next year ‘Season 8′ will run monthly in comic book form. Joss will write the first four, last four and some in between. I’m excited, really I am, I love Buffy beyond the telling of it.

But I’m just not sure I can be persuaded to love superhero comic books. I enjoyed Fray, it had Joss dialogue and great twists and turns. But the drawings of Fray and her sister depressed me – croptops, tiny waists, and breasts of steel.

Joss says the right things:

TVGuide.com: Does she get comic-book superheroine breast implants?

Whedon: She really doesn’t. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve never worked with a T&A artist. I’m very specific about that.

TVGuide.com: Isn’t that the raison d’etre of lots of comics?

Whedon: That’s part of why I stopped reading comics for a while. All the people I work with draw actual women.

But this is one of the sample pages from the Buffy comic provided with that very article:

Art from the upcoming "Buffy the vampire slayer" comic book

I suppose there are possibly women who have a waist hip ratio of .66 (or whatever that figure has), but Buffy sure wasn’t one of them.

It seems a bit stupid to be complaining about the images of women in a comic book based on a TV series where Amber Benson was ‘the big one’. But at least with TV you are looking at an acutal women. When a TV actress loses weight she does lose weight all over. Comic book women are fantasies – and they’re male fantasies. I don’t want to look at images of women created to fulfil the desires of men. The endless images of women with exagerated hour-glass figures make it clear that women readers are peripheral to superhero comics. That the stories are not supposed to be for or about us.

I’m just not sure I could handle Buffy stories that said that to me.

This entry posted in Buffy, Whedon, etc., Cartooning & comics, Feminism, sexism, etc, Gender and the Body. Bookmark the permalink. 

15 Responses to Actual Women?

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  2. 2
    Robert says:

    I can’t find my ruler, dag nab it. But she doesn’t look to have a particularly fantasy-girl waist in that scene. Look at what she’s doing – her left leg is coming forward into the viewer’s foreground while she’s simultaneously twisted to her left – making her hips appear wider and her waist more narrow. The actual body being depicted is normal, if on the buff end of things. I particularly like that left leg – that’s what the leg of someone with strong if shapely legs looks like.

    That the illustrator is drawing realistically is shown pretty well in this picture, apparently a frame or two after the descent shot. Behold – a woman whose lines go up and down.

  3. 3
    Maia says:

    Robert while there may be some forshortening going on in the waist, she’s also wearing a belt with things on it, so her actual waist is smaller than the space it takes up in that picture. Those are not realistic proportions.

  4. 4
    Charles S says:

    While they are certainly less extreme than many super hero comic book women, they are still pretty ridiculous. Also notable is the way that all four women have faces that are completely blank other than the generic giant lipstick lips and mascara-d to hell and beyond eyes. I guess it is a point in the artists favor (starting from the position of the massive negative of standard T&A super hero comics) that all 4 women in those images seem to have reasonable sized breasts and seem to get their wasp waisting only by emphasis of their hips and thighs.

    The “oh its just foreshortening” argument has two problems: 1) the foreshortening doesn’t explain the wasp waisting on the other side of her waist, nor the wasp waisting on the red haired woman behind her, and 2) the decision to place her body and the viewpoint in such a way as to excuse foreshortening that creates the illusion of a wasp waist and giant thighs, like the decision to make her paratrooper uniform have such paint-on shiny tight pants that the musculature of her inner thigh is clearly defined, is a conscious decision to emphasize those aspects of her body. It would have been just as easy, and probably made more sense in terms of showing heroic resolve, to have foreshortened on her upper body to give her massive shoulders and more of a close up on her face. Also, then maybe she could have had more of an expression than giant pouty lipstick lips.

  5. 5
    Charles S says:

    Actually, in the closer up version, I see she has some vague facial features, including a hint of a brow furrow.

    The wasp waisting is only really bad in that one splat page, but the paint-on shiny pants keep on giving the excuse for ridiculous over-attention to inner thigh musculature, note Asian (?) slayer with hat behind Buffy on page 5.

    I do like the way the in-passing voice over narration explains away the painfully idiotic Angel episode where Buffy was partying with vampires in Rome.

  6. 6
    ms_xeno says:

    The only reason Hollywood doesn’t re-engineer flesh and blood actresses to look like superhero fantasy drawings is because they haven’t devised an economical way to do it yet. Didn’t Pandagon have a thread several months ago in which some newspaper felt compelled to Photoshop Katie Couric’s arms because they weren’t skinny enough ? Feh.

  7. 7
    Robert says:

    Maia -

    Good point about the belt.

    Those are not realistic proportions.

    Well, that’s just not true. They may not be very common proportions, but there are women who (broadly) look like that. There’s one young mother in my daughter’s kindergarten who looks pretty much just like that – except that in addition, she has the large breasts Josh vetoed. I don’t see her type often, I will grant you. But I do see her type.

    Charles:
    he foreshortening doesn’t explain the wasp waisting on the other side of her waist, nor the wasp waisting on the red haired woman behind her

    She’s twisting her back, perhaps to keep her gun leveled. However, it’s hard to say for sure because of the presence of the belt. Perhaps she is unrealistically wasp-waisted there. Can’t argue with you about the redhead.

    Nor can I argue about the artist’s intentions or choices; beats heck out of me, there. I will agree that it’s a much more comic-book-”sexy” representation of “action woman” than what such a person looks like here in meatspace. But then, so was Buffy. ;)

  8. 8
    Charles S says:

    There is a technology currently in the late stages of development that allows realtime translation of an actor’s facial expressions and body movements onto a cgi construct, without requiring the actor to wear any sort of special equipment. I wouldn’t be surprised if it starts getting used to morph the appearance of flesh and blood actresses to look like superhero fantasy drawings.

  9. Comic book art tends to be heavily stylized and sexualized. Lots of people who aren’t sexually attracted to men still like the men-in-tights aesthetic of traditional super heroes.

    That drawing of Buffy isn’t naturalistic by any means, but I don’t find it disturbing. Arguably, the artistic treatment is closer to the build of an actual female athlete than Gellar was in the series. A few years ago, I read an interview with Gellar’s stunt double, who said she weighed about 15lbs more than Gellar. She explained that she just couldn’t do her job if she weighed any less.

    As Maia suggested in her post, the Buffy series was self-consciously sexy. It’s not Law & Order or The Wire.

  10. 10
    Shaun Huston says:

    As coincidence would have it, I spent a good part of this evening combing through a random collection of a 100 or so comics that I won in a charity auction. I was mostly trying to sort out which ones were too “adult” to pass onto my sub-teen nephew, but it was difficult not to notice how extreme and idealized both male and female superhero bodies are. Without suggesting that the social effects of these kinds of representations are the same for men/boys as they are for women/girls, I think that it is the uniformity of these images that I find the most disturbing. As has already been alluded to by Robert and Lindsay, human bodies in the “real world” are marked by their diversity more than their clustering around some norm. Even for idealized fantasy objects, I would like to see comic artists stretch their imaginations to find a greater range of ways to signify “power” and “strength” than the exaggerated proportions that dominate almost to the exclusion of all other devices. Borrowing from Lindsay, these sample images of the new comics Buffy are suggestive of an elite athlete – they specifically remind me of a female speed skater. While that hardly makes her typical, it is also a significant step away from the heterosexual male porn fantasies that filled the pages of most of the books I thumbed through tonight. Regarding Melaka Fray, she is undoubtedly thin, but also clearly wiry and anything but out of proportion. It isn’t difficult to imagine a live actress playing the part in a film and looking much like the comic but without seeming to be unhealthy or needing modification via CGI as per Charles’s comment. I think that Joss Whedon is fighting the good fight even if his female heroes cut uncommon figures.

  11. 11
    Maia says:

    Ms Xeno – I don’t think Buffy would look like that even if television wasn’t limited by our bodies. Television is aimed at women and advertisers would flip if we were allowed to believe our thighs could be that big. I think what would happen is that the female characters would get smaller and smaller until they were just voices.

    Lindsay – I didn’t imply that Buffy was self-conciously sexy (didn’t find it very sexy myself – except the Joss directed sex scenes. I think Buffy and Riley trapped in bed was the least sexy sex ever). The only statement that you could have read that from was my statement about the size of the actresses.

    Shaun – I’m sure Joss Whedon comics are a vast improvement over most superhero comics. When I discussed this with Amp he said as much. But if Fray is after you’ve fought the good fight, then I wasn’t kidding about that ‘No Girls Allowed’ sign.

    Robert – maybe there are women who look like that, I’ve never seen one, but I haven’t seen everyone. But that is not a realistic representation of Buffy ( oh and Joss – not Josh)

  12. 12
    SarahS says:

    I would agree that women in comics are drawn to be frighteningly skinny.

    However, I would also argue that Sarah Michelle Geller became frighteningly skinny in the 6th and 7th season of Buffy.

    Unfortunately, the representation of Buffy in those pages of the comic is correct to SMG’s physical features. At least they didn’t give her giant breasts to go with that frame, then I would be annoyed.

    And for all the things I can complain about regaurding comic book art, accurate representations of real actresses is not one of them. I mean, River in the Serenity comic was horribly skinny too, but again, Summer Glau is really really skinny.

    I think the larger point here should be body ideals for women in general, and not a criticism of this particular book or artist. Cuz from where I’m standing, he’s just drawing what is already there.

  13. 13
    Raznor says:

    Maybe I’m stretching a bit to excuse the art here because, dammit, I would really like for this comic to be good, but one thing I do like about it is that the angles all seem to emphasize Buffy’s eyes, and the general intensity and anger behind them, rather than on any huge breast shot or the like. The other characters aren’t as interesting, but they and the background are incidental, especially compared to the face. It makes the Buffy character the center, and not just an excuse to pander to the horny-teen-fanboy demographic.

    Given that, there is also the frightening skinniness of all the characters, and it would be nice if the artists would avoid that. But, meh, take what you can get.

  14. 14
    Helen says:

    I agree with your general principles about portrayal of female bodies Maia, but as a matter of fact, if you look at men in comics, from the old Marvel comics on, they have quite fantastic (in the literal sense) proportions. So if comics don’t portray women realistically, neither do they men.

    I’d also like to point out the sheer power in the thigh muscles in the drawing you posted. While thin girls in real life are thin all over, in comics, the object of the exercise is clearly to be powerful – not just thin.

  15. 15
    Elayne Riggs says:

    Helen, male characters i comics are most often exaggerated to promote strength, female characters to promote sexual attractiveness. That’s NOT equivalent.

    To tell you the truth, Maia, I wasn’t bothered by this 2-page spread at all. I thought it was stylized in places but that’s artistic license. It certainly wasn’t drawn disproportionately enough to warrant the kind of reaction you had, in my opinion. Any distortions can probably be chalked up to the artist, Georges Jeanty, drawing from pictures. Oh, and to the coloring, which does tend to place emphasis on the wrong things.

    Take my opinion for what it’s worth, but just to lay my credentials on the table, I reviewed comics for a number of years on a weekly basis back in my Usenet days (and was one of the only reviewers to talk consistently about the artistic aspect of a comic, not just the writing); I’ve read comics for over 25 years; I have had four comic stories published; I’ve been involved in various industry organizations for a number of years and have lots of friends in the industry; and I’m married to a professional comic book artist, who has taught me a great deal about how to “read” art.