Dredd would be proud

Recently, 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Megazine have been doing a lot of work with female characters in fact, since #300 of the Megazine, aside from Judge Dredd’s own strip, a two part Armitage, and a horror one-off, every strip has been centred around a female lead, and #300’s Dredd focused on his protégé Ami Beeny and Armitage was saved by his female partner.
This isn’t lasting, but neither does it seem to have been a deliberate attempt at a women-heavy run: it’s just how the strips came out.
One of the strips that deserves a mention is Hondo City Justice by Robbie Morrison and Neil Googe, the latest in Morrison’s stories centred around Hondo (the Japanese mega-city in Dredd’s world). The lead is an old character, Inspector-Judge Inaba, one of the few female Judges in Hondo. She’s mainly been shown as partner and ally to recurring character Shimura (a Judge turned ronin); or there was a focus on her being an outsider in the Judge force due to her gender; or she headlined comedy stories that usually revolved around, you guessed it, T&A gags. And that was pretty much it for her.
Hondo City Justice has been a game-changer for her though. While the strip isn’t the best thing Morrison’s ever done the villains are a blatant riff on the X-Men and don’t really come off as impressive there’s something it brings to the table that we’ve seen with Inaba before. She’s now got a cadet. It’s a super-powerful teenage girl psionic cadet, part of an intended next generation of super-Judges, but at the core of Cadet Junko Asahara is that she’s a naïve, young cadet.
And this is the interesting bit, because another writer might have taken the obvious approach and had Inaba become a maternal figure with Junko, or give them a sisterly relationship. After all, one’s a woman and the other’s a girl! What else will you do?
Well, Morrison decided he’d have Inaba as a Judge and Junko as a Cadet, like you’d expect from a male-centred Dredd spinoff. Inaba is now the senior figure here, presented from the start as a highly competent and courageous officer; Junko is presented from the start as fresh out of the academy, overly disciplined & eager to impress her mentor. Only one time do we get a big sis/little sis scene, and that’s a deliberate ruse to trick a potential enemy.
Inaba takes the sort of hardline school-of-hard-knocks approach you’d expect from any equivalent character, and possibly more so: when Junko freezes in battle and is about to killed, Inaba calmly neutralises the threat and immediately demands to know why her cadet froze. The cadet explains she recognised the enemy and isn’t sure what happened; she’s asked to do a mind-probe to find out what’s going on, and does so even though she admits it’s not her speciality.
Inaba doesn’t (openly) show fear for Junko or asks her if she’s alright, Junko isn’t breaking down, both women are getting on with the situation at hand and not letting themselves get distracted. And when it comes to the grand finale, with Junko being mentally controlled by the Professor X stand-in, Inaba snaps her out of it not by making an emotional appeal but by playing on her cadet’s judicial training and getting her to focus on arresting the enemy.
It’s almost like… like Morrison’s writing them as Judges first.
And of course that’s just what he’s doing. Which, in the year 2010, shouldn’t be something remarkable in comics, but it is.
We could do with some more dynamics like Inaba’s and Junko’s.

I Hate Luann So Much

When I was a kid, I really liked the syndicated comic strip Luann by Greg Evans. There are very few female protagonists in the funnies, and as a kid I couldn’t really relate to Cathy or Sally Forth. But Luann was an age I would be fairly soon, and like with Archie Comics, I looked at her pleasingly cartoony adventures as a guide to the whirlwind of romance, adventure, and hilarious misunderstandings I would enjoy as a teenager.
So it’s kind of a shame that the comic regularly renders my adult self incoherent with rage.
It’s hard to know where to start in listing the problems with the way Luann handles gender, but let’s start with the very basic: it contains some of the most brain-numbingly hackneyed gender essentialist humor I’ve ever seen. Now, the comics page is rife with ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ jokes, from the acerbic The Lockhorns to the gentle Hi and Lois, but that doesn’t excuse Luann. Nine out of ten Sunday strips return to the same tired well:

Women like pink! Men are dumb (but practical)! The sexes are forever a mystery to each other! This dated perspective does neither gender any favors (and of course presupposes that everyone in the world is cisgendered, so thanks for erasing a significant chunk of the population, Luann).
Then, of course, there’s all the slut-shaming. This mostly happens to Luann’s nemesis, cheerleader Tiffany. (Because cheerleaders are evil, of course. Although she appears to be the only one at their school, which would make anyone a little snappish.)

That’s the school guidance counselor angrily telling a student she looks cheap. Because that’s appropriate.
The whole thing is especially unpleasant because Evans lavishes so much attention on his rather adorable drawings of Tiffany in her not-particularly-revealing outfits. As Josh Fruhlinger of the Comics Curmudgeon put it, ‘it’s OK to include a lovingly detailed drawing of a teenage girl in a bikini in the comics, as long as you call her a tramp.’
Anyway, you’re wasting your breath, Miss Phelps. Tiffany was even slutty at eight years old:

But lest we think it’s only Tiffany’s navel that is the subject of hand-wringing horror, Evans makes sure to also slut-shame his protagonist:

You hear that, teenage tramps of the world? Your bared navels are not just tacky, they are immoral!
Then, of course, there are the straw feminists:

And did you know about all the ‘guy-bashing’ that occurs in this matriarchy in which we live? It’s a serious problem!

But as might be imagined, the strip is at its worst when it delves into romance. Or, uh, ‘romance.’ Like the time the school miscalculated the funds needed to send Luann’s class to Washington, D.C., and told Delta, the most civic-minded student in the school, that she couldn’t go. Enter Elwood, the creepy teenage millionaire with the hots for Luann. He offered to pay for Delta’s trip if Luann would go on a date with him. Luann’s friends pressured her into accepting, because of course a real friend would become a literal prostitute, albeit a G-rated one, for a friend, right?

‘Now it’s time for you to pay.’ SHUDDER SHUDDER SHUDDER
Or how about the time that Luann’s older brother Brad and his best friend TJ decided it would be hilarious good times to have TJ aggressively hit on Luann constantly, while he was living in her house?

Eventually Luann’s dad got wind of it and made the boys apologize, sparking a rare moment of reflection from Brad:

Oh, right being ambushed in safe spaces like her own bathroom by an adult man she thought she could trust was actually scary and upsetting for Luann! Wait, no, sexual harassment is flattering, isn’t it? Oh, TJ, you lovable scamp!
But by far the worst of Luann’s paramours is Gunther. Gunther is the nebbish nerd who has been in love with Luann forever. He’s a quintessential Nice Guy, and not in a good way the kind of guy who thinks that his pathetic, passive aggressive stalkerishness will eventually make Luann see that they are Totally Meant to Be:

I’m sorry, show me one girl who finds ‘I spent an inordinate amount of time sexily Photoshopping your face’ charming and not horrifyingly creepy, and I will give you five dollars.* Gunther gives me the serious skeeves, and the really tragic thing is that he is transparently set up as Luann’s eventual soulmate:

Never mind what Luann wants, even though it’s ostensibly her story. Dogged persistence has to count for something, right?
I’m especially bothered by Luann’s apparent need to coddle his feelings all the time, even when he’d being blatantly passive aggressive and needy:

Yes, Gunther, everyone loves you. Especially when you’re being a jealous creep:

‘Your costumes cover my whole body.’ Excuse me, I have to go wash now.
Confidential to Greg Evans: Women do not exist to soothe the tender wounded feelings of vulnerable men. They’re allowed to actually want things for themselves. They are not rewards.
Oh wait, I forgot what comic strip I was reading. This is, after all, the strip that contains the epic romance of Brad (Luann’s schlubby brother) and Toni (the unattainable goddess). Brad and Toni first met while they were both training to be firefighters, and Toni was dating the musclebound Dirk. Oops, I’m sorry, I mean she belonged to Dirk:

You’ll note that even though Toni takes offense at the word ‘property,’ Brad doesn’t. Hush now, Toni, the men are talking.
It’s cool, though, eventually Brad will win the game of Toni’s Life!

Eventually, of course, after Brad got a restraining order against Dirk and lurked passive aggressively around Toni for a few years, they wound up together. And these two epic romances met when Gunther asked Brad for advice in wooing Luann:

Note how Brad shames Toni for her foolish past in front of this random teenage boy. Girl, you got yourself a catch!
Incidentally, ‘You can’t understand why she’s so blind to your sincere love’ pretty much perfectly sums up the intense creepiness of the Nice Guy archetye.
Anyway, the reason this all boiled over on me, resulting in this outrageously long post, is because of the current plotline. You see, Dirk is back! He’s out of jail, where he was placed for assaulting Brad after repeatedly violating his restraining order, and wants to see Toni, who broke up with him because he was verbally and emotionally abusive to her, and who he then proceeded to stalk. Even worse, he’s got a new job as the trash collector for their neighborhood! Naturally, our heroes call the cops.
Ha ha, no, just kidding, this is Luann. What actually happens is this:

The good guys of the strip place a teenage girl in the path of a proven stalker with a criminal record, a history of violence, and anger management issues, and tell her to lie to him The amount of sheer dangerous stupidity at play here is breathtaking. In any real world situation, Tiffany would be lucky to get out of there with a few swears thrown her way.
And yes, I realize this isn’t a real world situation. It’s a comic strip. But if Greg Evans doesn’t believe he has a responsibility to show the appropriate way to deal with a violent stalker by calling the cops he could at least have the courtesy not to attempt to make comedic hay out of it.

Ha ha, Brad and TJ are putting Tiffany in serious danger! It’s okay, because she’s a slut! Good one, Greg!
I hate Luann so much.

Strips out for the lads

So the possible revival of British comics has come, again (it’s not been that long since The DFC was the great hope and then died before a year was out). And this time, Mark Millar’s running the show and he’s brought his celebrity mates Frankie Boyle, Jonathan Ross, and Hit Girl and Kick-Ass with him.
On the face of it, this is a good thing: British comics could do with a successful revival, and the twin tactics of celebrities and a film franchise could see Millar’s magazine succeed. One problem though. He’s trying to make it like a lad’s mag, similar to tits-and-trivia titles Nuts and Zoo that dominate UK newsstands. And he’s quite upfront about this, and it’s a valid approach to take if you want to appeal to teenaged boys who don’t read comics (and by all accounts it’s selling gangbusters).
Except… well, the magazine is called CLiNT. Spelt exactly like that. Cos then it likes like a swear word based around vaginas, see.
And that’s going to amuse the target audience, but it’s a massive ‘up yours’ to, say, the 50% of Britain who don’t have willies. The name is a clear barrier. And if you get past that, then you’ll find several strips with only two female characters (Hit Girl and the journalist in Ross’ Turf; admittedly both are lead roles) and then… then you find the text features. They’re going for the lad’s mag feel too, and include features like a list of Hot Mums on telly, breathless descriptions of how the Manson Family planned to kill some people, and a list of embarrassing things said during sex. One such thing was about a woman yelling ‘Goldfish!’ during rough sex, because that was the safe word with her last boyfriend because rape, of course, is hilarious.
Now, yes, CLiNT is going for a very specific market. That doesn’t mean it has to be so unwittingly hostile to others, and this is very ‘you are not meant to read this’ stuff: this has been noted by female comic fans on the 2000 AD forums up to female panellists and Kirsty Wark on the BBC’s The Review Show. ‘The Mighty Tharg’ (or Matt Smith no, not that one as he’s otherwise known) at 2000 AD has also stepped in, using the editorial for prog 1703 to state ‘I’d hope that anything from the House of Tharg was never so exclusive as to make a portion of the readership feel sidelined… I like to think that I’m an equal opportunities Thrill-creator, crafting tales for all to enjoy, but let me know if you feel there’s something missing’.
Obviously, this is a clear touting of ‘look, we’re better than a competitor, keep buying us’, but the point is still clear besides that, and 2000 AD is also a primarily male-read comic. (It’s also unusual to see an editor outright say ‘tell us if we’re not doing representation properly’) The one time it flirted with similar territory was with the lads mag oriented ‘Women Just Don’t Get It’ ads… which, as covered in the book Thrill-Powered Overload, were foisted on it by then-publisher Egmon Fleetway, much to the horror of the editors who pleaded with them not to run the ads. (Sales went down after)
Millar has since stated he intends to make a girls comic along the same lines as CLiNT, but why does the current title have to raise barriers? And, based on it, can Millar and Titan Magazines be trusted to pull off a sister title? And that’s unfortunate. I want to trust him, because most of what he’s done with CLiNT makes tactical sense. I want him to succeed in his admirable goal of causing the UK industry to be as big as it was when he started out, and for other companies to create their own comics to match Titan’s Millar titles. I want, basically, lots of comics around for lots of people, some of which I’ll enjoy and others that others will.
But I don’t want something waving a ‘it’s not FOR you’ flag at a mass of the population. It doesn’t strike me as the right way to do things.
On the plus side, we are already seeing other publishers start their own comics: coming up next month is Strip Magazine, with intentions to be ‘general audience’, from Print Media Productions. And PMP are also planning European-style comic albums, their first being a female-led steampunk adventure called The Iron Moon. With luck, CLiNT’s opened the door to, well, better comics than CLiNT, and if it has I’ll have to eat a lot of the words I just typed.

Buyers’ Remorse

I’ve had this sort of conversation a lot recently:
Lian Harper, a little girl of color and a unique and charming character, is killed off in a terrible comic book to forward the angsty storylines of her white father and grandfather.
Friend #1: Man, I’m so glad I don’t read DC comics anymore.
Right after an excellent article points out DC’s unfortunate tendency to kill off, limbo-fy, or otherwise sideline their non-white (and female) legacy characters in order to bring back their white, male forebears, non-white legacy character Ryan Choi is killed off to clear the way for his predecessor, white Ray Palmer.
Friend #2: I’m really glad I don’t give DC my money.
Ian Sattler makes one of the most mind-bogglingly ridiculous statements I have ever heard a DC representative say, dismissing accusations of inadvertently racist storytelling with an argument debunked by a fictional character in a comic published by DC that came out forty years ago.
Friend #3: This is why I stopped reading comics.
You may have noticed that these aren’t so much conversations as declarative statements by my friends. That’s because my part of the conversation consists mainly of uncomfortable, guilty silence. Because I also find all of these things reprehensible. But I still buy comics.
[Note: If this seems unfairly weighted against DC, it’s just because I don’t read very much Marvel. I really have no idea if they’re better or worse at writing women and POC than DC, although I suspect it’s about even.]
Whenever DC does something thunderously hurtful or stupid, I go through the same mental song-and-dance. In order to dramatize this internal process, I’ve enlisted Jaime Reyes and Kara Zor-El to act it out, because why not.

…Thank you, Jaime. Shall we continue?
Jaime: I can’t believe DC did that.
Kara: I can’t believe Jess gives money to a company that does things like that.
Jaime: But she didn’t buy the comic in which That Thing happened. This is exactly why she avoids big company-wide crossovers, where things like That Thing tend to happen. She reads books like mine.
Kara: Your book was canceled.
Jaime: …Oh yeah.
Kara: Sorry.
Jaime: But my point still stands! Why shouldn’t she support books that she does enjoy, where things like That Thing don’t happen, made by creators who don’t do things like That Thing for cheap shock value?
Kara: Because a vote for approval of one book is a vote for approval of the whole company. And she doesn’t always approve of the whole company.
Jaime: But if she doesn’t buy the books that she does like, not only will she not get to enjoy them, DC may take the decreased sales as a sign that their readership doesn’t like those books and cancel them. If she’s voting with her wallet, isn’t it better to vote for books she likes particularly those with female or non-Caucasian leads than vote against the comic book industry as a whole?
Kara: Not if she’s broke.
Jaime: Fair point.
Kara: Look, I don’t want her to stop enjoying my adventures, but by purchasing my comic, she’s also providing financial support to an industry that glorifies sexualized violence against women, erases and defames minorities, and employs creators who publicly announce the violence they fantasize about committing against members of organizations to which she belongs.
Jaime: She’s also providing financial support to an industry that tells stories that move her about characters she adores in a medium she considers to be an important aspect of our culture. A medium that, I might remind you, is dying. Is she going to take away her $2.99 and let superhero comics go gently into that good night?
Kara: …That last line sounded really out of character for you.
Jaime: Well, I’m really just a figment of Jess’s imagination.
So, uh…do you guys have a solution for me?
Jaime: Nah.
Kara: I got nothin’.
Since I, like Kara and Jaime, have no solution for my dilemma, I usually just wind up doing what I’ve been doing buying comics that feature characters I love and creators I respect, while avoiding the type of books that tend to lay waste through swathes of C-listers and the creators who have produced work I find offensive. But I feel guilty about it. I could stop buying comics, but I’d probably feel guilty about that too. (My mother’s Jewish and my father’s Catholic. I’m really good at feeling guilty.)
So what do you think, folks? Am I the only one who goes through these internal trials? As comic book fans, do we have an ethical responsibility to buy or not buy comics? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Would Tiny Titans be improved by melodramatic Dylan Thomas paraphrases for no reason?
Answer: probably.

‘Previously, D-Man’s sister’s long-lost clone…’

So this yakuza queenpin walks into a casino to meet this hitmen, right? And she’s the ex-wife of one and she’s called in because of this gang war between this bald guy called Appelido and a fat dude that hasn’t got a name, and apparently the war’s a big deal. And these criminals who are known to be dead are all walking around and oh, no, we’re not going to explain why, just roll with it.
What? No, we’ll tell you the fat guy’s name later. Oh, and yeah, that singer in the background and hitman Finnigan’s comment is significant, you’re right, but we don’t have time to explain what it refers to and look, yes, I know you don’t know why that Indian guy called Kal with a bionic hand is so grumpy but okay, look, SHOOTING. That’s cool, eh? Lookit the yellow speed lines!
That’s me trying to explain the plot of 2000 AD’s current Sinister Dexter story. That story is tied into other stories going back eight years, none of which are in trade. There is little to explain what’s going on to anyone new (That Reminds Me Of This has ended up completely bored of the strip as a result of not knowing who the drokk anyone is). I’ve been reading 2000 AD since 2003 and even I get lost at times.
This is the curse of the serial comic: trying to tell the story and not get bogged down in exposition, while also trying to fill in anyone new what’s going on. Or rather, it should be trying to fill in anyone new. And there’s the problem: Sinister Dexter doesn’t seem to be assuming anyone new will be picking up 2000 AD.
And it’s not alone in this. I read the Norman Osborn-era Thunderbolts comic, Ellis thru Parker, and during the Dark Reign issues it could get very confusing. The Siege tie-in was especially bizarre: what the hell is going on here? Why is it happening? Why is there a war against Asgard? If it wasn’t for the Internet, I’d have been lost: the Thunderbolts tie-in to Secret Invasion was guilty of assuming I knew about the crossover too, but ‘shape-shifting aliens are attacking!’ is a lot easier to grasp on the go.
You can all think of your own examples. But the alternative is often… well, Comics Alliance did a very funny comic strip summing up the backstory of X-Man Rachel Summers. It’s confusing, messy, and if a comic tried to explain it to you in a story you’d recoil from the damn thing. I read Spider-Man during the Clone Saga and remember issues that opened with millions of captions explaining every damn facet of the past umpteen issues, and that never stopped being far too confusing.
And then there’s that infamous Batgirl two-page spread of the whole Bat Family talking through Cassandra Cain’s last two years of stories in intricate detail. Who doesn’t get a headache just looking at it? Why would it make someone want to read more about Cass?
Too often, comics either assume nobody new will be reading or bombards new readers with too much. Both options are harmful, they turn off new readers (and the latter pisses off the existing ones). We need better options here.
Luckily, we’ve got some. How does Grant Morrison deal with Cyclops being possessed by Apocalypse for a whole story? ‘He was taken over by one of them ‘evil forces’ we run into from time to time,’ sums up Logan, and it’s made Scott a mess: that’s all you have to know, and it tells you what life is like in the X-Men and (later in the scene) what Logan thinks of Scott. How does Garth Ennis get out of the Punisher being turned into a hitman for Heaven and get him back to killing normal criminals? ‘Tried it. Didn’t like it.’
We need these things to be kept simple, to the point, and tied into the story. Otherwise, we’ll get very, very, very, very confused and/or bored and why read something that makes you confused or bored?

Crafting Comics: Getting Started OR Choosing Between Drawing Practice and Aquatic Larceny

I was nine when I attempted to make my first comic. I remember fragrant steam wafting up the stairs from my mother cooking dinner, making the entire top floor of my house sticky-humid. I remember clearly how my markers bled through the paper and ripped the fibres up into clumps of wet, dark fuzz.
I ran out of ideas after about two pages. I hated the look of the hands I’d drawn, and the pages didn’t look right, though I couldn’t put my finger on why. Something wasn’t working. I lacked some important, but unknown, capacity and so I stopped.
This was the pattern—hit the wall, get frustrated, put it aside. It is not the most efficient way to progress, and worse, my drawing teacher in the graphic design program I got into in college was one of those ‘learn by doing’ types for most thingswhich made me loco, because I am not.
I was not actually taught quite a lot of useful things. Easy things. Simple draftsmanship, and I mean simple draftsmanshiphow to easily find the centre of a rectangle even when in perspective is a simple matter of drawing diagonals from opposing corners, so that where they cross, you find the centre. Try drawing a building, window, robot, or anything in perspective without knowing this. I couldn’tmy attempt at a perspective projection in class was half erasing, half applying my brainpan to my desk. I did learn things there, between bouts of planning my escape to a life of piracy on the high seas.
I left school. I didn’t pick up a pencil again for a year. When I realized that the hideous experience wasn’t more important to me than making comics, I started drawing again, and reading. I found the information was out there in dribs and drabs, so I finally made real progress, on my own, in little steps.
I have limited advice that’s worth anythingI cannot tell you if art school is or isn’t worth your time. Some people love it and benefit hugely. Some fantasize about piracy on the high seas. I will say that fine art may not serve you as directly for comics the way graphic art/design might, because they have a different focus.
I can tell you that you can start drawing whenever you want. I know people who started up after decades not drawing. You learned to walk and talk, you can learn this. I have tutored an eleven year old boy and a forty year old man. It doesn’t matter.
I can tell you that anybody (mainly well-meaning teachers and peers) who told you in grammar school to stop drawing because you weren’t good enough were wrong (and silly). It’s fine if you pursued other things and aptitudes, but they were wrong. You can start again. You can learn any time.
Because the truth is, most people are average. Some people are that in that rare, fingernail fraction of the pie that is genius, but most aren’t. So what? It’s always been that way. You get better by working at it, like every other skill, just as you’ve always done since walking and talking.
So, if you’re starting out and don’t know where to start at all, I present a list of books and resources I’ve found helpful, and why. These are all texts I have used personally. You can get them from your local library or buy them yourself. I have organized them by category, and the first is on figure drawing.
You cannot make comics about people without understanding how they work. When an artist does not understand anatomy, it shows. You can reference for complex poses or details, but if you don’t understand anatomy, proportion and body language, your figures will look weird and unnatural. They will not convey the emotion you need to get your point across.
This does not mean your figures need to be photorealistic. On the contrary, I find very few people can pull off dynamic action with a photorealistic approachtoo much detail, no matter how exquisitely rendered, can suck a lot of energy out of the action.
From my own experience, there are particular areas to pay attention to, and I am generally of the opinion that it is better to learn real anatomy and then simplify and adapt a style out of it. Get a good foundation firstjust like with writing, if you study it (and I have), profs like to get you started with a literary foundation first. You can always go bouncing off into genre style later. Trying to learn to draw from comics alone could hinder youcreating an extreme, exaggerated funhouse mirror effect. Just look at the 90s. Ye gods.
So my recommendations will mostly fall along traditional lines, with a few important cautions:
Anatomy books are full of naked people, and people who look to have been flayed or taken apartskulls with eyeballs and brow muscles, backs laid open with the muscles depicted, skeletons in poses, that sort of thing. Just a caution to the squeamisha friend of mine still learning to draw finds my books unbearably creepy.
Most how-to books tend to assume everybody’s white, and usually, a specific 6’4’ northern European white dude. Eyelids depicted will not include epicanthic folds, which neatly excludes people from Asia, Inuit and First Nations people, some Africans, many South Pacific peoples, and some Europeans. Proclamations about cheekbone width, nose width, nostril shape and facial slope should be taken with a grain of salt. When depicting distinct ethnic groups, find your reference and sweat the small stuff, just like in portraiture.
Most how-to books tend to present hypermasculine and hyperfeminine models. How-to draw comics books are especially bad for thissee above, don’t learn to draw from comics. Men and women’s skulls and skeletons don’t actually reliably conform to the models these books would have you believeask an archaeologist or pathologist about determining gender from a skull. Then offer them sympathy. How-to books with a focus on comics also tend not to show you how to depict kids of various ages, and many artists struggle with them (the Choi/Oback team did well in X-23: Target X, however).
Do not expect most books to show you useful things like how to depict fat, injury, disease, or other physiological conditions. They do not generally depict sex organs either, if necessary to your work, and many do not show internal organs. You just have to do your own research. Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise, Echo) knows a thing or two about body types.
None of these are insurmountable (except the creepy factor) once you understand the basics, but be aware of these issues.
The best books I’ve got fall on a continuum of how-to technique and reference.
The best written material I have yet found on drawing technique would be the legendary series by Andrew Loomis. All of them are good, good luck finding themfor some reason, the publishers in their wisdom have allowed them to go out of print. I found a used, stained, fairly stinky copy of Andrew Loomis’ Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth for $100. It is my smelly baby and I love it. Some little softcovers are out there, however, and I strongly recommend Drawing the Head and Figures In Action.
Loomis’ books are brilliant, plain English (though dated), with concrete advice and many very good diagrams and examples which you can find via Google Image Search. I’m not suggesting or nothin’, but e-books are out there. Update your antivirus and anti-spyware.
Multiple texts offer the benefit of perspective. Maybe you don’t agree with Loomis. Maybe you want more focus on bones, or photographs. Other useful texts:
Dynamic Figure Drawing and Dynamic Anatomy by Burne Hogarth is better for heroic anatomy and figure practice, lots of examples, big illustrations. Leans a bit heavier on art jargon than others, and can be intimidating because of this. His figures often look somewhat elongated.
Anatomy for the Artist by Sarah Simblett has a lot of big, high quality pictures. Features a brief look at sex organs (unusual!), a section on drawing the skeleton in perspective, vellum overlays of skeleton over photo, and the nice feature of anatomy in masterworks. Glossary of anatomical jargon. Unique in my searching for models who are people of colour. Overall: swank.
Anatomy: A Complete Guide for Artists by Joseph Sheppard — Bones and muscles, bones and muscles, bones and muscles! Other things, of course, but this book is so good with bones that I loaned my copy to my sister so she could study for her archaeology exam. No foolin’ (and she passed). If you want to draw a skeleton army, this one is very good. Lots of drawn examples. A reference.
An Atlas of Anatomy for Artists by Fritz Schider — a reference text, what sets this one apart is the sheer breadth of examples, which is basically all it is. Photographs, details of sculpture, engravings, studies from Da Vinci, and Muybridge’s motion studies to name a few. Notable for the inclusion of children’s development as well. Light on text, but technical (with wee tiny print).
Drawing the Head and Figure by Jack Hamm — Dense with detail does not describe. Wall to wall illustrations. Simple, not too jargony, fairly inexpensive. Broad, like Loomis, but with little text. An overall good book to start with and to refer to.
Go forth to your local library or book store and check these and other titles out to find the best for your needs. A used book store may ferret out some Loomis texts for you, but be prepared to be disappointed, unfortunately, as they are sought after and rare.
My next entry will be on drawing the head, and adapting anatomy rules put forth in these books to particular situations.

Avatar Returns!

The bad taste left in our mouths by the terrible Avatar: The Last Airbender film has been wiped out by the promise of a delicious new series!

The immediate reaction, if you’re me (and I see no reason to assume you’re not), is to seek out every possible piece of information, rumour and speculation about this. And basically every aspect of this fills me with joy.
The Legend of Korra starts 70 years after the defeat of Fire Lord Ozai. We have a new Avatar, Korra, the next after Aang a Southern Water Tribe woman. She’s older than Aang was, a teenage, and has already mastered Water, Earth and Fire. She’s come to Republic City to learn Airbending from Aang’s son Tenzin (Aang is presumed dead, unless they’ve pulled a Buffy). There’s people of all nations* in Republic City, it’s crime-ridden, and there’s an anti-bender revolt which Korra has to work against while learning to airbend. This will apparently be a slightly more grown-up series.
If you didn’t see Avatar: The Last Airbender and want to know what was so great about it, Shaker Seraph’s series of critical posts does a great job of exploring the show’s highlights and problems from a feminist point of view. For those of us who loved the series, a lot of the good feelings we had from a series with capable women everywhere, entirely populated by Asian*** characters, with a level of drama and storytelling not neared by your average childrens’ cartoon, that actually used the word ‘sexist’ were soured by a live-action film with none of these virtues. The good people at Racebending did more than anyone to push back against everything that was wrong with the film. I’d like to think that it’s partly because of them that Nickelodeon commissioned a new series with all the things we loved about the old one. It’s probably just because the movie made some money, but still.
And the lead character’s a woman! But then, why wouldn’t she be?
The new ‘Avatar’ is a woman. What inspired you to change the sex of the protagonist of the series?
Michael DiMartino: It’s not so much about changing because we had Avatar Kyoshi before Aang. We’d established that the Avatar can be male or female and we just thought let’s explore one of those more in depth, because Kyoshi was a popular character with a lot of fans and it seemed like a great opportunity to not retread what we’d done with Aang, who was a great hero, we all loved him, but we really wanted to try something different. And we have so many great female fans out there, who really responded to Katara in the first series, we thought we have the fan base who are really going to enjoy seeing the Avatar be a female.
Konietzko: Mike and I, we love those characters too, and we’ve encountered countless fans who are male who really like those characters too. We just don’t subscribe to the conventional wisdom that you can’t have an action series led by a female character. It’s kinda nonsense to us.
More of this, please.
*In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when the current Slayer dies a new young woman becomes the Slayer. In the finale of Season One, Buffy’s heart stops in a fight with the Master. Xander revives her, but her ‘death’ was enough to trigger the awakening of a new Slayer, Kendra. You’re welcome!
** ‘All nations’ is what this press release says. Does that mean the Air Nomads are back somehow? Perhaps some escaped the genocide!
*** At least, they’re as Asian as the characters of Lord of the Rings are white.
Endnote: we thought we’d pass on this announcement from Threadless, as some of our readers might be interested. We at GW are unaffiliated with Threadless and have no involvement with this promotion:
Threadless has recently launched their newest ‘loves’ competition entitled ‘Threadless Loves Comics’. Threadless is SUPER excited for this one, because the chosen design will actually be worn by a character in an upcoming issue of New York Times Bestseller, Chew! (which is now becoming a TV series)! And that’s not even the half of it! $2,000 in cash, a $500 Threadless Gift Certificate, Original art, an iPad, and a collection of graphic novels are up for grabs, too! All you need to do to enter is create a design that is inspired by comics. Entries are being accepted until August 12th.

‘It’s Not Real’

So what’s all the fuss about then? Why all the complaints about lack of female characters (and non-white characters, and gay characters and yadda yadda)? Why is it such a big deal, why all this PC stuff? No one’s going to be affected that much by a comic.
It’s just comics. They’re not real.
You’ve probably seen or heard that particular argument before, and also about film, cartoons, RPGs, whatever medium you’re into. Issues of representation just don’t matter and that fiction we pay money to experience, why that just has no effect on us. The way we think about women and what they can do, or about racial minorities, the stories we tell about them (or about the lack of them) will never really effect how we think about them in real life.
Except in Volume VI of Titan’s Charley’s War trades, writer Pat Mills recounts meeting an ex-squaddie who joined the army because he grew up reading war comics. He also recounts meeting two men from ‘traditional military families [who] didn’t enlist’ because they grew up reading Charley’s War and its brutal depictions of warfare. Grown men picked their careers because those silly comics made it look cool or made it look horrific.
Except that Dr Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, has cited Uhura on Star Trek as a reason she wanted to become an astronaut. And NASA hired Uhura actress Nichelle Nichols to recruit women and ethnic minorities, capitalising on her influence from Trek.
Except that Weird Fantasy #18’s Judgement Day!, taking on contemporary segregation through metaphor and then ending with a clear symbol of real-life segregation ending, was universally praised by readers as something that hit them hard. A school principal asked for copies for his school. Only one critical letter arrived, decrying EC Comics because ‘the North and South are like they are, so why not leave well enough alone!’… while other southerners praised it for what it had done.
Except that the group Racebending has done surveys to see what drew fans to Avatar: The Last Airbender, a cartoon where everyone is Asian or Inuit, and comments from non-white fans cite things like ‘It was fantastic being able to spot things from my own ethnic background on the show, which is something that I hardly ever get to see’. In response to the film, which cast Caucasian actors to play the three leads, one fan notes ‘I lost that self esteem’. One states that growing up, ‘I thought there was something wrong with me and wished to be Caucasian myself’ because that was all she saw on telly.
Except when reviewing MTV’s old cartoon Daria, Jezebel’s Margaret Hartmann recalls growing up with Daria as the only TV character she could truly relate to, a smart female character that was having experiences that she could recognise from her own life. And that the show ‘provided me with the sort of social guidance that allowed me to stay true to myself’, leading to her sticking with her best friend in the face of ‘social suicide’.
This is a list that could go on and on and on. What we see, read, listen to, and generally absorb from the media around us has an impact on how we think. At a young age, that’s even more important. Kids and teenagers come out thinking ‘I can do that’, ‘this is the right thing to do and it can be done’, ‘this stuff is possible‘. Or, in the case of young white boys, come out looking at things in a way they hadn’t before, or even just thinking ‘hey, that character’s badass!’ when looking at a character who isn’t a white male.
But of course, fiction isn’t real so none of it matters.
Except when the blog Crimitism took issue with Warhammer 40,000 retconning a black Space Marine platoon into white people who had been mutated into ‘daemonic’ looking dark skinned mutants, another blog went out of its way to decry Crimitism as talking ‘crackpot conspiracy theory kind of bullshit’. It went out of its way to bring up half-understand pseudo-facts about skin colour mutations and England’s racial demographics to try and prove the blog wrong. And then it ended with saying it’s just a game, ‘don’t take it too seriously’.
Except fans on the Internet have crawled out to complain about a prominent Muslim woman character in Captain Britain and MI:13, or there being too many black characters in Dwayne McDuffie’s JLA run (two of them).
Except Bill Willingham allegedly wanted to ‘gun down those girls’ who asked for a dead superheroine to get a memorial case like a male hero had received.
This is another list that goes on and on and on. Why is all this ‘PC stuff’ such a big deal to you, guys?

Boom! (Kids) Could Be Dynamite

You know what’s great? The kids line from Boom! Studios is great. Since last year they’ve been publishing a fleet of comic books based on various Disney and Disney-affiliated properties, and every book I’ve picked up under this line has been golden. The Muppet Show has somehow managed to take a variety show with puppets and translate it beautifully to the page, with all the heart and all the excruciating puns. The comics featuring the classic Disney characters (like Donald Duck and Friends, Mickey Mouse and Friends, and Uncle Scrooge) have brought translations of popular European tales to America for the first time in an accessible and affordable way. I haven’t read much of the Pixar-based comics like Cars, The Incredibles, and Toy Story, but what I’ve seen has looked great. And one issue in at the time of this writing, Darkwing Duck is already the best comic I’ve read all year.
But there’s one big problem with the Boom! Kids line: there’s not a single female protagonist in the bunch.
Boom is currently publishing 12 ongoing titles for kids, plus a string of four-issue Muppet parodies of famous stories (Muppet Robin Hood, Muppet Snow White, etc.), and a couple of completed Pixar minis (Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo). Of the 13, The Incredibles probably does the best on the female character front, with the kickass and competent Helen (Mrs. Incredible) starring in an upcoming arc (check out this gorgeous cover featuring her and Mirage! I am so getting this), and just generally being a prominent character in the series, as is her daughter Violet.
Beyond that, female characters tend to consist of The Girlfriend (Minnie Mouse, Daisy Duck) or That One Girl in the Cast (Miss Piggy, Jessie from Toy Story). Sometimes The Villain. Or The Daughter.
Never The Star.
This isn’t really surprising, given the franchises Boom is working with, all of which are boys’ clubs. Pixar has already taken heat for this; in 11 movies they haven’t had a single female protagonist, so how can a comic based on a Pixar movie provide one? The Duck and Mouse books are working from the 1950s tradition of Disney comics, where women exist only as girlfriends who will hector you into adventures and then require saving.
And the Muppets basically have Miss Piggy, who is a glorious character, but can’t represent the gender all on her lonesome. It seemed Boom! was balancing the gender ratio slightly when they introduced an adult Skeeter, Scooter’s twin sister from Muppet Babies, but she was written out again a few issues later. Meanwhile, the Muppet minis go through agonized contortions, trying to find enough female characters to make their parodies work, and settling for B-listers like Janice and Camilla the Chicken (or appalling new character ‘Spamela Hamderson,’ who plays Snow White to Piggy’s Evil Queen in the currently-running Muppet Snow White).
It doesn’t have to be this way. Jessie was marketed as if she was the third protagonist in Toy Story 3, when in fact she wound up being a damsel in distress who existed only to engineer conflict for Buzz. Why not rectify that by giving her an arc in the comic?
Or, hey, Minnie Mouse has been around for 82 years. I think she can carry her own comic book by now, especially considering the vast network of friends and relatives she has in the comic book universe. I’m awfully tired of seeing her as Mickey’s wilting flower. And while we’re at it, can we see less of Daisy the vain, selfish nag, and more of Daisy the plucky career woman from the otherwise-awful 90s cartoon Quack Pack? Mickey and Donald have always contained multitudes, to allow them to play whatever role necessary for the story; Minnie and Daisy can too.
But if none of those work, well, it’s not like Disney doesn’t have a wealth of properties designed with little girls in mind. There are the princesses, of course, and the Tinkerbell line; ordinary little girls like Alice and Lilo; live action properties like Wizards of Waverly Place and Hannah Montana. It’s a little past its prime, but Kim Possible would’ve made a wonderful comic book. Disney is not exactly starved for female protagonists, if you catch my drift.
Because here’s the thing: there are exactly as many little girls out there as there are little boys. Statistically, they read more, and they spend more (or their parents do). And they want to see themselves as main characters, too. So it’s not just right to include female protagonists, but it opens up a whole new potential stream of revenue. Sure, not a lot of little girls read comic books now. I bet a lot more would if they started seeing girls on the cover. (And hey, maybe a boy might read a comic about a girl! Just like girls read comics about boys all the damn time.)
I’ll say it again: Boom! Kids is great. I’ve enjoyed every single comic I’ve picked up from them. But I’d enjoy them a whole lot more if I knew Boom! was telling stories about both halves of the population.

Heroines, Assemble!

Welcome to the new GWOG! It will be updated each Monday by a member of the Gworg Board of Directors, on a rotating schedule whose particulars are a closely-guarded secret. I have the honour of the first post of the new regime.

Huntress in "Batman: The Brave and the Bold"

Like lots of fans, I’ve been enjoying the new BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD animated series. It’s campy and fun without being overly knowing or self-referential, accessible to everyone while still being clever. One problem keeps hitting me, though: the lack of female superheroes. If you’ve never seen it, there are two notable features of the show’s set-up. First, the few minutes before the title sequence are usually used for a mini-adventure unrelated to the main episode (although they are sometimes used to set up the episode’s backstory, or to further the overarching plot of the season). Second, and most fundamentally, the theme of the show is team-ups. Batman is never alone, always coming together with at least one fellow hero to beat up baddies. Which makes it quite striking that no female hero has had the full BatB team-up treatment, a one-on-one team-up with Bats in the main episode. Only once has a woman Black Canary been in such a team-up, and that was in a pre-title sequence. Every other super-heroine appearance has been alongside other male supers. So far* only five female superheroes have put in an appearance in their professional capacity, and only three have appeared more than once. Let’s go through them spoilers abound past this point.
Katana in “Batman: The Brave and the Bold”
Katana has made three appearances as one-third of the Outsiders (with Black Lightning and Metamorpho). Katana is, as you’d expect, Japanese, and carries a lot of stereotypes she wears a schoolgirl uniform, her powers are skills with katana and shuriken (she has a magic sword in the comics, but it’s not put in an appearance yet in the cartoon), and in her first episode, ‘Enter the Outsiders!’, she’s silent, speaking only to tell her fellow Outsiders how to perform a sort of super-CPR on an incapacitated Wildcat. Her silence means the other two get more limelight, and she remains quiet during a pre-title sequence with the Outsiders being trained by Batman. This is somewhat made up for by ‘Inside the Outsiders!’, in which Psycho Pirate has trapped the three in nightmares, and Batman has to save them. Each of the Outsiders gets some meaty psychological stuff, but only Katana gets backstory the death of her sensei in her native Japan. She speaks a lot during her dream sequence (in a strong Japanese accent which she didn’t have in her first appearance) and we learn that her silence is in honour of her master, so at least it’s a stereotype they’ve taken the trouble to justify. In the end, most of Katana’s character is defined by her ethnicity, and she can be crowded out by the other Outsiders quite easily, but she’s still good to watch and they do seem intent on doing something interesting with her team.
Huntress in “Batman: The Brave and the Bold”
Which is more, really, than can be said for Huntress, probably this show’s greatest disappointment for me as I’m a big fan of hers. Huntress gets two main-episode appearances, one as part of a big ensemble in ‘Death Race to Oblivion!’ where she’s rather overshadowed by Green Arrow, Guy Gardner and Plastic Man, and one alongside Blue Beetle in ‘Night of the Huntress!’***. Huntress’s whole thing in this episode is ‘sexpot’ her tooling-up sequence mostly consists of her letting her hair down and applying lipstick, and the main thrust of this episode is Jaime’s crush on sexy Helena. She flirts constantly, with lots of double-entendres. The writers just don’t seem to see much of her character beyond her sexiness (she’s also somewhat more violent, although Batman doesn’t seem to be bothered by this).
Black Canary in “Batman: The Brave and the Bold”
Black Canary is another favourite of mine, and the best woman in the series. She’s the only female hero to get a straight team-up in a pre-title beatdown on Solomon Grundy. There are still wrong notes in her portrayal, though her unrequited love for Batman feels a bit forced and uninteresting. In one of her episodes, the musical ‘Mayhem of the Music Meister!’, she’s largely passive, apparently under the Music Meister’s mind-control for most of the episode, and though her Canary Cry saves the day Batman has to goad her into using it. Her best episode is ‘The Golden Age of Justice!’, in which she and Batman are still being treated like sidekicks by an ageing Justice League (of the Flash, Doctor Mid-Nite, Wildcat, Hawkman and Hourman). It’s another ensemble episode, but most of the spotlight is on Canary and she swings the climactic fight. Best of all, nothing is made of her Bat-crush.
Two other heroines have minor appearances Fire cameos in a Plastic Man pre-title adventure, and one of the Metal Men, Platinum, is really a Metal Woman but that’s it for woman as heroes in BatB. And over thirty-four episodes, that’s not great.
Part of the underlying problem is revealed by looking at the treatment of women as wives. In the pre-title sequence to ‘Last Bat on Earth!’, Batman and Mister Miracle escape a death-trap for charity, following which Big Barda hectors Miracle for not cleaning out the garage Batman chuckles and tells him, ‘That’s one trap you can’t get out of’. In ‘Aquaman’s Outrageous Adventure!’, Aquaman’s wife insists that he take her and their son on a vacation rather than fight evildoers. In ‘Long Arm of the Law!’, Plastic Man’s wife Ramona insists on him watching the baby rather than going out and fighting crime. It’s a time-honoured position for the wives of male superheroes, from Mystery Men to The Incredibles a dogmatic insistence that their husband give up that silly crimefighting and concentrate on his family. It’s all part of the general stereotype that men put their time and effort into Big Important Projects, whereas women are concerned above all else with their homes and children.
It’s also a genre problem. BatB is trying to recapture an element of light-hearted, old-fashioned fun. Like a cargo cult, they do it by replicating elements from the original purveyors of that fun. And when you do that without some discretion, you replicate the flaws of what you’re making an homage to. With luck, they’ll learn to take what they need from the past and leave behind the unnecessary baggage.
*Which is not to say that this is BatB’s only problem; it’s just the problem I’m talking about here.
**I’m up to episode 34, ‘Sidekicks Assemble!’ but from the episode list, I don’t think there’s been an uptick in female representation in the episodes I haven’t seen yet. There is apparently a Birds of Prey episode coming up, which should be fun.
***My least favourite episode so far, I think. Not only is it ill-treatment of Huntress, there’s also the awful Mrs. Man-face as a villain.