Monday, March 25, 2013

What's HER Problem?

Saturday we went on a comic book run, partially because I needed more Wonder Woman (older) books to finish a project. In the process of browsing old and new books, I found Alpha Flight Special #1 from July '91, a 4-part series.

Cover art by Jackson "Butch" Guice

In my opinion, this is just an ugly cover. There's too much white, which is a little confusing to the eye. The red uniforms of the Alpha Flight members are badly muddled with black in a way that is supposed to suggest muscles, but it's overdone and they just look fragmented, like someone had run a PS crystallize effect over it. The composition is poor, with no clear delineation between the fore- and backgrounds. And then there's the poses themselves... so many things wrong there, so I'll try to break it down one at a time

Working left to right, starting with Guardian (II), Heather McNeil Hudson:

First of all, why is she sticking her butt out like that? I'm pretty sure I've never been startled or frightened into assuming that position... Her head looks slightly disconnected because of the position of her right shoulder. Or maybe she has a really long neck; either way, it's awkward. It's not clear where her weight is, either. The Guardian suit allows flight, but it looks like she is supposed to be standing in this illustration. Her feet aren't visible, but if you follow the leg lines, her left is probably not on the ground, so she's standing on her right. Her center of gravity is not over that foot, so it looks like she's about to fall over. (And if she's the leader of Alpha Flight, why is she hiding behind her husband?)

Vindicator (James MacDonald Hudson) is standing in a ridiculously wide stance, even for a hero. His left foot is off the ground, so his right (behind the barcode) must be weight-bearing. Except his center of gravity is somewhere over his right thigh. The odd position of his left hand (hard to see in that mess of red and black of his chest) looks like he's about to grab Her's ass. He appears to be standing behind Box, but the left leg is in front of Box's right. A friend also pointed out that the leg looked like an afterthought because of the absence of hard shadows, and I agree.

This is pretty much the exact opposite of the butt/boobs pose. Instead of glutes and pecs pointing at the viewer in some impossibly flexible stance, Her (aka J'Ridia Starduster) is pointing her butt at Guardian and her boobs at Box. Her right foot is twisted inward, causing a bizarre spiral up her leg and into her hip, back and shoulders. The spiral is broken by her neck and head as she looks over her right shoulder. Her left foot appears to be crossed forward in front of the right one, and she's on the balls of her feet. Weight looks like it's on the twisted right leg, which sounds painful. I've seen worse poses, but this one is pretty bad... (Additionally, I recognize that "Her" is what she's called, but the arrow pointing with "What's HER Problem?" sounds like a segue for the frat crowd to the question, "Are you on the rag or what?")

The only one of the four not in some weird pose is Box (II), Roger Bochs. The human-powered robot suit is standing in a ready pose, weight almost evenly distributed, but a bit more on the left. He could be preparing to push off with that foot to attack whatever they're all looking at.

Cover art, whether it's for comic books or novels, is created to sell. Since mostly men are buying comic books, they often depict women in insanely ridiculous poses that are questionably not even anatomically possible. I get that men like women's butts and boobs, I really do! But do they also like broken spines?

I'm about to go on a quickie vacation -- spring break in Ontario, Canada, y'all! -- but when I get back, I'm going to try to replicate those poses and have my husband photograph the attempt.

Looking for more critical commentary about impossible anatomy? Visit Escher Girls (really, a must-read -- snarky and awesome, with excellent commentary and redraws), and The Hawkeye Initiative (which shows how ridiculous those poses really are by showing Hawkeye attempting to do the same thing).

Also, scifi writers Jim Hines (two different blog posts, both are hysterical) and John Scalzi's pose-off is a total riot, and Ocelot's post comparing and replicating poses, show that the problem is not limited to comic book covers. Novels suffer from the same issues. Go see. You'll never look at some of those covers the same way.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Skirt of Awesome

There's not a lot to choose from if you want to make stuff with superheroine-themed fabric. Princesses, sure, but strong and kick-ass women, not so much. (You're spoiled for choice if you like your heroes to be male.) *sigh* HOWEVER, fear not, lovers of Batgirl, Wonder Woman or Supergirl! Camelot Fabrics (based in Quebec, formerly Camelot Cottons) has your back!

There are 10 different designs in the line, I bought 4 of them in sufficient quantity to make a skirt. (I review the pattern here.) This weekend I made it, and a matching beret. 

I also sent feedback to Camelot. 
I have fabric I believe you designed, featuring Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Batgirl. And that's awesome - except it's too girly (in my opinion) and doesn't seem to be available anymore. There's a ton of fabric with superheroes, and there's a lot of geeky women out here who'd love to see MORE superheroines; She-Hulk, Storm, Spider-Woman from Marvel to name a few. You have the licenses from the 2 biggies - what do you say? How about some more heroines? Merci Beaucoup!
And received this awesome reply (I <3 Canadians):
Thank you very much for your feedback.  We are very happy to hear that you like what we have done thus far with our designs, and we are always trying to improve.

I have forwarded your comments to our design team…ya never know what they might come out with next!  Stay tuned!!

Also wanted to make sure you are aware that our “Girl Power” line is still very much available in many quilt shops, online, or in major fabric retailers.   Let us know if you are having trouble locating some.
This was awesome on a couple of levels. First, that the fabric is still available, even if it's hard for me to find. I can get it online, even if I can't find it locally. Second, that they let the designers know that at least one person wants more. I'm hoping to pick up more of this fabric when I'm in Ontario in a couple of weeks. 

I also found some Wonder Woman fleece at Joann's, and made a beret out of it, too (cozy warm!) Actually, I made two; one for the daughter of a friend.

The round rainbow motif was just about perfect for the beret top.
I bought a yard, and from that, was only able to get 2 beret tops that
were not on a cut or on the selvages.
Showing scale. Manufactured by Camelot Cottons (on the selvage).
I bought it at my local Joann's, but I see Hancock Fabrics has it on their website as on sale/discontinued. Get it while you can, even if it IS pink! The Joann's website shows the same fabric on white (which I had not seen or I probably would have gotten that instead). Camelot Fabric's website shows the same design in flannel but no fleece. Anywho, if you're lucky enough to find it, grab it while you can.

Bottom line: when you see something like this, heroines depicted through one license or another, I feel it's important to send a message to the manufacturers and licensors that this is something marketable. If we as consumers buy these products, they will make more (in theory, anyway). Vote with your wallet!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Geeks & Princesses

"Disney Heroes" -- If Disney Princesses were superheroines. Art by kreugan, AKA Melissa Erickson
This week on Big Bang Theory, Bernadette, Amy and Penny played hooky to go to Disneyland. Bernadette convinced the other two to get princess makeovers. Amy was willing right away, but Penny needed a little nudge to go along. Bernadette ferociously informed them they they could not all be Cinderella, and that she was calling dibs on Cindy. Ooookay...

The end of the episode shows Howard getting home and calling out to Bernadette, who's off camera, then muttering "Please be Cinderella, please be Cinderella," while he awaits her appearance. He rips his shirt off and pantomimes riding a horse over to her when she does appear. "M'lady." *roll eyes*

Leonard greets Penny in her apartment, with her made up as Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), and she starts telling him about the day. The camera pans back to him, and he is furiously shedding his clothes, apparently overcome by her princessness. Oooookaaayyy...

Meanwhile, poor Amy (as Snow White) is lying on the couch in Leonard and Sheldon's apartment, trying to convince Sheldon to awaken her with a kiss. He seems to be the only one unmoved by all this Disney nonsense, but being Sheldon, I would expect no less.

So I'm a little confused. The girls are clearly sucked into the whole Disney Princess thing, which is not really surprising in general. But Amy especially, with her knowledge of neurobiology and human behavior, surprised me when she was taken in by it. Bernadette, too, seems level-headed and savvy enough not to be brainwashed. Penny is the sole "girly-girl" of the trio, and so I wasn't surprised when she was willing to be in on it, "I guess it would be fun to be Cinderella..." (Sorry, Penny.) What really surprised me was the guys' reactions. Well, 2/3rds of them, anyway. Howard and Leonard were clearly pleased to play the Prince to Bernadette and Penny's Princess. Have guys also been so brainwashed by Disney that women as princesses are irresistible?

But then I watched Anita Sarkeesian's first installment of her Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games: Damsels in Distress (Part 1), where she discusses the use of a damsel in distress as a common and pervasive theme in video games. Mario must rescue his Princess Peach, Link must rescue Princess Zelda, etc., etc., ad nauseum. So considering that these boys almost certainly grew up on Mario and Link, is it any surprise that, as men, they would still find the princess concept appealing? Granted, merely being dressed up as the princesses gave no indication of distress, a damsel in need of rescuing, but in each of those movies, Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, the princesses were in fact "damsels in distress" who required a male protagonist to rescue them, just like in the video games that came later. As Sarkeesian points out, this plot device is ancient, with examples going back to Greek mythology, so it was definitely not invented by Walt Disney, or even the Brothers Grimm, and certainly not Shigeru Miyamoto. The princesses (or damsels) are acted upon, passive, while the heroes are actors, the ones making things happen.

Hypothesis: It seems that Disney imprints the idea of the damsel in distress on children when they are very small, then video games reinforce the idea in the young men (and women) who play them, recreating the stereotype of the weak female in each generation.

Remedy: Self-rescuing princesses, damsels in distress who are active in their own rescue, heroes who require rescuing by damsels, more leadership roles for women, and/or partnership between genders in both children's movies, video games, and in comic books, mainstream movies and television.

Friday, March 8, 2013

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day (March 8, 2013). As I am in an undeniably cranky mood, I am tempted to point out depressing rape statistics, the lack of female leads in Hollywood blockbusters, the sad state of female representation in comics (both as characters and the women who work in that industry), but I won't. The blogosphere is rife with such articles, and written by people who've ferreted out more statistics than I care to at the moment.

Instead, I give you a supervillainess of my own creation:

I freely admit, I am no illustrator, but this sketch turned out pretty much as I wanted it to. There she stands, plump in her white uniform and comfy shoes, her apron emblazoned with her bakery's logo... holding the cupcake bomb she's about to hurl at someone.

She was created a bit as a joke, for my habit of visiting friends in the Great White North bearing edible gifts. (In fact, creating a new recipe for one friend when he asked for pie and I declined on the basis of transporting pies, unrefrigerated, over a 10-hour car trip, was a Bad Idea. Also, pies are my kryptonite. I suck at them.)

I really wish that I could draw sometimes. Not badly enough to seek a class at a community college, and not enough to try one of those books that purports to teach illustration (yet)... but I have an idea in my head that I find entertaining enough that I'd like to pursue. I suppose I could script it out, and then find an illustrator to partner with me. Or I could practice my drawing until it was better, or keep my idea to a written concept -- but this really begs for a comic book style. And there's lots of indie webcomics out there, why can't I have one?

Women are underrepresented in comics. Their characters are background, secondary, or worse: decorative. The writers, illustrators and editors are overwhelmingly male, too. Publishing an ebook with the option of a print-on-demand copy has become a viable option for many writers, and webcomic artists and writers absolutely have been successful with having their collections printed, too. There's no reason why I, and other women who want to pursue their passions, can't get our stuff out there for people to see. Well... the inability to draw is a pretty good reason... but that's fixable.

So I guess that's my message for today, this International Women's Day: PURSUE YOUR DREAMS, TRAMPLE ANYONE WHO STANDS IN YOUR WAY, AND MAKE IT HAPPEN! OK, maybe you shouldn't trample anyone, assault and battery is never a good idea. But seriously: Go for it! You only get one chance in this life, so why not try? If you fail, at least you tried.