Wonder Woman by George Perez. Copyright by DC Comics.
Social media platforms have provided many benefits for many types of people. It allows businesses and artists of many mediums to promote their work, to interact with others and overall get their messages out to a much wider audience. But there is also a huge drawback, which is that, being social media platforms are a digital medium, people can say whatever they want and not face any consequences, regardless of how damaging or illogical their statements may be.
In that regard, the world of comic books is not exempt from this, with a lot of people often dropping very controversial and inflammatory statements that don’t really hold up once you start analyzing them. I normally don’t pay attention to people giving out their opinions on social media platforms, but this week there was a very notorious push by certain individuals about a narrative that men shouldn’t be allowed to draw women because they objectify them and are, by and large, sexist.
Obviously, there is a lot to unpack in this topic and it covers a lot of different elements, but there is a big truth above all else: people are allowed to draw whatever the hell they want and that’s a good thing.
Art without freedom is the death of beauty and heartfelt expression, which is the basis of every single art form out there.
Donna Troy by Brett Booth. Copyright by DC Comics.
The traditional concepts of beauty and sex appeal have been criticized very harshly in recent times, often claiming that they lead to high levels of insecurity among young girls (and sometimes, boys) because they are setting standards that just can’t be reached. This is one of the most common statements that people use to tear down male artists drawing women, claiming that the latter are being used as mere props for boys to fawn over.
There are several mistakes with this logic and I will dissect it bit by bit.
First and foremost, every single artist has his or her own drawing style that may or may not have a realistic element to it, which is something worth taking into account. If you look at Alex Ross’ ultra-realistic style, Jack Kirby’s unique blend of detail, Rob Liefeld’s exaggerated anatomy or even the simplified style that we often see in Tumblr drawings and some animated shows like Steven Universe, they all have a distinctive style which is connected to the creator rather to a so-called “beauty standard”.
Harley Quinn by Jim Lee. Copyright by DC Comics.
Of course, one can look at that Harley Quinn page drew by Jim Lee and claim that he is trying to be as realistic as he can possibly be (which is true) and say that her looking that way is setting a standard that normal women can’t strive for. But here is the thing: that’s a fundamentally erroneous mentality.
Little girls by and large are not going to look at a Wonder Woman comic and feel insecure; they are very likely to feel amazed by her abilities, her loving nature, her confidence and, let’s face it, her gorgeous looks. I personally have met women that have decided to work on their physical condition because of how inspired they felt by Diana Prince. So, why look at a piece of comic book art drawn by a man as a problem, when it can be a medium to inspire us all to be better on every single aspect of our lives, which is the main goal of superheroes?
Mary Jane Watson-Parker by Todd McFarlane. Copyright by Marvel Comics.
There is also the matter of these “impossible beauty standards” actually being possible. We have seen it in superhero films with a lots of male charaters. Guys like Henry Cavill, Chris Hemsworth and Jason Momoa, to name a few, have proven that it's possible for men to look like superheroes, with just dedication and discipline. It is the exact same situation with women, with the likes of Scarlett Johansson or Gal Gadot being an example for the opposite gender.
It’s basically setting yourself as a victim that doesn’t believe in his or her own capacities to be better and to go beyond your current status quo. And that is something I don’t truly believe in.
So, if, as a woman, you’re not happy about the way you look, why not do something about it and put in the necessary effort? And if you don’t want to because you’re comfortable looking the way you do, why try to tear down a mans creative output?
Jessica Priest by J. Scott Campbell. Copyright by Todd McFarlane Productions and Image Comics.
There is also an element of logic. Comic books are mostly dominated by superhero stories, so action is a very dominant theme and it’s very complicated for a character like, say, Catwoman, to move the way she does if she is not in peak physical condition. This is not something exclusive with women, obviously: nine out of ten male superheroes are in great shape, in some cases even being drawn by women such as when Adriana Melo drew Kyle Rayner during the Sinestro Corps War event, to name an example.
The reality is that superheroes are designed to be paragons of virtue and reflect the best qualities of human nature, so this shouldn't be a surprise when this is also shown in the physical department. They exist to show us that we can be better in every single aspect of our lives and that we can strive to be more than we already are.
Beauty, like every other element of life, is meritocratic. In fact, the easiest part of ourselves that we can shape is our body, but you have to be willing to put the dedication and the effort that is required to achieve those goals. So what is the problem with showing beautiful women in a comic book or any other media that can serve as an example of what you can be?
Rogue by Jim Lee. Copyright by Marvel Comics.
There is also the element of artistic freedom: being a preference to draw women (which is something that someone like J. Scott Campbell has made a career of), men, robots, animals, planets or what have you, artists, male and female, are free to draw what they desire and to express it however they see fit. Without that freedom, the world of art would be a much duller and boring place, with a ton of restrictions and consensus that would never push any artist to improve because they would not be able to draw what they really want and if there is no desire to create, there would be no desire to improve.
Let’s take a look at George Perez’s drawing of Wonder Woman at the beginning of the article or at Jim Lee’s Rogue: there is a certain joyous, beautiful aura that stretches beyond the looks of both women. There is a sense of optimism, happiness and even kindness that only some of the best artists can transmit with their work. And in this case, two male artists.
In fact, how many iconic female characters were created and designed by men? How many women in comics have been created and developed by men, and inspired and impressed little girls in various media? It’s actually a disservice to decades of creation to be put down or undermined just because it hurt the sensibilities of a selected few on Twitter.
She-Hulk by John Byrne. Copyright by Marvel.
Overall, we, as human beings, are attracted to beauty and to things that make us feel good, which is something that also transmits to the pages of a comic book. Drawing a beautiful woman or a sexy man is no different than writing a great melody on a piano or hitting the right notes while singing a song: it's excellence, it’s reaching a certain level of quality and it sets an example to others about what they can achieve.
And every artist has his or her own perceptions of the world they are working on. Stephen King once said in his book about the writing process, On Writing, that every story he's written has a certain logic that perhaps is not the same as in our world and that applies to artists as well. If J. Scott Campbell draws beautiful women, that is his own personal perception as an artist and what feels more logical to him in the comics that he has worked in, to make an example. And you may like his work, you may hate it or being indifference to it, but it’s what makes him tick.
There are many artists and writers in the comic book industry I don’t agree with and whose styles don’t appeal to me at all. There are some that I think are actually really bad. But I will never say they shouldn’t be allowed to do this or that because it goes against an artist’s freedom of doing whatever they want. Putting down artists and creators in general just because certain artwork or a story of theirs hurt your own personal sensibilities is a profoundly selfish behavior.
Male artists should carry on doing what they are doing: to create beautiful artwork that would transcend through time and influence young people to strive for the same ideals and maintain a certain level of ambition, whether it’s drawing men, women, robots or dragons from another dimension.
But I will let the lovely Donna Troy end the article in her own unique manner:
Donna Troy by Darryl Banks. Copyright by DC Comics.