My name is Leigh and I love comic books, so much so that I’ve decided it’s the industry for me. I currently manage a comic book shop. It’s not rocket science, I’m not curing cancer, but between my growing responsibilities, and a colorful cast of customers and coworkers, things certainly aren’t boring.
Recently, I’ve been asked to help out with the monthly order form, which involves sitting in front of a computer screen for a number of hours, and discussing what’s selling, what isn’t, what should be given a chance, and what seems to be dead in the water.
The book of previews for the coming months always has at least preliminary cover art for the books, depicting what we can expect. This past week, while having our order form powwow, it seemed like every few pages my boss would take a look at a cover and say something to the extent of “Wow. That’s unfortunate!”
At which point I, from behind my computer, would demand a look, and sigh, resigned, as, yes, Wonder Woman and Power Girl are standing there, proudly, with their tiny heads, and enormous misshapen breasts.
In a blog entry I wrote elsewhere, I urged that we women shouldn’t let it get under our skin so much. That if we put up a stronger front, and grew a thicker skin, we could look past the gratuitous cheesecake to the stories that were being told.
I have come to realize that there is only so much a girl can take.
My boss suggested that I write a few hundred words on why these kinds of covers are terrible. It didn’t take long to gather my thoughts.
I already know that the major argument for these covers will be: “Sex sells!”
Sure, sex sells. When you’re pitching a hot new prime time teen soap, of course it sells.
But superhero adventure stories? Do they really? Is the cheesecake a necessity of the industry? Art is a huge part of this equation, and covers have to be eye-catching, but do they really have to be “hey, buddy, eyes up here!” eye-catching?
I’m voting no for a number of reasons.
Argument Number One is this: The people in charge should be putting more faith in the stories they’re telling than to feel the need for a cheesecake crutch.
Sure there are some dogs out there in comic book land; books that, while they sell (you’ll find a lot of readers will stick with a title in the hopes that it will get better, and the collectors are completists who don’t want holes in their collections), they aren’t any good. But this happens in every aspect of the entertainment industry. Editors and publishers of crime and mystery novels don’t sit back and say “Man, what a terrible book. Quick, put some boobs on the cover and maybe it’ll sell!”
And I know that there’s something to be said for someone who wants to draw large breasts, and doesn’t want to be artistically limited. I get that. Breasts are great, sure. But here comes Argument Number Two:
They look silly.
They do! They look so silly! And do you know why they look silly? Because very few comic book artists can draw oversized breasts through all that spandex and leather without making them look ridiculous and disproportionate. This is in the same vein as the fact that no one seems to be able to draw any sized penis through a superhero costume without making it look wildly outlandish.
So why emphasize that? Why attempt to make that a selling point of a comic centered on a heroine?
Apparently the comic book industry needs covers like Heroes for Hire #13 from 2007, where the main characters (all women), are chained up, overly large breasts hanging out, pouting lips on their too-tiny heads, being threatened with rape by a dripping tentacle monster.
This brings me to my last point. You knew this one was coming.
Women read these books too. Maybe we’re smaller in number than the men who read them, but we’re here, and there’s more of us every week. Look at the internet fandoms. Look up your favorite comic book characters on deviantart or tumblr. Women are posting about the comics they love. My first internet fandom was comic books and it was a fandom run mostly by women.
We read comics. And the majority of us aren’t interested in the boobtacularness of it all, let alone the implied tentacle rape of supposedly strong female characters (which isn’t the point of this whole excursion, but could very well take it over).
If we follow this train of thought, comics might even sell better among female readers if the lopsided, too-big-for-the-rest-of-the-body breasts are left in the past. More women might buy to read a good story, and look at great art, instead of buying into the stereotype that only drooling, pervy fanboys are into these books. A stereotype that is, in part, of the comic book industry’s own making; month after month, cover after cover.