Letters to Holly

Wednesday, May 23

Anticipation of Exhaustion

The teachers had a small gang dinner yesterday, and I joined in with the missus. We finally tried the local Japanese steakhouse, and it's surprisingly good. At first blush, it's a typical Southern diner, but instead of slaw and taters, you get teriyaki steak and shrimp sauce. SHRIMP SAUCE. I haven't had this for years. The school art teacher asked me to talk to some of his cartoon-minded students next week, and I'm up for it. I've got tons of stuff to show them from my paper days, and I've got a handful of local minicomics too. My own may be finished and done; I made the most recent art adjustments last night after we watched the penultimate episode of "Six Feet Under." Tonight is the season finale of "Lost," too. We'll wrap up two series within three days of each other after which we'll melt into brain-drained puddles. I anticipate a good cry from at least one show. If not, I'll demand a refund.

I have a short work day today as I got to the oral surgeon. I don't know what to expect. I've put this off for so long that I may have an emotional breakdown when I leave the office. And if I'm missing the offending teeth, I may not be able to seek solace in ice cream. And I really ought to run again, but I don't see that happening while I'm whacked out on generic Loratab.

So, to recap: Comic done, "Six Feet Under" wrapping up, "Lost" takes its Act 3 bow, I fix my teeth. I need a beer.

In the Geek News
Every once in a while, the online geek forum eats itself in heated, breathless blather. This time it made national news, and when I say "national news," I mean "24-hour news networks that need filler." Here's what happened.

Comic illustrator Adam Hughes is renowned for his cheesecake art. This top-rated cover artist draws women that are statuesque, and it made sense to make statues out of them. The comic-fan market has branched out into everything you can imagine: posters, shirts, action figures, dolls, and the statue and mini-statue branch which has particularly taken off in the last ten years. Comic artists will often design a statue, and a sculptor takes over from there. Sometimes the sculptor will create a piece based solely on the style of a famous artist-character combination (a Jack Kirby Fantastic Four, a Frank Miller Batman, etc.) So Hughes drew Mary Jane discovering Peter's costume in the laundry. It looked like this:

This is quintessential Hughes. The style is called "good girl;" it's flirty without being salacious. The statue, however, mangled the statue.

It's loyal to the design, but it loses the flavor. This isn't the scandal, though. No, a number of hand-wringers emerged to complain that it looked like a harlot MJ was doing Peter's laundry, and this was demeaning. Instead of a laundry basket, they see a tub. And they see MJ presenting her ass for what's being smirkingly called "sexual availability." Fox News and MSNBC, for example, picked up on the story. Spidey 3 is a huge film, seen by a varied audience, but because the stigma exists that comics are only for kids, they ignored the angry feminist argument and argued that this is too sexy for the alleged child consumers. Now this statue is $120. A kid can't afford it. You can't find this in toy stores. You either buy it from the company's website or through a comic store. This is priced for the older collector. It's not marketed or produced or priced for kids.

But the online outrage continues. And now the discussion has jumped to the overall perceived dismissal of female consumers in the traditionally superhero comic market. Now obviously the comic market has shifted its focus to the older consumer. Simply put, they have more money to spend than an eight-year-old. Many comic covers are cheesecake pin-ups, and a number are similar to what you'd find inside Maxim. Kids are no longer the major demographic of comics, and the companies are using cheesecake and softcore to catch the eye of the older consumer in a very crowded market. It does go too far. But I don't agree that this kind of presentation automatically insults all women, either as the subjects of the art or the consumers. It goes back to the Frank Miller fiasco of a few months back: Your Sis likes his comics; therefore she's either imaginary or stupid. If she was bothered by this stuff, she'd stay away from comics. She doesn't like going into comic stores, but that's because the clientèle bothers her, not the products.

Into the heat of this debate fell this cover for an upcoming Marvel comic:

Many people went apeshit. Bondage is nothing new in comics (Wonder Woman used to be made powerless if you shackled her wrists, and then there's her magic lasso compelling the truth from the bound). But this image implies a niche of Japanese comics called "tentacle hentai," wherein women are molested by the monstrous. This did nothing to calm down the rhetoric. Neither did the revelation that the cover artist is a Japanese woman. I don't like the art myself. It's muddy and plastic.

But it's utterly in line with decades of horror comic imagery. Does that fact in itself confirm that comics are demeaning toward women? No. Comics are entrenched in their pulp origins and contain those elements, one of which is lurid situations. There's also violence and dark emotions. Now, you don't expect it in Superman or Spider-Man. But a comic featuring leather-clad women with 1970s blackspolitation and kung-fu fashion and attitude? Yeah, it's gonna be trashy. It's supposed to be. And it will be found in the same comic shop as X-Men (which has a history of occasional trashiness, to be honest) and Spider-Man (who used to date a leather-clad Catwoman ripoff with a neckline down to her navel). This is the diversity of the market, and I'd rather have that supply-and-demand dynamic in action then a dull-eyed homogeneity. The first rule of the free market is that you only buy what you want. And the golden rule corollary is that the guy next to you can buy what he wants, and the two of you leave each other alone to mind your own budgets and morals.

But that's not as much fun to say as "omigod, comics hate women." I'm curious to see if this lingers during the comic convention. Hughes will be there, and his prints of various women in various "good girl" images will sell like gold-plated hotcakes. Your Sis, by the way, likes his art. But she hates spin-off sidekick women like Supergirl and Batgirl on principal. BatMAN but BatGIRL? This she finds demeaning.

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