The Fairer Sex and Their Finer Points

It’s no secret that I loves the ladies, and I’d be willing to say that a lot of you loves the ladies. And if you don’t, I’m not here to judge. Anyway – if you do loves the ladies it is possible that your adoration starts (and maybe stops) with a physical attraction — again, I’m not here to judge.

Many artists through time might tend to agree with this thought as well. Wo
men have been muses and subjects of masterpieces for some of the finest artists out there. But the way we have viewed women has changed drastically throughout history. Without getting into an art history lesson I’ll give a quick example – in today’s society we use the word “Rubenesque” to describe a full figured woman. The word comes from the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens because of the women in his paintings who often had ample padding in the chest, rump and stomach. While these woman are very beautiful, I would argue that many in current (American) society seek a slightly more slender woman. I’m not saying that is right or wrong, it’s just an observation.

Before you start arguing with me and sending me links to BBW websites, I’d like you to turn to the majority of comics. While I agree there are some comics that portray women in a Rubenesque fashion – or even in a “normal” manner, for the most part woman are very trim with large curves in certain areas. Maybe if I quote the character Val from the musical A Chorus Line my point will be a little more clear. In the song, “Dance 10, Looks 3” Val sings –


Left the theater and called the doctor
For my appointment to buy…
Tits and ass
Bought myself a fancy pair
Tightened up the derriere
Did the nose with it
All that goes with it
Tits and ass!
Had the bingo-bongos done.

The song continues on… if you don’t know it I suggest you listen to it at least once, it’s great for some laughs as well as some social commentary. Anyway, T&A is the subject of the day. There are thousands of comic book artists drawing ladies and if one thing is clear – sex sells. That being said I’m going to flip through some books (contemporary) that are on my shelf – and maybe on your shelf as well.

Jim Lee and Hush, Vol. 1 – if you know his work then you know I don’t even need to say anything. Jim Lee puts an incredible amount of detail into his drawings. Enough detail that the muscles on the bodies almost seem real… at least when you are looking at the details. However, when you pull back and take in the entire human form it becomes increasingly clear that those bodies don’t and probably cannot exist in real life. As I flip through Hush, Vol. 1 – the female characters present are Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Huntress and Lois Lane. Either their clothes/outfits are made of a magically supportive material, or their breasts can defy gravity and all laws of physics, really.

I know what you’re thinking – those women are either superheroes or supervillains. Their bodies aren’t supposed to make sense. Okay – let’s have a look at Queen & Country, it’s a little more “real”. I am currently reading these in Definitive Edition format. The books are blessed with many different artists and therefore many different styles. That being said, there is one constant – Tara Chace’s chest. Her job forces her to be in fantastic physical shape, if she weren’t, she would most likely be killed. Her conditioning easily explains her flat stomach and well rounded (though not large) bum. Her conditioning can even help to explain her “perkiness” because it is certainly not those t-shirts and loose sweaters that keep her up. I wonder what happens when she gets older…

How about Darwyn Cooke and his version of Wonder Woman? Amazonian or not, this woman’s body cannot exist. First of all, she is large in stature. In New Frontier she appears to stand nearly as tall as Superman, and her attitude certainly makes up for the missing inches. That being said, we’re not talking attitude… we’re talking curves and hers are worthy of our conversation. She has what might be called “birthing hips” that are combined with breasts have swelled like that of a woman that just gave birth. These entities are then joined by a waist that is approximately 10-12 inches. I’m just not sure how that works. And really, I don’t know how she even manages to keep those things tucked into the little gold cups.

As I continue to look around my office I see that I am inundated with T&A images – the cover of Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas, Sky Doll, even Echo – but I really don’t think it would be fair to write this article without talking about our dear friends at Zenescope.  Zenescope has the reputation of always bringing booth babes to the conventions, and in my experience the booth babes are attractive and busty. (Note: Yes, one can be attractive and not busty or vice versa, or neither or both.) The reason that Zenescope does this is because their books are full of bras and panties… sometimes not even bras… or panties. Last year at a convention I was given a few books by Jenna at Zenescope and I really had no idea what I was in for. There is no nudity… but there is plenty to see. 

But really folks, the books I’m talking about are just the tip of the iceberg(s). And my point here is not to claim that women are being degraded or to speak of these things as great art. I feel like the answers to those are contextual and subjective. I really just felt like this is a conversation that’s worth having. On a daily basis we are bombarded with boobs — and it’s not just in comics. It’s in all forms of media/entertainment. Surely that means something.


  1. I always make fun of Greg Land art because every woman is a 30DD

  2. I too have had this same debate about the portrayal of women in comic books. However, I quickly realized that I don’t know a single man that looks like any superhero, and I’m not sure that some of the muscles portrayed even exist on a human body. So when you look at both perspectives you see that all these characters are the sexiest and peak physical perfection that no male or female actually achieves. (at least thats what I tell myself as I down another TWINKY)

  3. @AndrewAL – I used to have that opinion too but then I looked at the differences in male costumes and female costumes and I changed my mind.

  4. Yeah, it’s kind of hard not to notice the vast majority of males look like adonic bodybuilders and all the females in comics look like supermodels in fetish wear even when there’s no internal logic to it.  It’s kind of a sad fact of comics and superheroes but a fact nonetheless.  I’ve even gotten into arguments about no women could look like the women Mike Turner or Joe Maduriera draw and God forbid I mention Rob Liefeld or Jim Balent.  Even guys I actually like Ed Benes and Jim Lee aren’t immune.  I’d really like to see more realistic looking women. 

    Even with guys, you can kind of deal with it because Batman or Daredevil work really REALLY hard at getting as best into shape as possible or that super dense muscle makes sense on a guy like Spider-Man or Captain America given they can bench motorcycles.  But how does a woman having powers or looking out a lot constitute a giant bust and anorexic waist?  In EVERYone?  It makes no sense and frankly I think it’s one of the things that holds comics from being as respected as other mediums when we’re trying to do serious drama yet all the girls look like Barbies.  I think once we can get pastevery girl looking like a piece of extreme eye candy, we’ll be that much closer to breaking that stigma of comics just being cheap entertainment for adolescent boys.

  5. Gordon, the answer to your dilemma is simple… read more Indy/slice of life stuff.  You’ll see more normal looking people in those books (because more everyday stories are being told).  🙂


    the Tiki 

  6. Excellent article dude! Keep ‘em coming.

  7. Really great article, Gordo! I do think the argument works for both genders (apart from Nite Owl when was the last time you saw a male hero drawn with a few extra pounds, that wasn’t done as a joke?), but nowhere near as much as for female characters.

    The Tiki has a point, the only times I’ve seen women drawn realistically is in indie books. Terry Moore balances it nicely, in that he’ll draw obviously attractive ‘comic book’ bodies, but he’s not afraid to give Francine a more natural body (which, personally, made me find her more appealing). Alex Robinson is really good at that too, but this debate was about why female superhero characters are depicted in such a sexed-up way.

    Thing is, it doesn’t just apply to comics. It’s evident in every form of entertainment media. Pick your favourite TV show… I’m willing to bet the lead female character is incredibly sexy and prone to occasionally wearing skimpy outfits. And chances are that actress will be contracted to do a photoshoot for a lads mag to promote that show. It’s just so much a part of our entertainment culture.

    I guess sex sells, which is what Gordo said to start with… Great, I just talked myself in a circle! 

  8. Without wanting to get too off track, I think one show that subverts this is The Office (at least, the American version, which I’ve watched more of recently and remember better).  Most of the women on that show aren’t especially attractive (although it did become a plot point with Jan).  At the same time, The Office does it in another way – it skips the "boring" moments.

     Thankfully we don’t get hour long shows of people standing around waiting for software to install, or waiting in traffic on their way to work.  Although part of the humour of the show is about the boredom of being in an office, they do a good job of just showing the fun parts.  Which is the same with almost any tv show (or comic book) I can think of. 

     Anyways, that whole digression was just to make the point that this is a symptom of a larger trend (problem?).  Almost all our media presents our lives back to us with the less pleasant parts extracted – whether it’s boring moments (or days or weeks), OR whether it’s physical imperfections (or as some people have pointed out, physical limitations).  I don’t know that I’d like to watch a purposefully boring show, but I think that – on some level – even comic books (or TV shows or movies) that portrayed "realistic" men and women would still be deluding us. 

  9. I’m now trying to think of artists who do a reasonably realistic job with the female form while still making pretty comic book art — John Cassaday  on ‘Astonishing X-men’ comes to mind; Emma’s costume is ridiculous, but it’s supposed to be, and anyway — she looks like a grownup.  (Some artists make every woman look like a nineteen-year-old stripper whether she’s supposed to be 35 or 11).    Kitty spends most of the comic fully clothed, and on the few times she isn’t, it’s notable because those are supposed to be sexy moments.  As opposed to the standard "girl stands in the background turning some switches on the console with her boobs and ass sticking out and her thong showing". 

    Anyway, interesting article and comments.  So when can the ladies of ifanboy expect a companion piece on Nightwing’s ass?

  10. So you’re trying to say comic book women in general don’t look like real women? You’re just not hanging out in the right places;)

  11. I’d go as far as calling it degrading and objectifying to women.  My wife certainly thinks so.  But, welcome to pop culture America.  Without excusing it, this is also the reason 3/4 of the women in movies have had ‘work done’.  That is what we want to see–Andelina Jolie can have a kid, but then she needs to go and have matronly rippled skin tightened and tucked, and any excess fat sucked out.

    Just as we expect women in Hollywood to defy gravity and health in dimensions and weight, a fantasy medium like comics does the same, except more in the extreme because you can do things on the page real people can’t do.  I don’t support it, but I doubt we will ever see it changed.  I mostly feel sorry for any women or young girls reading comics or manga that feel that they need to look like that.

  12. I think super-hero comics all have beautiful people running through them but the poses and costumes are totally different depending on the character’s sex.  A jacked guy will have a "in charge" pose though still basically naked with coloring over himself while the ladies will be in more suggestive poses with basically a teddy painted on over huge huge boobs.  Or fishnets, gotta love the fishnets, and heels.  It’s uneven for sure.



  13. Instead of trying to change the way the media portrays women, which is a futile task, it is better to educate our young women on how to process these images in a healthy way.  The images themselves are not harmful; the harm is in how people take these images and apply them to their own self-worth.

  14. @ultimatehoratio   I don’t know, if the impression is that this is in here as ‘fan service,’ I don’t know that it’s futile to let publishers know it’s not what all fans want. 

  15. I kind of agree with what ultimatehoratio is saying. This is a problem that goes deeper and runs throughout our society in general. From a very early age, our girls and young women are bombarded with these ‘supermodel’ images which are supposed to represent the ideal or at least the ‘desired’ woman. In my pediatric office I see 8-9 year-old girls now dressing like 16-18 year-olds and i blame the parents for a lot of this: by supporting this either by not paying attention or frankly allowing it to continue. 

    Lets not forget the fantasy and escapism here. Comics are a form of escapism, and frankly, i don’t always want to see ‘real-life.’ Don’t get me wrong, i enjoy the slice of life indy books, but i don’t always want to read that. i get too much real-life at home. Not to be hypocritical, but i enjoy the Zenescope books and the cheesecake look at times.  I read Superman (and comics in general) for a reason(s): entertainment, good story, good art, and escapsim. Everyone’s definition of these reasons is different, and thank goodness!

    As to letting publishers know (what ohcaroline is speaking about): you vote with your wallet. If you want more ‘realistic’ depictions: support those books if that is what you like. There is a reason there are upteen books about Lady Death and Tarot Witch of the Black Rose, because sex sells baby, and how! I am not saying it’s right or wrong, but it’s been going on in comics since the beginning and there is no let up in sight!

    Great article, as always, gordon! Now can someone lend me a copy of the Fathom SwimSuit Special….?

    btw: checkout the hardcover book: DC CoverGirls…very interesting…. 

  16. @ conor – care to elaborate?

  17. @target  "Vote with your wallet" isn’t always a practical approach, when a big part of the problem is that the exploitative/gratuitous stuff is often scattered in random and unpredictable ways.  It’s not limited to a few titles or artists.  It’s so much the baseline/default of how things are done in mainstream comics that it creeps into places you’d never expect.  

    So, yeah, not supporting artists or titles that consistently do this kind of thing is a step.  But so is including this kind of issue in fannish conversation — among men and women, and honestly one of the things I appreciate about  ifanboy is that it’s one of the few places that I’ve seen male reviewers/commenters mention this as a problem.  Too often, it seems like something feminist bloggers talk about among themselves in a kind of echo chamber where no one else is listening.

    For the record, I’ve got nothing against sexy art; pretty pictures of pretty boys and girls are a big part of the comics reading experience (or, at least, a nice side-benefit).  But when it doesn’t serve the story — when, as often as not, it’s a distraction from the story — and when male and female readers alike are mentioning it as a problem, it’s worth talking about before dismissing the effort as futile.  This isn’t just something I’m thinking about because I’d like to be able to give comics to my niece when she gets old enough, and not have to apologize to her parents; it’s something I’m thinking about because I want to read good comics and see characters I like treated respectfully.

  18. I’d like to echo target242‘s sentiment; comic books are a form of escapism. Sure, women’s breasts might defy gravity and certain laws of physics in comics, but so do most other things as well. I think you have to be careful when you start toning down comics, becuse eventually, they won’t be comics any more. There is a reason they are called "Super-heroes" and "Super-villians". Comics are a reprieve from the drag of every day life.

    Of course, if you think certain comic titles are simply objectifying women and take offense to it, simply don’t buy the book. 

  19. @nickmaynard – Elaborate on the differences between the differences in male and female costumes?  Well, they both may have exaggerated bodies, but men tend to be covered from head to toe, whereas most females have as much flesh exposed as possible.

  20. Hasn’t some of this been addressed in certain comics themselves? Something about the female heroes dressing provactively to distract male villains and help keep anyone from looking them in the face and preserving their secret ID’s beyond wearing those silly masks?

    Hardly a serious justification, but hey, it’s better’n nothin’. 🙂 Me, I’ll read Zenescope comics while looking at Rubens paintings *and* surfing BBW porn. I’m a class act that way.


  21. One cry that I have seen is that this problem is due to comics, by and large, being a male-driven (created by and for men) medium. However, we are seeing more and more female creators and specifically, artists. That said, Amanda Connor, Nichola Scott, and others still tend to portray women in the similiar over-exaggerated, over-the-top, perhaps albeit a bit toned-down, style. Is that because they are catering to us men?  Do they continue the practice because "it’s always been that way?" Olivia, for example, probably draws some of the most sexiest and perhaps sexist women around. 

    Once again I’m not saying this is right or wrong…it just makes you think! Curse you, iFanboy, for making us think! 

  22. @target242 – We can’t make you do anything.  If we could – you’d be sending me half your annual salary and cleaning my garage…

  23. People like sexy. It is a truth we see everywhere in our culture and I think it is true for 90% of people both men and women. Like in anything the people you hear from are those with concerns, those who are not concerned don’t feel the need to say anything, so what we hear tends to be the negative. I would guess that the majority of comic fans are perfectly happy with the costumes and the sexiness and as others have said, there are books out that that are more slice of life and down to earth for those that want them.


    For me personally, comics are fantasy. It is about larger than life characters fighting for the highest ideals against impossible odds. To me if Dick Grayson was fighting crime in jeans and a hockey jerzee, while keeping his beer belly from interfering with the acrobatics or Black Canary was wearing a smart pants suit, it would all seem a little less fantastic and a little more like what is outside my office door.


    I think the hot bodies, crazy costumes and sexy art are part of what is unique to comics and the Super Hero genre and it would all seem somehow less with out them. That might just be me though.