Monday, February 13, 2012

On the idea of 'sex sells'

Cross posted from here, the following is an comment on the idea of 'sex sells' in relation to comic book art, particularly women of the escher variety.  ----->>>>

Beast of the Sea, I don’t know who you are, since you only contribute Anonymously, but I love you more than words can ever express.
In response to that anon, let me expand on the last point:
“P.s. the x ladies are looking mighty hot lately, hope Land doesn’t read your blog and tone down the ladies”
Tone down the “lady”, you mean, since all of Greg Land’s women look nearly the same. In fact, in a tutorial, he advises the potential artist to “Draw the kinds of features readers expect to see on this sort of character, including full lips, a petite nose, and eyes that have a nice darkness around them to draw the reader’s gaze to the pupils.” and “Since this is a glamour sketch, go for the aesthetic of the “ideal” female form. Draw longer, thinner limbs.” In short, he has an ideal in his head, and he draws women to strictly match that ideal.
Now, what’s the problem with this, you ask? After all, male superheroes are all drawn to match a ideal male form, too.
Well, because that ideal male form has variance. There’s the short and hairy Wolverine, the slimmer (sometimes) Cyclops, the bulky Colossus, etc. Robins have leaner builds than the Batman himself. Reed Richards is usually long and thin (as one might expect from Mr. Fantastic). Even with the mandatory Greek-god physique, there are different versions of that physique. And the faces! Even though there is a default square-jawed, glowering-brow facial structure, heroes do vary from that - Spiderman is usually one such, right? - and even within that structure, if Superman and Batman are in the same comic together, the artists usually make an effort to distinguish one black-haired Caucasian male from the other.
Greg Land’s women, on the other hand, all have “longer, thinner limbs”, big bosoms, wide shoulders, thin hips, full lips, petite noses, and heavy eyeliner. And they have a tendency to get caught with their mouths wide open in a certain manner, though I’ll omit the usual speculation as to why.
I’ll even concede that it may not be due to tracing similar-looking models, because his tutorial showed him transforming a model who did not look like his usual lady into one who did. He does it by choice, not by incompetence.
Riiight, you ask, so what’s the problem with this? It’s a hot lady, even if it IS the same lady modulo different skin-tones, hair-colors, and costumes, it appeals to you, it’s pretty art, so what’s the problem? Sex sells!
On the solely “sex sells” front, I have to ask why more male characters aren’t drawn to appeal to women or gay men, since they’ve got money too. Now, I like muscular fellows, so some comic art looks rather good to me… but I’ve noticed that How To Draw [American] Comics books tend to have one tutorial minimum on how to make women look “sexy and alluring” (sometimes an entire section), whereas the tutorials for men are more along the lines of ‘how to make the hero look powerful’, with notes along the lines of ‘A thin waist makes a character look sleek, whereas a thick waist just makes him look brutish’. That’s very nice, but where are the tutorials on making men sexy and alluring, again? If sex sells, shouldn’t we be aiming to sell sex to the widest market possible?
Again solely from a “sex sells” perspective, not all men will like the same body type and facial features that Greg Land apparently prefers! Some men like wide hips - the famed “hourglass figure” is not a “funnel figure”. Some men like women bigger, some men like women slimmer (Difficult, you say? Shrink the shoulders to match the hips), some men like women shorter, some men like women taller… and Greg Land draws each and every one with about the same height and build. In this sense, he’s actually shrinking the “sex sells” market by excluding every fellow whose tastes markedly differ from his. (And yes, it is possible to have athletic women who do not all look like Greg Land’s woman. They may all have the same muscles, but if you slap them down on top of different skeletons, they will not look the same up to a change of costume, wig, and skin-tone! I mean, is every superheroine Greg Land draws secretly played by the X-Universe’s Lady Gaga?)
Oh, and by the way, Greg Land has been criticized for making even middle-aged mayors and scientists look the same as all the superheroines, so the idealized-female-form argument wouldn’t apply to all his stuff even if I conceded utterly to it. But I think I’ve spent enough time on the “sex sells” argument as it’s currently used.
As for other problems with his single woman - that single woman has facial features typically associated with Caucasian supermodels. This may make sense when on a Caucasian woman, but not all the women he’s supposed to be drawing are Caucasian. I’m trying to phrase this delicately, and I think it works to say that this choice declares “mighty hotness” to be the exclusive province of women with Caucasian features… and not just Caucasian features, but a specific subtype of Caucasian features. Not only is this ludicrously racist (though I do not claim this to be Greg Land’s intent - I am sure he is a quite friendly and unprejudiced guy in person), but I am sure that many, many men (and women!) would disagree that only a specific subtype of Caucasian features grant a woman “mighty hotness” - Sorry, I said I would drop the “sex sells” argument, didn’t I? Well, it’s the supposed magic bullet against any objections to sexualization and stereotyping of women in comics, so I figure it’s high time for it to be used to return fire.
Back on the “men are idealized too” front - teenage boys and young adult males look markedly different from older men in comics. The Robins are not drawn as miniature Bruce Waynes, never have been, and never will be. Even the Dread Rob Liefeld did NOT draw all male characters with the same build and facial structure - he has two male body types (muscular and torso-wide-as-it-is-tall), but he has two different male body types. And since Rob Liefeld is all but regarded as the Comics Antichrist, I think that drives home that male characters really are given multiple body types. One could probably argue that he has two different female body types, too - close-to-normal and severe-scoliosis-sufferer - but that’s a subject for different blogs.
Greg Land, on the other hand, draws teenage girls, young adult females, and adult women as having no appreciable difference whatsoever. There is no change in facial structure or body shape to tell the two apart - 14-year-old Hope looks nearly-identical to Jean Grey in her 20’s or 30’s. All of his females after the age of menarche have the same body. And you cannot say that about his males.
Yes, his males have issues with exploding biceps, but that’s a different matter…
TL;DR - Greg Land’s art has problems with the ladies, and it goes beyond bad anatomy, tracing, and the possibility of needing to be “toned down”. Even if you look only with an eye to “mighty hotness”… there’s a problem.
[Final disclaimer - no, I am not calling Greg Land racist or sexist, I am not calling the anon racist or sexist, I am not calling your houseplant racist or sexist, I am not calling anyone racist or sexist. I am criticizing Greg Land here solely for his artistic choices, which have certain unpleasant side effects. I am sure any unpleasant side effects are wholly unintentional. Sorry, a recent binge on reading the comment-sections of Wundergeek’s excellent blog has made me paranoid.]
By way of an apology to the mod for clogging up her Tumblr, here’s a truly spectacular example of the big-shoulders small-hips thing I was talking about [Again, that Photobucket account is not mine - I don’t even have a Photobucket account], and an amusing collage of Greg Land’s women by a guy here on Tumblr. (Please note the tags.) I just wanted to go into detail on the ‘Well, at least he draws hot women!’ argument, since it’s apparently one of his big selling points.

1 comment:

SallyP said...

heh. I read this, and snickered. Poor Land. He actually used to be able to draw by himself, but now he seems permanently bonded to that darned light box.

He's not the only artist who only seems to have a single female ideal...but damn...his style does seem to make it more apparent.

That and the fact that no matter what their age, his women and girls are all identical.