We here at Panels are taking some much needed time off; in the meantime, we’re revisiting some favorite old posts from the last 6 months! We’ll see you back on January 11 with all new posts for your enjoyment.
This post originally ran on November 17, 2015.
You might find this article humerus but more likely it’ll be the butt of jokes. I don’t think it’s a waist of time though, I want to get ahead of the curve even though it might be hairy, I quite can’t put my finger on why. These puns may be on their last leg but we’ve got body representation to talk about so let’s see what we can do before people fight tooth and nail!
Comics are a world of fantasy that to a greater or lesser extent reflects and visualises our reality. Yes you can have Groot, a talking if vocab-limited (to us) tree but for the most part comics are about humans and their emotions and interactions, and the characters shown in comics are representations of people like ourselves.
Well, kind of. If you’re an ethnicity other than white you will struggle to find representation; even if you’re a white woman you can still struggle to find anything but stereotypes written by white guys. If you’re LGBTQA then basically you have the opposite of Longshot’s luck and you’re hardly going to find a thing (you should be reading Midnighter).
I recently had a day where I binge read a lot of comics in one go, I’d been on vacation and had a few health issues before that so I was behind on my comic reading. What struck me as I got back into comics was the limited range of body shape representation, especially when it comes to women. This seemed to happen most in Marvel’s comics, just take a look at characters from Marvel’s X-Men #1 below:
The women shown here are thin, elongated, and drawn in an almost fetishistic way, including the low cut pants that apparently seem de rigueur in all the best mutant circles this year. Regular readers of comics are used to strange distorted way that bodies are shown in comics but for people looking in, it can seem creepy, overtly sexual, and very infantile.
Comics are a fantasy but different body shapes need to be shown or we’re not providing representation to the majority of readers. The average clothing size for the USA and the UK is 14; this is way above the 0 and 00 we see in comics. Jem & the Holograms is a great example of a comic that has adorable main characters of different sizes and shapes.
When The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl launched with art from Erica Henderson, there was a lot of criticism about Doreen’s body shape—from boys and men. I personally saw no criticism from women at all. Erica wrote that she wanted Squirrel Girl to be physically large enough so that it was plausible that she could fight the overtly muscular male super-characters; which makes sense to me.
An article over at Bulimia.com does a great job at illustrating what our favorite characters could look like given more realistic proportions. Though I personally think Batman would be fitter though as he’d be dead pretty fast if he wasn’t, fitness is a necessity when you have no superpowers. The other character are spot on, to see them all head across to the article:
The good news is we have some small steps towards showing different body types in comics, look towards Valiant’s new four issue mini series called Faith that comes out in January 2016.