Sexy is good, right? Sexy sells, right?

May 14th, 2009 by | Tags: , , ,

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about how women are portrayed on the covers of various comic books.  I’m relieved to hear it because my frustration level, every week when I see the solicits, has been rising.  At least I know I’m not alone.  I’ve planned a longer post on this issue later on, but for now, I’ll keep it short.

I’ve seen many positive responses to the covers.  ‘Being sexy is good, not bad,’ and ”this is what sells’ seem to be the most popular.  Maybe they’re true.  But at the same time, they’re the ones that bother me the most.

Here are a few of the covers:






That’s what it takes, apparently, to sell a book about female superheroes.  Or female supervillains.  Or, in many cases, female anything.

That’s what it takes to sell female recording artists.  And female actors.  Hell, that’s even what it takes to sell a lot of female politicians.

 After I’ve seen enough of photos, covers, posters, and promotional materials like these, lines about how ‘being tough AND sexy’ is admirable and how ‘beauty and sexiness are assets’ fall flat.  Beauty isn’t an asset.  Beauty is a requirement.

Because, I guess, if she’s not sexy, why bother dealing with her?  There’s no reason to listen to the words coming out of an unattractive woman’s mouth.  There’s no reason to be interested in the adventures of a woman unless the word ‘erotic’ is slipped in there, however subtly.  There’s no reason to draw a regular woman if you can draw a sexy one.

I can’t point fingers, because there’s really no where to point.  I  can’t fault comics companies for trying to make a profit, or artists for trying to boost their favorite female character by making her sexy.  I can’t blame consumers, because there’s no reason why someone shouldn’t buy what they want and not buy what they don’t want.

At the same time, I can’t let go of the frustration and anger I feel seeing cover after cover like this.  The more I see of covers like these, not to mention recent stories and interior art, the more I’m reminded that a female character is only worth the boner a reader gets while reading about her.

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32 comments to “Sexy is good, right? Sexy sells, right?”

  1. Amanda Waller is one of the few unattractive non-grandma/mom characters I can think of that is actually a good character. It’s like you’ve said, sex sells. Of course, it could also be because it’s easier for an artist to draw a hottie than is is to draw a hammy.

  2. See, this is why I liked the Layla Miller character before she came back from the Summers Rebellion. She made you like her by being interesting and funny rather than having a body like Power Girl. Although if a 10 year old girl had a body like Power Girl, I’d be creeped out. She Hulk’s a decent example too, although I she doesn’t sell amazingly well she is charcter that peoiple like. Of course, Peter David writes both charcters and I’m a bit of a homer for his work, but that’s because it’s really good. Eeven Siryn and Monet, chracters that are supposed to be sexy (especially Monet, where it actually leads to characterization), are protrayed strongly. In fact, Monet saves X-Factor’s ass half the time. This is the second post I’ve made about X-Factor in the last month, can you tell that I want people to read it?

  3. The first cover struck me as pretty nice, actually. It seemed to suit the characters. They’re all sultry, seductive supervillains (more or less), very much of the femme fatale persuasion. The art is attractive, and brings to mind a noir aesthetic.
    The second cover struck me as rather formulaic. Nothing really interesting about the background or layout. The women seem stuck in unnatural poses, and oddly proportioned, favor clearly being given to the bosomological area. So, yeah, it’s pandering and a little worthless. Still, they are all beautiful female superheroes, and I can forgive a bit of gratuitous sensationalism in the first issues of a series. They need to attract new readers, right? Sure they do.
    The third cover is shit. And I can barely even look at it. No arguments there.

  4. I totally, absolutely agree with this post.

    You know, I read an article the other day about this girl who was born without arms. And you know what? She’s a pilot now. I’d kind of love to read (or maybe write) a superhero book about a female with some kind of disability – and I mean a REAL disability, not “ooh I’m in a wheelchair but I am still sexy” Babs Gordon disability – that would absolutely make the reader think of her as something other than eye candy.

    Am I the only one who thinks the “Marvel Divas” look kind of diseased?

  5. The two I object to the most on those are Harley Quinn and Barbara Gordon, the two who are defined the most by their personalities. The rest either seem like they fit that role (Black Cat, possibly Poison Ivy) or I haven’t read enough with them to know (Hellcat, Firestar, current Catwoman, Photon?).

  6. I remember a line from Chasing Amy that they gave Ben Affleck’s charcter when he was discussing why his book was successful: “Underweight and overweight guys who don’t get laid, those are our bread and butter.” While that’s a huge stereotype, it certainly feels like something the comic industry believes. And with covers like these, it becomes a self-propigating thing where it feels like their audience is being set up to be portrayed that way. These 3 books could be Alan Moore level good, but you wouldn’t guess it by looking at them, because they’re being sold using the “HOLY SHIT GUYZ LOOKIT THEM WIMMENS WITH BIG TITTIEZ” method. Wizard Magazine doesn’t help this situation either, I’ve noticed. For those who can’t be bothered with Wizard, usually there’s one cover based on something a normal well adjusted comic book reader or sci-fi fan would enjoy, like say a cover based on an article on what Bendis has planned for Secret Invasion. And I find about anywhere between 5 to 6 times a year the other option is a cheesecake cover.

    I agree with Joe about the cover. What bugs me about it is that Barbara is character with enough cache and strong chracterization that it should really be unecessary.

    But Esther, I disagree about faulting the companies: If the industry wasn’t so breathtakingly sexist to begin with, they wouldn’t have to use sex to sell the comics. The idea of having to use boobs to sell a comic that isn’t even remotely sexual is kinda fucking stupid, and more than a little backwards. I can’t help but look back at moments like Reed Richards slapping the shit out of Sue Storm (he’s done it a few times, if I’m not mistaken)and wonder if the current state of female chracters couldn’t be helped by charcters like Sue saying “I’ve had enough of your shit. Goodbye.” If you condition an audience to feel a certain way about certain characters, i.e. seeing Sue as a submissive weakling, that’s how they’ll feel.

    And when you rob a character of their strength, what’s left? In the case of female comic book chracters that are good looking, they have their looks. They’ve been robbed of an identity that’s meaningful. The characters who are sold from the get-go on their sexiness face even more of an uphill battle, because to the reader, it somehow becomes part of their characterization. Witchblade has had so many gimmick covers featuring Sara in all kinds of poses that would make a feminist lose their shit. And yet I’ve heard people rave about some of the stories in there. Which begs another question: How many books out there use sex to sell a comic book that doesn’t need the help?

  7. @Rick Wears Pants: I disagree that we shouldn’t blame the companies for partaking in the trashiness. I mean, yes, the industry is pretty sexist, but that’s no excuse for being sexist. You always have a choice.

    And if your books don’t sell without T&A, you should write better books.

  8. You misinterpeted me David, that’s what I was trying to say. I just rambled a lot 😀

  9. Ah, your problem with the first one is simple: it’s a Paul Dini comic. About his favourite wanking material mary-sues from the DCAU.

  10. so here’s the thing…the cover and the comic are bound by content, but different artists do the work. If i’m not mistaken, the first cover is done by Joshua Middleton, a cover artist i appreciate very much for his Vixen covers, as well as his other work. Middleton doesn’t often go for the bosomological approach (LOL thanks for that word, Joe England!), and his female characters are drawn more ‘normal’ than most (considering they’re super heroines and all).

    i’m just saying that cover artists work under different constraints – they are ultimately the draw that persuades readers to drop 3 bucks on a 30 page comic. So they are perhaps more encumbered by marketing principles than most artists. i’m not excusing the exaggerated figures of women (and men) that they draw…i’m just sayin, is all.

  11. My pet peeve is when artists just draw naked chicks and color them like their is a costume on. A decent artist should make characters look like they are wearing a real costume, you can still make it sexy.

    Think Frank Quietly…

  12. Here’s a question: How much of what goe son the cover is up to editorial? does DoDio ever take a look at this stuff and go “Wow. Scale down the bosoms, please.”?

  13. I’m a guy who loves sexy, but I’m also a guy who doesn’t think any of those covers are sexy. You know how Alan Moore demands his name be taken out of the credits for movies based on his comics? Sexy doesn’t want it’s name on those covers.

    The first two have this weird Uncanny Valley affect going on, like maybe space aliens created sex robots to enslave humanity but they used Barbie dolls for the proportions. Which would be a fantastic ’70s sexploitation movie plot, but not so great for anything else. The Oracle cover would be good (not sexy, but at least not embarrassing) if her shirt covered a little more.

  14. […] via 4thletter! » Blog Archive » Sexy is good, right? Sexy sells, right?. […]

  15. “Beauty isn’t an asset. Beauty is a requirement.”

    This was the sharpest, most concise statement I ever heard about women in comics, or women in media.

  16. I have actually become partially embarrassed about looking up comics-related stuff on public computers for fear that passers-by will notice the absurd and often partially grotesque trials these characters are put through. I mean, look at those covers. How is the wind that pushes Ivy’s hair up not affecting the leaves on her costume, nor Harley’s bells or Catwoman’s whip? Are the Divas (God, poor Monica. How the once-mighty keep falling) in an anti-gravity chamber that supports their bra-less chests? Did Barbara Gordon spill a tubful of petroleum jelly all over her chest before going out to stare perplexedly at the Matrix?

    …Am I expected to show any interest in a comic designed to appeal to people of less intelligence and/or sexual restrain than myself?

  17. It’s not even just beauty that’s a requirement, it’s the visual communication of “Hey, my sexual aspects define me. Wouldn’t you like me to have sex.. at YOU?”

    If people in comics were drawn like people in life, the readers would still *be able to* find them attractive. That’s just how people are! But these “sexy” covers have become so blatant that the artists are just tailoring the characters directly to the porn requirements of the hornball readers, and honestly I find that creepy. And yucky, I feel like I want to get out of the way.

    Comics that look like they aren’t so much going to be about the characters as the sexual dialogue between creator and customer won’t be getting my money.

  18. Actually, DocDre, the Gotham City Sirens cover is by Guillem March. You’re welcome for the word by the way.
    Also, Salieri, on taking a second look I believe that Harley’s bells and Ivy’s leaves are in fact being affected by the upward draft.

  19. I completely agree with what you’re saying, but I think you’re DRASTICALLY over exaggerating an issue this really is. 2 of those 3 covers were done by Guillem March, who draws mostly cheesecake, and the 2nd cover isn’t even a cover, but is a promo image by a completely different artist. And from the sketches I’ve seen, the interior art will look nothing like that, and will actually be a lot more tasteful.

  20. [Sue Storm saying]“I’ve had enough of your shit. Goodbye.”

    Actually, she did that once, during Civil War. You might’ve forgotten after all the headdesking you did when you saw she still had time to give Reed a goodbye roll-in-the-hay and leave dinner in the oven.

    (Frickin’ Millar. Anyways.)

  21. @Debaser: And that’s fair enough, but the promo picture is the image they are trying to project, and it’s what people will judge when advertisements are rolled out. I’m sure the interior art will be different for Divas, but promo art, just like movie trailers, are designed to elicit certain emotions and reactions, and that’s what people are commenting on here.

    And I’m not sure what your argument is with Guillem March. He draws mostly cheesecake, and…? Are you making the interior art argument again? If so, consider why DC hired Guillem to draw those covers in the first place. It’s not so people will know there is different, tasteful art inside. And this is coming from a guy that thinks March has a lot of expertise in his craft.

  22. […] 4thletter! » Blog Archive » Sexy is good, right? Sexy sells, right?. After I’ve seen enough of photos, covers, posters, and promotional materials like these, lines about how ’being tough AND sexy’ is admirable and how ‘beauty and sexiness are assets’ fall flat.  Beauty isn’t an asset.  Beauty is a requirement. Because, I guess, if she’s not sexy, why bother dealing with her?  There’s no reason to listen to the words coming out of an unattractive woman’s mouth.  There’s no reason to be interested in the adventures of a woman unless the word ‘erotic’ is slipped in there, however subtly. […]

  23. @Owesome:

    I *DID* miss that, I’ve only read parts of Civil War. Did it actually, you know, make Reed change or is he still a grade A asshole? Although I do love the bit from New Avngers Illuminati line: “Oh, I *KNOW* where she goes”, followed by Namor cocking his eyebrow as if to say “Seriously? You’re bring this up now? Imperius Rex!”

  24. “About his favourite wanking material mary-sues from the DCAU.”

    How is this a sentence? It’s almost completely in code.

  25. Okay, in less nerdy terms: Paul Dini is a WANKER (Masturbator). His works primarily feature characters who are powerful women reduced to WANKING MATERIAL (characterless sex objects). Often, this reduction will involve being subjugated by an abusive male – Harley/Joker, Catwoman/Hush, Peyton Riley/Scarface (the character was in fact created to pander entirely to the ‘servile idiot blonde hotty’ stereotype that he and the scans_daily drones drool over so much), Poison Ivy/Giant Haunted Tree.

    No I am not kidding. There is an entire issue of Dini’s Detective where Poison Ivy is raped by a tree possessed by the souls of people she fed to it. At one point, while she suffers from post-rape trauma, Batman knocks her out and keeps her in a giant test tube after dressing her in a revealing outfit. At another, earlier, Harley watches with glee as Ivy desperately tries to ward off her attacker, seemingly not feeling any sympathy towards her old friend. The story ends with Ivy again traumatized, again garnering no sympathy, terrified of her own powers.

    Women are not characters in the Gotham of Paul Dini, just as Villains cannot be redeemed without heading back to crime or being pathetic losers. To Paul, a woman in Gotham is defined entirely by which man she is being beaten by and/or fucked by. Look at the new August solicits on IGN – barely three issues in, and looky – it’s Thomas “You Expect Jeph Loeb’s Baby To Be Interesting?” Hush, here to teach those naughty Sirens a lesson! If you’ll recall, Dini’s method of ‘developing’ the unwriteable Hush was to give him an oppressive mother and a guilt-trip girlfriend, who later – ta-da! – grows up to be aforementioned dumb blonde Ventriloquist.

    The man’s a menace. Without his history with the animated series and ability to pander to fanboys of very little brain (and sex life), he wouldn’t be employed as a comics writer.

  26. […] by Esther Inglis-Arkell I’d like to start by thanking everyone for their responses to my post last week about how sexiness is used in the comics […]

  27. Y’know, I don’t care so much about the boob-age, but I really hate the phrase “sex sells” – this is not selling using sex. This is selling using womens bodies. Women are not interchangeable with sex.

  28. umm… have to say, I buy comics because I think the MEN look sexy. When was the last time anybody saw a NON-SEXY male comic book hero? ?


    I’m just sayin’. It’s not just the women who are drawn with idealized, “fantasy” bodies. Most of the men are too. And thank goodness for that, because they are SO very fun to look at. That’s why comics are better than novels, after all: ALL THE PRETTY PICTURES!

  29. There are a lot fantasy male bodies in comics, but the addendum to that is that I’ve seen plenty of guys who are scarred up or mutated. Plenty of them I’d say would not be considered traditionally attractive, a la the Quasi Modo/Frankenstein archetype. Deadpool’s not sexy, Simon Dark’s not sexy, post-headshot Joker’s not sexy. She-Hulk’s never looked as rugged or feral as the Hulk. I’m sure they’re sexy to SOME, but that’s not their draw. By far, more guys are allowed to be ugly and even be fat than women in comics.

  30. umm… have to say, I buy comics because I think the MEN look sexy. When was the last time anybody saw a NON-SEXY male comic book hero? ?


    Though I can see how women would find the tongue sexy.

  31. @Salieri: I feel like you’re being pretty selective in what you talk about in Dini’s work. You mentioned women being subjected to a male other, but with Harley and Riley, those are both attributed to mental breakdowns of some sort. Their behavior is not seen as positive or normal things. It’s also weird to call Riley servile, since Scarface isn’t a person, so by default she the one pulling all the strings like the original Ventriloquist. And even Catwoman, who was indeed ganked by Hush, got back at him by making him destitute, and then later on hangs him in a bag and has a rhino use him as a pinata. And since Hush is the bad guy in the Gotham Sirens comic, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Selina is going to beat him again like the last two times.

    And as the whole sentient plant story, (which hey, wasn’t that great a story but I’m not going to say it raped her) I saw it more as a “chickens come home to roost” story that Dini used as a theme in his arc for the rogues. Poison Ivy was used to dominating and killing others at her whim, and now the shoe was on the other foot. Why would anyone sympathize with her as a victim when she killed so many people for her own enjoyment? The rogues destroy so many bystanders’ lives in their actions, and eventually those faceless people will want their revenge. This theme was repeated for the Riddler as well, even though he reformed as a detective in Dini’s run.

    Since you show you read Dini’s run, I’m amazed you still insist that women like Harley are defined by who they are beaten/fucked by. All of Harley’s appearances in Dini’s run were done without the Joker and with her going straight like the Riddler. She eventually works for one of the Amazonian centers in Gotham to help out battered women. Even other characters like Zatanna show initiative and independence in their lives, since she asked out Bruce Wayne on her own, and when he said it couldn’t work out she moved on with her life with no drama. How many times do we see that in superhero comics? Not nearly enough.

    I know we’re not going going to agree completely on Dini’s intentions, taste is often a personal issue, and yeah, the guy obviously likes women of certain proportions (Madame Mirage), but I really feel like you’re taking certain leaps here to paint him as some sort of basement dwelling rapist-in-denial. And your last line is just straw manning. It doesn’t add anything to the conversation but invectives.

  32. It is sad and insulting to the characters, creators and readers that nothing else would work. A webcomic I adore stars normal women, plump, skinny and normal and it works. Yes, they’re drawn in the undies, usually when they’re drunk, and it’s still quite tasteful. Then again, I’m female, but it takes more than a pretty face or a ripped body for me to pick up a comic and to walk out of my local shop with it