Cheesecake or Cheesy-cake?

I recently read Kelly Thompson’s excellent essay regarding sexism in comic art, and I think there is more here. Thompson limits her critique to superhero comics (thus, no “despair of the endless” as a monstrous woman), and it seems that the relatively small number of exceptions prove her point- Kate Spencer as Manhunter (which totally sounds like a porn star name) is covered head to toe, and her physique is less pornified than others, but even so she has a more buxom than average (as opposed to more athletic than average) build, at least when drawn by Javier PiƱa or creator Jae Lee- Michael Gaydos’ style gives her a more realistic build.

But that’s an example of one of the good ones.

Now, as for me, I tremendously prefer the less-objectified comics: give me an 80’s Suicide Squad (Amanda Waller is hardly a porn star, at ~350 lbs), the Sienkiewicz-era New Mutants (who looked like terrified, but realistic teenagers [no muscle tone on any of them]), or the John Byrne through Paul Smith X-men (a little cheesecakeyness, but not all-porn-all-the-time) any day.

I do think that there are some in-book explanations for a few of the items Thompson calls out- Storm’s classic swimsuit (which she did ditch during the mohawk phase) made some sense in that she could have wanted to feel the elements she was controlling, and while she and Phoenix were portrayed without any muscle tone, neither of them were muscular heroines: ranged powers meant they didn’t brawl much. I also think that that period was more balanced: Storm showed a lot of skin, but so did Colossus, and all of the new mutants wore the same duds.

So how did we go from a period where the cheesecake was an element to now, where it’s all the time? My theory is two words:

Art Adams.

I loved his stuff when I was a kid- Longshot, Excalibur, and the assorted other things he drew were such a treasure! But now as I look back on them, one thing I do notice is that his stuff was the first place where I really noticed the brokeback-style hip thrust. I o remember thinking that that was an unrealistic pose (when I was 14!), but I glossed over it at the time. His style made everyone look like Ziggy Stardust- absolutely fabulous in a mega-mullet way.

So, when he did it, I worked, and wasn’t problematic- possibly because he did this to men and women, and possibly because his style was extremely distinctive.

So where’s the problem? Well, copies are never as good as the original, and Adams was big shortly before the “Image explosion”- Lee, McFarlane, Liefeld, Portacio, and many others completely took over the comics world, and blew away the generally accepted bias toward realistic anatomy in favor of dynamic action scenes. While more artistic freedom and leeway might sound like a recipe for more creativity, it instead served as a removal of the restraint imposed by reality.

Sadly, the trajectory here is familiar to any junkie- as GnR said, “I used to do a little but a little wouldn’t do it so the little got more and more”. Without the realistic restraint, there was nothing to tell artists when enough was enough, and the resulting work bears no small resemblance to Claremont’s take on Tom Corsica and Sharon Friedlander after their possession by Empath: the sensations quickly paled, and the search for more left them hollow and empty.

And that’s one reason I buy very few modern Superhero comics (Fablesand Girl Genius are not superheroes, and Freefall is not for sale).

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Next (Time I) Fall

Sarah and I went to see Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall in Bethesda last week. The theme of the play is the clash of religious differences in a relationship. The specific case is a gay couple, one of whom is a young, idealistic, religious Christian, while the other is older, anti-religious, and extremely cynical.

Sarah had picked the show, so I knew a grand total of nothing about it before we arrived. When she told me the theme when we arrived, my heart sank a bit: Washington is an extremely secular area, and religion tends to be dealt with as an extremely harsh caricature is most of the modern theatre i’ve seen. Add to that the fact that it’s a gay couple, and I figured we were in for a few hours of beating up on religious strawmen.

Happily, my expectations were not met.

There are some of the same old tired arguments for and against Christianity were dredged up (in my opinion, the anti-arguments were a lot more tired), but viewed in the context of character development, they make sense. Of course they would have had some fights where those tired arguments were used – neither of their characters is supposed to be exceptional at argument, after all. The real center of the play was not the argument regarding who’s right: it was about the emotional conflict that their difference caused.

Nauffts did a masterful job holding this up from several perspectives – there were plenty of pointed anti-religious sentiments – but the thing that blew out my expectations was that he acknowledged the tremendous anti-religious bias which is rampant and endemic in some places. It’s fascinating see religion being treated as much of (or possibly more than) a “closet” issue than sexuality – and I certainly think that this reflects modern experience and sensibilities (in DC at least).

I was pleasantly surprised, and would give this play a strong recommendation. Definitely good work from the Round House.