Welcome To The Comics Industry, Where "Fat" Means "Looking Like You Actually Have Internal Organs"!
Question: How do you like the depiction of Batwoman below?
It's by an aspiring artist named V. Oliver Rutherford aka selkiesun. Here's a link to her DeviantArt site.
Confession time: I'm not a professional artist, nor do I work in the comics industry in any capacity. I'm somewhat less-than-familiar with all the art terminologies. I'm just a comics fan. But having read comics on-and-off since about 1973, I feel I have a strong sense of what I like and don't like.
My opinion of this Batwoman piece? Frankly, I really like it.
Granted, this is a single still, so I can't tell how effective a sequential storyteller Ms. Rutherford is, nor can I get any idea of her skill with action sequences. But based on this, her style meshes pretty well with that of J.H. Williams, and I could see her as a potential future Not Williams. Slap some Dave Stewart colors on this art and it could really sing. Given time and experience, maybe she could be another Jock or Francisco Francavilla.
But that's just me.
How was Ms Rutherford's Batwoman received by actual industry professionals? Here's her account of her portfolio reviews from her visit to San Diego Comic Con (courtesy of Ami Angelwings' Escher Girls tumblr):
This is not so much a critique post as it is a conformation of how absurd the standards of art in the comic book industry have become.
I traveled to San Diego Comic Con this year and participated in the portfolio reviews they where holding from Thursday to Sunday. Although I will admit I am not the best artist in the world, I really wanted to try and show them that comic book art could be done in a realistic manor while still keeping the superhuman aesthetics of the art form.
This Batwoman piece was the work that I gained the most flack for from all the companies because the anatomy was as they quoted ‘not industry standard.’ At one company (which I shall choose to not name) I was given a full critique on the anatomical incorrections as the following.
“Her breasts are much too small and do not have the lift that superhero women should have. Her jawline is fat and her neck much too long. The style of her hair is clunky and does not flow in a sense that a super human would. Her hips, waist and thighs are too big and she honestly looks fat. No one is going to want to read a comic with a fat female protagonist. I honestly recommend looking at issues of Sport’s Illustrated to get the right anatomy. Those women are the peak of human perfection, and that is what we want in this industry.”
Peak of human perfection? I don’t know about you, but I don’t see living on salad and dietary pills as perfection.
I would like to say this was just the opinion of one editor from one company, but I found similar opinions at almost every review I went to. By the end I was pretty upset, having been following this blog for very long and trying hard to make my anatomy believable and human. But this is not something the comic book industry seems to want, and it’s something that I thought everyone deserved to be informed on.
Again, this is not to bring attention to me and my own art, but rather inform the community of just what their artistic standards are, and why so many what we deem ‘bad artists’ are able to get full careers working for these companies.
I should note that I've heard that Gail Simone has expressed a desire to work with her. And as far as I'm aware, those above reviewers didn't include the aforementioned Mr. Williams or his former Batwoman collaborator Greg Rucka, so who knows what they think?
I have a few thoughts:
"Not industry standard", huh? Well, let's put this critique in perspective by showing you an example of the superheroine anatomy that was recently deemed "industry standard".
Wow! What a high watermark!
The more problematic aspect was the use of Sports Illustrated as an example of the standard. As Thom Wade points out here, what is deemed "perfect female anatomy" in magazines like SI, Maxim, and, in Thom's example, GQ is achieved by photoshop and airbrushing. So you're starting off based on a lie from square one.
Then we have to look at how using these magazines as a template has affected superhero comic book art, particularly female superhero comic book art, over the last 20 years. Here's my analysis: It has fucked it up royally.
Don't get me wrong: There have been a lot of fantastic artists in comics the last 2 decades, including those folks I mentioned earlier. But there have also been many who care more about achieving the sexy Maxim-style female pin-ups than telling the damn story (I'm looking at you, Ed Benes), and who seem to only know "Grey's Anatomy" as "that show with the doctors". And using these types of magazines as the "industry standard" has allowed more of these lesser artists to soar to prominence. And then more artists try to emulate them instead of emulating master storytellers like, say, Tom Grummett. Look at Escher Girls to see some of the tragic results.
You know what happens when you encourage comic artists to rely on Sports Illustrated as their template?
You get Greg Land.
And nobody wants that!
(Special thanks to Ami, Thom, and also Scott Slemmons for this.)