How to draw sexy without being sexist
Last month on our sister blog Comics Should Be Good, columnist Kelly Thompson wrote a piece titled “6 Sublime Superheroine Redesigns” that profiled several recent costume makeovers she thought effective and true to the characters. In the post and the ensuing comments, talk abounded about the subject of superheroines often being saddled with revealing costumes that lean more toward fan service than suitable crime-fighting gear. Some posters argued there’s a current trend toward female characters having less-revealing costumes than in the past — Psylocke’s recent wardrobe redesign by Kris Anka was cited as an example — and that it’s an overreaction by publishers and designers that panders to feminists.
Anka took umbrage with some of the comments, and it opened the floor to an interesting debate about the look of superheroes. On the surface it questions the near-universal portrayal of female superheroes in more sexualized garb, but also attempts to draw a line between drawing a superhero as sexy without necessarily being sexist.
“A character can still be considered “sexy” even if it doesn’t fit with your tastes,” Anka posted on his blog. ” To say that by giving a female character a piece of fabric to cover her ass cheeks up is ruining her sexiness, ALL that means is that YOU think that an exposed ass is sexy. There is absolutely no way to make a blanket statement about that. Some people think a baggy shirt on a girl is equally as attractive as an uber skin tight shirt.”
From Anka’s perspective, his approach to designing a new costume for a superhero never has sexiness as a factor.
“Sex appeal ONLY comes into play when the characters PERSONALITY dictates that as a factor,” says Anka. “The CHARACTER must be first and foremost the inspiration and guideline for all the decisions made when trying to design the clothing.”
Anka’s redesign of Psylocke in X-Force dispenses with the revealing swimsuit garb the character has worn since 1989 in favor of a more practical suit that, while still skintight, is less a bikini and more a form-fitting catsuit. Although Psylocke’s pre-1989 look was more demure than the Lee design, some commenters took issue with the change and how it is out of nature for the character. But Anka disagrees, saying his decision was character-specific and offers a counter-point where showing skin is part of a character’s personality.
“My go-to example of a character that should be showing skin is, of course, Emma Frost,” Anka points out. “Here is a character who prides herself on her looks. She is an incredibly confident character mentally, and likes to show off herself physically. Emma Frost flaunting it works because it works for HER. She likes control, she likes power, and one of the best tools for that is her body. She can turn heads with her body, she can command attention with it. She wouldn’t even need to use her telepathy to have someone lose focus. Emma Frost is incredibly intelligent, she knows what she is doing. There has to be a REASON for the skin.”
Anka goes on to reference male superheroes like Colossus and Namor, whose costumes are relatively skimpy, and how that works for the characters and their personalities. Anka’s complete essay is a great read, and well worth checking out on its own.
What do you think?