THUNDARR!

The swell folks at Toth Fans invited me to draw a pin-up celebrating the work of the late Alex Toth. I chose Thundarr, Ookla, and Ariel: characters he designed for the THUNDARR cartoon show — a favorite of my youth!

Hamm_Thundarr

Kolinsky sable hair brushes: R.I.P.

BAD NEWS: it has become effectively illegal to import Kolinsky red sable hair brushes into the U.S.A. I’ll include links below with more details, but first let me explain the impact this could have on the comic book industry.

Basically, the Kolinsky brush is and always has been the best brush for inking comics. All the professional inkers I know of (as well as generally most professional cartoonists who ink their own work) use only Kolinksy brushes for their brushwork. It’s been the standard inking tool since at least the 1930s. (Some of you may know the brush better by the names of its most respected manufacturers: Winsor & Newton, and Raphael.) The hairs on the brush come from a type of weasel (“sable” is, in this case, a longstanding misnomer) that lives in Siberia, and they happen to be the best hairs on Earth from which to make ink brushes. Brushes made from Kolinsky red sable hair have just enough ‘spring’ in them to hold or resume a firm, thin line on the drawing surface, but just enough ‘give’ to widen with pressure. This results in lines that thicken and thin responsively when you press the brush harder or softer against the paper. Brushes made from other types of hair lack this duality: synthetic brushes tend to have too much spring and too little give, while brushes made from camel hair or other animals’ hair have too little spring and too much give. The Kolinsky hits a sweet spot that no other brush comes near to matching.

Let me stress this as strongly as I can: it’s not that the Kolinsky merely edges out other brushes. For the kind of nuanced drawing cartooning typically demands, Kolinsky brushes are THE ONLY brush. Not the “best” brush, not the “preferred” brush. THE ONLY BRUSH.

Granted, you may have a style that’s purposely rough-hewn, where the Kolinsky’s delicate responsiveness is unneeded. A rougher look has worked well for many artists — Sam Hiti and Edmond Baudoin are two fine examples. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, you may prefer the cleaner, less flexible line of a synthetic brush, or a pen. (I myself prefer the dead line of a pen, when I’m not inking others’ pencils.) Or you may be a hobbyist, content with cheaper brushes, or brush-pens, or even a Sharpie. But as far as common professional practice goes, those are the shallow ends of the bell-curve. The vast majority of professional cartoonists and inkers prefer the options afforded only by the Kolinsky. (This is also true of watercolorists, but my main concern here is comics.)

If Kolinsky brushes become unavailable in America, comic book inkers here will be unable to ink comics within the style range they’ve occupied for the past 80 years. And any students of comics who are attempting to learn the craft & techniques of their favorite ink artists will be out of luck. (You CANNOT get the juicy/precise lines of a Dave Stevens or Bernie Wrightson without a Kolinsky brush.) Either a flurry of underground brush-smuggling operations will emerge, or the face of American comics is about to change.

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Below are a couple of links explaining why the brushes can’t be imported. In a nutshell: Kolinsky sables (Mustela sibirica weasels), though not endangered, enjoy protected status in at least one country. This means products made from their hair can’t cross certain borders (such as America’s) without proper documentation. But proper documentation is hard to come by in the remote regions where Kolinskys are found… so until that glitch is resolved (it’s been about a year and counting), America will import no Kolinsky brushes.

Winsor & Newton

Arcane Paintworks

New Pages

I’ve added a couple of new pages here on the site: one to archive my X-Men fan art (mostly from 2012, when my wife and I were drawing daily X-Men pin-ups as a creative exercise), and another (“Tetched”) to archive several drawings I made of Rogue last winter. I’ll be uploading the balance of the Rogue drawings daily over the next week or two.

Also on the way is a new essay about the art and techniques of Alex Toth. I’ll announce it here and link it on my Essays page once it’s online.

Why are many comics fans hostile toward women?

Why, in this modern era, are many male comics fans hostile toward women? I’ve seen speculations that they’re poorly socialized and afraid of women, or are angry at past rejections, or looking to exploit their gender’s clout in this milieu, to make up for powerlessness elsewhere in their lives. All likely causes. But there’s another likely cause which I haven’t seen theorized, and don’t expect to see theorized within the comics community. And that’s because this would cast a skeptical eye at a corner of the industry which is near and dear to the hearts of many male (and female!) cartoonists and fans. I’m referring to porn.

Porn, whether in comics, films, magazines, or online, is notorious for celebrating the rape and humiliation of women. Certainly NOT ALL porn fits this description, but it’s uncontroversial to say that many porn users enjoy scenes of forced and/or humiliating sex as part of their porn diet. Now, imagine you’re one of many comics fans who enjoy fictional scenes of women being raped or degraded. Pretend the high point of your day is climaxing to the sight and sound of gorgeous, nude women being forced to endure all sorts of depravity. Then, imagine some woman on the internet saying things you dislike about another hobby with which you strongly identify. Will your response be balanced and cordial? Will you view her thoughts with respect, as those of a fellow human being? Or will your mind return to the evening’s groveling, nude supermodels, their faces covered in something wet?

The comics community hates, hates, HATES to say anything critical of porn. This is because comics and porn have long been closely yoked in the war to defend free speech. To condemn porn is seen as undermining the right of comics folk to draw and read what we please. “They came for my neighbor and I said nothing; then they came for me.” Further, many cartoonists create porn themselves, including many female cartoonists. For these, condemnations even of “rapey” porn may strike uncomfortably close to home. How does one cut off a hand without injuring the wrist?

A thorny problem, but it must be confronted. Men’s view of women as degradable sex objects will not change as long as it is reinforced by powerful, orgasm-inducing imagery. If we wish women to stand tall in this industry, we cannot afford to be permissive on that point.

Superhero Boobs.

twitter_popularity2

It’s been an interesting weekend.

On Friday, I tweeted (and Tumbled) the following:

superheroboobs

My tweet quickly garnered over 650 retweets and 2,000 notes on Tumblr, and my Twitter followers shot from 750 to over 875. These numbers are probably nothing special for celebs, but if you’re a guy who averages half a dozen new followers per week, this sort of thing makes you sit up and take notice. It occurred to me that I struck a nerve: many people care deeply about superheroines, and how they are portrayed.

Several questions arose during all of this, both from readers of my tweet and in my own mind, and I’ve been mulling it over and would like to share my thoughts. I know there’s a lot to wade through here, but I promise not to ramble.

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To start with, one reader complained that if we demand realism in depictions of breasts in comics, then we must also demand realism in depictions of everything, and the expressive liberties we enjoy in comics (e.g., Batman’s white, pupil-free eyes) would go out the window. My answer is that most superhero comics exist to glamorize heroism, and as such any liberties we take with reality should glorify the heroes. Batman’s glowing eyes glorify him by making him appear formidable, and are therefore justified. But does accentuating a superheroine’s breasts glorify her? Maybe, under certain conditions… but generally when I see this happening, the intention (and result) seems to be to make a sexual object of the heroine and arouse lust in male readers. I shouldn’t have to point this out, but I do, so I will: it offends the dignity of a heroine to make her do double-duty as a jiggle-girl for male arousal.

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(Here I’ll pause to note that the superhero genre isn’t the only place where it’s foolish to sexually objectify the protagonist. Even in genres where the protag isn’t glamorized, you still need readers to identify with her. Making a character a sexual object will “other” that character for your readers, inviting them to desire or compete with her, rather than BE her. Note that males shun male figures whose sex appeal is their defining trait, such as soap stars, or Justin Bieber, or Fabio. Let’s not ask women to identify with a female Fabio.)

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On the other hand, as another reader insisted, there are occasions IN REALITY when women’s breasts are so accentuated. A woman with large breasts, wearing a form-fitting top, may indeed find the fabric clinging and creasing in revealing ways. There may even be those signs of nipple that some artists are so fond of depicting. Wouldn’t it be more honest to include such instances in our art? Again, I point back to the goals of the genre. In reality, guys sometimes walk around with their zippers down, but we don’t want to see Captain America with his zipper down, because that wouldn’t glorify him. Does it glorify a heroine to portray her nipple-bumps and boob-creases? If it did, women would aim for this effect all the time… but they don’t, so it doesn’t. (An art director once told me she spends half her time erasing the superfluous cleavage illustrators draw on female chests. Gals aren’t as thrilled with cleavage as you may think, fellas.)

Sure, there are exceptions. Cleavage is often thought glamorous at formal events, for example. This isn’t about rules, but about attitudes. My bottom line with costumes: would a cosplayer feel great about wearing this? (Hint: I’ve noticed that cosplayers usually adopt more modest hemlines than we see in the comics.)

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And to digress from boobs for a moment, let me address the vertical crotch seam. I illustrate a lot of women’s fashion, and I have never noticed a vertical crotch seam in the clothing I’ve drawn. But in superheroine costumes I see this all the time. Do ladies have anything good to say about the vertical crotch seam, or is it just a way for guys to draw a pretend-vulva?

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But back to boobs. Another reader asked why artists seem to have so much trouble drawing them properly. Part of the problem, as noted above, is the desire to sexually arouse male readers, but I’d also like to point out that drawing breasts is darn difficult. Even female artists often miss the mark. Breasts are unlike any other structure on the body. With limbs, you can draw the bone and layer firm muscles on top; with fat, you can just draw a bunch of bulges… but breasts are this weird combo of structure and gooshiness that’s hard to depict accurately. Plus, they move around and change shape and come in different sizes! To worsen matters, the clothed breast is usually only lightly shadowed (hence my tweet), whereas comics’ ink lines deal in starker contrasts. A cartoonist may default to a semicircular line to denote a breast, not intending to denote a fabric crease, but lacking any subtler way to depict the form. So, let’s don’t hustle out with calipers and pitchforks to skewer anyone who draws breasts wrong (including me!). Please judge the attitude of the work on the whole, and with your criticism be generous in both senses of the word: give it often, but give it kindly.

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Finally, a reader was upset that I was concerned with how superheroines are dressed, rather than devoting my energies to the REAL issues women face, such as thousands of years of sexist oppression. Well. Setting aside the false dilemma there, I want to address the notion that how superheroines are dressed isn’t a “real” issue.

As I mentioned initially, many people care deeply about superheroines and how they are portrayed. I find this appropriate.

It’s a weird anomaly that, over the last century or so, our culture has deemed heroic fiction childish. Looking back through history, heroic fiction has always been a huge part of world literature for children and adults alike. The Odyssey, the Iliad, the Aeneid, Beowulf, King Arthur, Robin Hood, The Monkey King, Gilgamesh… this stuff wasn’t intended only for kids. Adults throughout history embraced the fact that our struggles can be more easily understood when cast as totems of power. Just as it’s easier for a number to represent other numbers when you write it as X, it’s easier for misfits to represent other misfits when you write them as X-Men. We turned our backs on this utility about a century ago, deciding that superheroic fiction belongs only on the playground, but the overwhelming popularity of superhero films, shows, novels, and games among adults is forcing us now to reconsider our folly.

Superheroes, per se, are a potent subgenre of heroic fiction because their powers externalize their struggles in ways that strength alone cannot, and because they locate heroism in the present day, rather than in the distant past of Robin Hood or Conan. They are more supple and more obviously relevant than other heroic fiction. But superheroic stories have been greatly limited in their influence, not only because they were deemed juvenile, but because they were considered a MALE power fantasy. The cliché was that superheroes were best enjoyed by the dorky, un-athletic male nerd. Who had more need than he for heroic inspiration? Well….. how about members of a gender physically smaller than his, who have been oppressed not only throughout childhood but THROUGHOUT HISTORY? How about a gender of people who, unlike him, have INCREASING reason to fear physical assaults as they near maturity, rather than the reverse? Who have LESS earning power than he does, and are held to EVEN HIGHER standards of attractiveness than those he bemoans falling short of? The superhero genre may be for everyone, but it seems women have even greater claim to it than anyone else.

And they seem to be laying claim to it with a vengeance. When I drew a Kate Bishop “Hawkeye” story for Marvel a year ago, I was amazed at the devotion to that character I saw among women on Tumblr. They made jewelry out of my Kate Bishop art!!! If you had told me as a kid that someday adult women would put my superhero drawings on their jewelry, I would have tumbled off panel like a cartoon character. And it wasn’t just Hawkeye. Women are all over all kinds of other superheroes. You could replace the entire Bifröst with women’s fan art of Loki alone. Not to mention all the comics, fanfic and cosplay. They are owning the genre. Sowing it with creativity, and reaping inspiration, and joy.

But in the midst of all of this, guys are still drawing superheroines like they’re arm-candy. So does it MATTER how superheroines are portrayed? Yeah. YEAH, I THINK IT DOES.

Emerald City Comic Con: MARCH 28

I won’t be tabling this year, but I will be at Seattle’s ECCC on Friday (March 28), just walking around for funsies, shopping and swapping sketchbooks with folks.

I’ll be checking email and the Twitters by phone throughout the day, so if you’re on the convention floor, feel free to ping me and say hello!