Frank Cho drew a sketch cover for Spider-Gwen using the infamous Manara Spider-Woman pose that caused such an uproar by epitomizing the sexualization of female comic book characters. Now the Internet going nuts over a “cheesecake artist,” as he’s been called, doing a drawing in his style, in the same week one of his comics, Jungle Girl #3 is coming out from Dynamite, complete with a Frank Cho cover. Therefore, I’m going to cover this controversy, including the controversial drawings in question. There is cheesecake art after the break, so only proceed if you are not going to be offended by it. All Frank Cho artwork is from Frank Cho’s Apes & Babes website.
Cho drew the Gwen Stacy Spider-Woman in the same pose as the Milo Manara Spider-Woman cover, caught some flack for it, and then drew a Harley Quinn in the same pose with a message for those that found offense on the Internet. Spider Gwen artist Robbi Rodriguez took offense to the drawing, calling the character “one of his children,” but also took offense with many of the various variant covers that feature the character in a way that could be deemed exploitative. In a Facebook post, he brings up the issue of the industry changing and artists like Cho and J. Scott Campbell needing to change with the times. This being the Internet, the comments are logical and well-reasoned. Wait, no, they’re totally not.
The sketch covers in question
There is a place for cheesecake in comics, and characters that it works better for. Spider Gwen is not one of those characters. Frank Cho is known for drawing busty women, but usually does so in projects that are meant to be cheesecake. Jungle Girl is based on the Golden Age tradition of female characters meant to be scantily clad jungle heroines. Cho’s drawings in questions are one of a kind images and not published covers. His published covers have a way of involving things other than cheesecake. However, in his Facebook post, Rodriguez pointed out that he gets asked to sign variant covers like those from J. Scott Campbell that he thinks take the industry back to the point where women are made to feel uncomfortable with the depictions of women in comics.
I’m not certain of which covers exactly Rodriguez is referring to, but the Rupp’s variant by J.Scott Campbell has Gwen in a traditionally “girly” pose, with hips looking dislocated. The Kris Anka variant falls dangerously close to the eschergirls stereotype of being contorted to show both breasts and butt in the same shot. The Humberto Ramos Decomixado variant has only female Spider-characters, with Gwen, Jessica Drew and the female Scarlet Spider emphasizing either boobs or butt. The Comic Kings cover by Whilce Portacio is designed and highlighted to have the focus right at her butt. It is obviously meant to reminiscent of one of the iconic Spider-Man covers of all time, Amazing Spider-Man #50, but comparing the two, the emphasis is not on Spider-Man’s butt in the John Romita cover. Do I think all of these are intentional? Of course not. One J.Scott Campbell cover, from Midtown Comics does not overly sexualize the character. Unfortunately, many of us have become so influenced by these type of images for so long that we don’t realize when we are looking at that type of imagery.
Tradition is not an excuse. I agree with Rodriguez that this type of oversexualization needs to stop. I have daughters and there are covers that I dread them seeing on display in a comic shop or a convention, worried that they think that is how I view women. However, comic books are not a genre, but a medium. There is room for every type of story and sometimes that story will involve the sexualization of a female character. Catwoman is one of those characters that have an element of sensuality to their character. Batgirl is not. Phantom Lady is one of those characters that has an element of sexuality to her character. Supergirl is not. Artists need to learn the difference because the audience for comics is changing. Artists like Frank Cho are capable of doing beautifully rendered artwork that does not sexualize characters that are not meant to be sexualized.
So, artists, stop doing images that sexualize female characters just for the sake of doing it. There needs to be context to these images. If you’re asked to do a commission that you’re uncomfortable with, then by all means don’t agree to do it, but do so politely. If you’re confronted by someone offended by something you’ve drawn, please take a moment to see if you might have done something wrong and address it in a civil and professional manner. Most importantly, be civil, be polite, and be professional.
Fans, if you like these images, then please respect those that do not. Robbi Rodriguez does not like signing copies of the variant covers that sexualize Spider-Gwen, so please don’t ask him, or any artist that expresses an distaste for them. Keep your Internet discussion civil, as this is a matter of opinion. Stop feeling persecuted when someone calls out a cheesecake cover for what it is. Their opinion is not a personal attack on you.
Fans who find cheesecake distasteful, be civil. The industry does have problems with its past representations of women, but its getting better. Encourage work that you find to be an example of how women should be portrayed in comics. Do not search for dragons to slay, because there are plenty of offenders out there. Do not let the loudest voices win. When those with different opinions leave civility behind, maintain a logical, rational discussion.
Finally, for everyone, in case I need to repeat it one more time, be polite.