Sexy Comics

So I was in the middle of shooing my four kiddos to bed last night when I came across an interesting tweet by writer and artist Renae De Liz. (She’s awesome, by the way. I suggest everyone follow her @RenaeDeLiz. I did.)

Her tweet, https://twitter.com/RenaeDeLiz/status/ 755605004296200192, offered useful tips to help artists create better representations of empowered female characters. Not that she’s against sexy drawings. It’s just that the market has a long history of offering nothing but sexy renderings and she believes offering alternatives is valuable. I agree.

But her post got me thinking. In it she suggests that the character on the right is drawn in a way that minimizes (if not eliminates) the objectification of the same character drawn in a sexy style on the left. The thing is objectification is tricky.

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For example, if I were to slip on some cheeky lingerie, strike a sexy pose, snap a selfie, and then message it to someone of my choosing, I would not consider myself objectified. Everything I just described involves clear consent. However, if someone hacked into my phone, stole that same pic, and then sent it out to even one person without my express permission, then I would very likely feel objectified.

So objectification and consent are intrinsically linked. But how does that apply to drawings if a 2D representation of a woman is incapable of giving consent? Well, the short answer is that it doesn’t. To be clear, the female character in the drawing cannot be objectified—she’s paper and graphite, but since the drawing signifies a hypothetical real woman, it’s through that reference that the drawing works to objectify all women. So in essence, it does come down to the choices the artist makes as the art acts upon those who view it.

But I am less interested in whether or not the sexy version of the drawing objectifies women as I am interested in whether the drawing still has value. In other words, can a drawing that objectifies women also work at the same time to empower them? Maybe.

Now, I know this sounds like a contradiction. But remember earlier I gave an example of how the same sexy picture could be construed both to objectify and also not to objectify, simply depending on the surrounding context which involved the presence or lack of consent? Well, the concept still applies:

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I put forth that the rendition of the woman on the left is every bit as empowering as the one drawn on the right, given the right context which is of course the consent of the viewer. Basically, I’m suggesting that whether an image is empowering or not depends on what the viewer takes from their experience interacting with that image, and whether that experience is positive.

Artwork by Renae De Liz

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Allow me to tell you a story. (Just bare with me for a moment.)

I have recently become obsessed with comic books. I was at my local art store discussing the benefits and drawbacks of using oil versus wax-based colored pencils (they both work great together by the way, in case you were wondering) with the coolest sales person ever, when the conversation turned to comic book art. I told him I had never really been a fan of superheroes; that I just could not identify. (I think this may have had something to do with the way the female superheroes were only allowed to be love interests for the male heroes and how they seemed to be entirely too complacent about this.) Anyway, that’s when the clerk recommended Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

As it turned out, Saga was like a gateway drug. I couldn’t stop there. Once I had fully staked out the comic shop (only a short two streets from my new favorite art store), I just had to delve into Monstress (Marjorie Liu) and Y: The Last Man (Brian K. Vaughan) as well.

Admittedly, I am at just the beginning of my foray into comics. I can’t wait to explore Sandman (Neil Gaiman), for instance; it’s most certainly on my list. But, so far at least, each of these comics is nothing short of amazing. (Props to Image and Vertigo!) I mean the characters are well-developed. The worlds are fully realized.

Alana on the cover of Saga could easily stand in for the empowered, strong female depicted on the right of Renae De Liz’s tweet. Alana is unapologetically breastfeeding her newborn while at the same time she is holding a handgun and looks like she could be ready for anything. Seeing her like this, I absolutely believe she will be an active participant in ensuring the survival of her family in the story to come. (Also, totally fan-girling (womaning?) over Alana right now. She’s my hero.)

But moving on, if Alana fits the bill for the right side of De Liz’s tweet, is it also possible to provide a positive example for the left side? Well, while at the comic shop I also found two art books that might just do the job: Matteo De Longis’s Vox Rockbook and Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy Tales. Let me explain.

De Longis uses a hyper-stylized hand in his Rockbook. Here you’ll find scantily-clad females, generally with true-to-life if thin proportions, rendered in muted tones, playing their instruments against rockin’ neon backdrops. It’s all very youth-centric; the girls wear short skirts and have wide, expressive eyes and pixie cuts. Punk-style facial piercings, tattoos, nerd-chic glasses, and animal ear hoodies and hair clips round out their look.

But far from rejecting the overt explicitness present in this book, I got the overall positive impression that De Longis’s women are quite comfortable in their own skins. Rock is, after all, the sound of the rebel and these girls are a whole new breed. They aren’t afraid to flash their tits at a concert if it feels good or to have a no-strings-attached one-night-stand with a groupie. Only this time it’s the girls who are the Rockstars. And they’re ready to live it up—their way—whether their choices fit with social norms or not. That shit certainly isn’t their baggage. Really, I don’t think it’s such a stretch to see at least one possible version of a real-life empowered woman in De Longis’s work.

On the other hand, I do find it difficult to believe any real woman short of surgical enhancements and starving would ever, ever find real-life physical similarities with Zenescope’s outrageous depictions of women in their Grimm Fairy Tales. Surely not. Not with their perky, voluptuous curves and needle-thin waists. Not to mention their long, long (did I say long?) legs. With outfits that consist of little more than spare scraps of fabric barely held together to resemble those skimpy Halloween costumes many women have come to dread (as alternatives can be difficult to find), these women could easily be described as, in fact, comical.

Yet, while Zenescope’s depictions portray sexuality in a slightly different way compared with De Longis’s Rockbook, I tend to think of both (for the most part) as examples of pure fantasy (and clearly on the right side of De Liz’s tweet)—but it is a fantasy that I, for one, find accessible.

While I may not choose to wear those tiny Halloween costumes out trick-or-treating with my kids (I mean, c’mon, I’d freeze my ass off), I don’t mind admitting they serve well in the bedroom. I’ll even take it a step further to tell you that no matter my real-life proportions, when I am wearing my itty-bitty witch dress or my elbow-length red riding cape, in my mind’s eye I look exactly like the Zenescope women, right down to their brazen glances and mischievous smiles.

And let me tell you, it’s an incredible feeling—an incredibly empowered and liberated feeling. It’s an experience that seems all too rare in a society that attempts to control women’s bodies and choices with invasive BIG government and works to shame women for experiencing any kind of pleasure that doesn’t come with a ring and a baby following close behind.

So, yes, I think it IS possible to enjoy and appreciate both styles of art (on both the right and the left sides of Renae De Liz’s tweet)—that is the hyper-sexualized and the approximation of the realistic—without sacrificing any moral ideals or personal depth as a result of interaction with the two styles. I really don’t think it’s necessary to choose between them because each style represents a different mood, or even a different facet of personality. And when set side-by-side (along with many other facets, I’m sure) they work together to represent a fully realized individual.

Of course the hyper-sexualized version can have character, just as the approximation of the realistic can be sensual (Alana certainly is). There’s a lot of cross-over in real life. But I also think it’s still okay to enjoy each of these representations separately while still appreciating the other.

Furthermore, while anyone’s particular sexy inner minx may look nothing like mine, I don’t think it matters. Maybe yours is shy and reserved, or even dormant. Maybe she is a he. You do you—whatever it is that makes you feel personally empowered. Because at the end of the day, that’s really all that matters, isn’t it? At the end of the day, we each want to feel that we have gained something positive as a result of our interaction with the world. Don’t we?

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*Please, all comments are welcome and appreciated.

*I do not claim to be an expert on any of this. I’m just a person with a goal to stay open-minded and curious.

*Also, I’d like to send a special thanks to Renae De Liz (should you happen to read this post) for inspiring my blog today with such a thought-provoking tweet. I know I already said it, but I think you’re pretty cool. Stay awesome, Renae!

Writing, Fear, and Rediscovering my Joy

computer-313840_1280 License Public Domain Free for commercial use  No attribution requiredI am sitting in my room in the dark. It is late. The kids are in bed. I hear my husband and little son sleeping next to me, their breaths coming in and out in a comforting rhythm. The base of my spine hurts. Writing in bed is not so comfortable for me, but I don’t really have anywhere else in the house that seems an intimate enough space to write in. It is strange that I used the word ‘intimate’ to describe a desirable state for a writing space, a necessary quality for a place in which to create. I suppose nothing else would be so apt though, as creation is an intimate act. Like giving birth, bringing something new and fresh into the world. Something fragile.

Does writing need protection then? People say a story should be able to stand on its own without an author there to explain every little thing. Readers will take from it what they will, even if what they take is not what the author intended. Why is that so terrifying?

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I am afraid of being misunderstood, of readers taking the opposite of my meaning. I am afraid to unwittingly endorse something I am entirely against. But is that at all likely? Is it possible for me to be so misguided or unaware? Why am I struggling? I have heard many times to “write what you know” and to “tell the truth.” To “go where the pleasure is, where the pain is.” “Face your fears.” Is to know your fears the first step in overcoming them? Why am I so afraid? Is it the hard work? I have never been afraid of hard work. Is it the vulnerability? Maybe. I would not have thought my shell was so soft though.

Before I published the first installment, it never occurred to me to worry about what people would say or how they would react. I couldn’t wait to show it to everyone. Yet now I hesitate. I have been shown that my work is not for everyone. Is it so crude?

It feels that my work is separating me from others, singling me out. I never minded being different as a kid or an adult for that matter. I actually liked it. Then why is this different? I think I still like it. Making mistakes means you are doing something. But that is not to say that mistakes will be made, but not to fear them if they are. I don’t think I am throwing my credibility away, although it felt like that in the beginning. Anything sex-related is still widely considered low-brow. But I bet, even as my peers may quietly judge me, they may still be jealous to never have stood out like me. Maybe I tell myself this to ease the sting. Whatever. I’m not really all that special.

But I am. I am special because I have always been the one to say something when something needed to be said and no one else had the guts to say it. I am fearless. I am because I choose to be. So I will do what I want because I want to. Because even if some people think I am wrong or won’t enjoy what I write, there will be others who do, who get it without me spelling it out. Whatever that ‘it’ is, I don’t know yet. But I don’t have to.

I remember being in elementary school and when everyone discovered I was good at whatever I put my mind to, they got intimidated. But so did I. I got intimidated by my own reputation. I felt like everyone expected me to be perfect all the time and it was exhausting to try to live up to that. I don’t know why I felt I had to. Maybe it was because I wanted to be different and that’s what made me different. Or maybe I wanted to excel and I felt it was in my hands and if I failed, it was my fault—that I had let myself down.

But aren’t mistakes how we learn? Why was I so terrified to make a mistake? In college I could not have burnt out harder. In walking away, I burned down all the progress I had made. I trashed my GPA. And it hurt. But it felt good too. It taught me that it wasn’t the end of the world. It was just a bump in the road. I went back to college and kicked the shit out of my degree. I nailed it. While it is true that my GPA never quite recovered, it was healthy when I graduated. And in the end it turns out GPA really doesn’t matter so much.

So here I am with what, nine months after the release of my first serial installment and no release date for the next installment in sight. Pretty shitty. Yeah, I would say I fucked that one up. So now what? Brush myself off and keep going. It is what successful people do. My book may be sinking in the rankings now, but if I want to lift it I need to keep going. I know that. But in order to do that, I need to rediscover the joy.

Wasn’t it the same with school? I needed to rediscover the joy. I needed to remember that school was not part of my image, part of how others perceived me. It was for me. Fuck everyone else.

Originally, I started in math because I was good at it. I was encouraged because people said it would lead to a stable career. I knew I always wanted to write stories. I knew that from when I was a kid. But stories would never lead to a reliable income so I went with math.

That decision was why I burnt out and had to reevaluate my education. Math was easy because if you took all the right steps, they would lead you to the right answer, applied math anyway. Stories were much more complicated. It was too easy for me to get caught up in my head, too easy for me to over-think things. Obviously. That is exactly what I am doing right now.

But why? Stories are about communication. I don’t write stories because I have all the answers. I write stories because I am searching for them. That’s it right there. There is my joy.

Pen Name?

ink-316909_1280 License Public Domain Free for commercial use  No attribution requiredI know that many writers of erotic stories choose not to use their own names for various reasons, but I chose to use mine because I feel that it makes a number of statements about my work.

First, I am not ashamed to be writing about sex. I feel that sex is a vital part of life least of all because it is necessary to continue the species through procreation. Rather, it is important because I think it is largely through sex that we begin to develop our adult identities. Also, this development always occurs against the backdrop of society. In other words, I think sex is an incredibly relatable and controversial topic deserving of respect.

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Second, if I later choose to explore writing in other genres, then I prefer to be known for them all under my own name. I know that popular opinion dictates the creation of a brand (pen name) specific to each separate genre in order to avoid confusing the expectations of readers. Frankly, I like to think of my readers as more discerning than that and I hope they will forgive me for, as I assume they are each complex in their own interests, so too am I.

Finally, by using my name, I become accountable for what I put into the world. While it is not my intention to offend anyone, I cannot help but grapple, explore, and comment on what I consider to be meaningful issues. I do try to keep an open mind and sometimes my opinions change over time, but I think anonymous commentary is often viewed as less valuable.

So, at the end of the day, if my stories have provided some entertainment or inspired a conversation, then I think my time was well spent.