“Cynical Woman” by Helen E. H. Madden, 2002
Ten years ago, long before I started drawing the Cynical Woman webcomic, I had this idea to do a short animation film about a superhero and her name was Cynical Woman. This Cynical Woman was supposed to be cranky, snarky, and very curvy, which I knew many people would interpret as “fat.” I’d been collecting comic books for years, and I knew what the standard was for female heroes. I did have a super-slim superhero in my story – Glory Gal, sister of Cynical Woman and leader of the Model Citizens. She was supposed to represent everything I despised about the stereotypical depiction of female characters in comic books.
However, I came up with this project the year before I gave birth to my first child, and due to the complexity of making an animated film and the fact that I was pregnant and then had a very colicky baby, nothing ever came of the project. I’ve got a few odd bits and pieces of stuff floating around – character turn-arounds, some sample animation, a few story outlines – but that’s as far as I ever got.
I’m showing you this version of Cynical Woman now because of this contest I read about on deviantArt. As a 43–year-old geek/artist, I’ve hit my limit with regards to stereotypical images of women in sci-fi, fantasty, and comic book art. Just about every time I see a woman depicted in these genres, she’s usually wearing some stupid, ridiculous costume that barely covers her watermelon-sized, gravity-defying breasts. This attitude that sci-fi/fantasy art equals mostly naked babe running around in 8–inch heels and carrying giant sword is so pervasive, it’s mind-boggling. And just when I think it might be getting better, that artists might realize that women should be portrayed as women and not just as plastic-fantastic sex toys, I run across another image of “babe with killer-boobs” and I want to beat my brains out on my desk.
Case in point. Recently, I found out my once-favorite magazine, Digital Artist, decided to switch formats. When I first subscribed to Digital Artist, it was a magazine that focused on a wide variety of digital art methods and subjects. There were articles on digital painting and collage, inking manga, creating t-shirt and sticker designs, etc. The artwork showcased within the magazine ran the range from fantasy and sci-fi to natural landscapes and animal portraits to abstract art and everything in between. I loved Digital Artist magazine! When I first found Digital Artist magazine in my local bookstore, I turned cartwheels in the aisles. “This!” I thought. “This is the answer to Imagine FX! This is a magazine that doesn’t portray women like they’re nothing more than brainless sex toys! This is a magazine that realizes not all digital artists are just stereotypically sex-starved, testosterone-poisoned guys looking for wank material. This is a magazine that realizes there are female (and male) artists out there who know digital art isn’t just about soft-core pin-up girls. This is a magazine that realizes women artists have money and they’re willing to spend on a quality magazine about digital art!!”
Sadly, that magazine is now dead. As of the current issue, Digital Artist is now Fantasy Artist, and it looks like the editors and publishers have very successfully managed to turn their wonderful magazine into a clone of Imagine FX. And I’m so ticked off with what they’ve done that I’m about to cancel my subscription. I’ve been advised to wait at least one more issue to be sure whether or not I want to do this, but after seeing the cover for premiere issue of Fantasy Artist and reading through some of the articles, I think it’s pretty clear that I (a 43–year-old woman with a brain) am no longer the target audience for them.
So I’m angry and more than a little frustrate, and I want to say that if you are as tired as I am of the stereotypical images of sexy pin-up babes that pervade sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book art, take a moment to think about how you could make a difference in those genres. Enter the “Create a Fat Female Superhero” contest. Write an email of complaint to Fantasy Artist magazine. Create your own drawings of women in sci-fi and fantasy. Draw what you want to see, don’t simply accept the garbage that’s out there. Because honestly, women are a lot more than stick figures with gravity-defying boobs, no matter how much magazine and comic book editors and publishers try to tell you otherwise. In fact, it’s high time we told them what women look like. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll listen.