Tuesday, November 28, 2006

My Humps

There's something I've been wanting to rant about for a while now.

I believe it was Mark Evanier who once observed that an artist should never draw a naked woman unless they've actually at some point, you know, seen an actual naked woman. It's a good rule of thumb, I believe, but the problem is that there are so many gross inaccuracies inflicted on the female figure by male comic artists on a weekly basis that it's almost impossible to begin to parse where the institutionalized sexism ends and where overt titillation begins.

Howard Chaykin is an artist to whom I will extend the benefit of the doubt in assuming that he has indeed seen a naked woman once or twice in his life. Chaykin's work is famously sexualized, but somehow it never seems dishonest or particularly exploitive (except, of course, when it is purposefully meant to be exploitive in the context of a story). Of all the people who've worked regularly in mainstream comics the past few decades, he seems to be one of the few who actually understands sex as more than a theoretical pastime. What a concept!

That said, he's recently committed a singularly weird faux pas, a hideous gaffe that I can only imagine was intentional. I speak, of course, of Hawkgirl's breasts, one of the most bizarre running visual gags to his comics these past few years.

Now, it's accepted that Hawkgirl, like many superheroines, has an above-average bustline. OK, fine. But - there are ways to draw large breasts and ways not to draw large breasts. Dirk Deppey coined the term "boob sock" for good reason: many (male) comic artist seem to think that all women's blouses automatically conform to the shape of the individual breast, forming a kind of "sock", giving the impression of something that has been painted on rather than an item clothing that drapes across the figure in a semi-naturalistic fashion.

See this woman here, modeling the nice sky blue ("French Kiss") New Balance T-shirt for the JC Penny catalog? Notice how that works? Even something relatively form-fitting still obscures part of the breast, because the fabric is pulled across the body in such a way as to not necessarily obscure the chest, but hardly defining every curve, either.

OK, that's Exhibit A. Exhibit B is what you would expect a woman participating in regular athletic activity to wear, a sports bra:

See what's that's doing? Supporting and confining. Because when you're running around, flying above the city, spearing ancient demons and wrestling with Kite Man, you really want to be supported. Especially if, say, you've got a larger than average cup size.

Assume your average superheroine is wearing tight form-fitting spandex. The "boob sock" phenomenon is actually less likely to occur with spandex, because the material stretches more than, say, cotton or wool. So while it can still accentuate the chest, you don't see a lot of cleavage. In fact, tight fabrics tend to support and confine - which is one reason why a lot of athletic wear is made out of spandex.

Now let's take a look at Chaykin's Hawkgirl:

It would appear based on the evidence on this picture that Hawkgirl's breasts, in addition to being unnaturally round, in addition to having preternaturally erect nipples, are also independently leaping up and away from her body in opposite directions.

This is where our good friends at the Scheudenfreud Clearinghouse, AKA Awful Plastic Surgery, come in handy. It would seem, rather than merely presenting an elevated and unrealistic idealization of the feminine form, Hawkgirl has actually been the victim of a bad boob job.

Hey! It's Hawkgirl! Er, no, it's some random model I found when I typed "bad boob job" into Google's image search.

But I can see how you might have trouble telling the difference...

It's long been accepted as the norm that superheroines have large busts - so much so that every time a woman in comics was presented with anything less than a C-cup, it was practically a news item. Hawkgirl, in both her comics and cartoon incarnations, has usually been drawn with semi-rational sized breasts.

This is a picture of Hawkgirl drawn just last year. Notice the normal breasts? Relatively well-proportioned?

I wonder if 52 will show the part where Hawkgirl goes to the hospital for saline implants, because obviously One Year Later her breasts were much bigger.

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