Guilty as Charged

Guilty as Charged

There has been discussion recently on the portrayal of women in comic books, along with other sexism issues, as there should.

I tend to steer clear of this.  Claiming two of the trifecta of the ruling majority, I worry that I'm confused by a lifetime of privilege. It's not easy to see these demons.

But this comes as i'm trying to push my work away from typical comic book visuals.  I'm finding I can see a more sympathetic path to the warped, hyper-sexualised artwork we see in the funny books.  Where once I thought this a cynical appeal to the teenage libido, I'm more able to appreciate the sacrifice of reality for vibrancy or, if intended, sex appeal.
These are fantastic creatures in a fantastic world. How dare you shackle my pencil, etc.

But these images don't stand alone as fine art.  The argument of historical precedent for artistic idealisation isn't the issue.  In comic books, these are characters, people, to whom we assign personalities.  The casual sexualisation of a "person" in a mirror of a realistic world is deeply unnerving.  That sacrifice of anatomy becomes the insult that only sex appeal is required for these cardboard dolls. 
In a pornographic world, this is expected.  Here the artist is creating an impossible fantasy for titillation. It's the inclusion of this titillation into an impossible power fantasy that we argue over.   It isolates any but the straight male audience from the story and too often medium itself.

Objectification of women, or men, is acceptable to me in an illustrated pornographic setting.  The power of fantastic artwork is that it can depict impossibilities.  It concerns me when we suggest that titillation is somehow out of bounds.  To balance ethical depiction of women with freedom of fantasy, I feel it is right to leave pornography to its indulgences. (1)
    I take this view because I am as unconvinced by the power of cartoon porn to corrupt as I am by Seduction of the Innocent.  There is a threshold that is crossed into the realm of pure sexual fantasy. It's the escapees from this world which are upsetting.

Meanwhile, on the other side of that threshold, it's not only the fragile minds of the male readers we should be concerned about.  Casual objectification is a situation in which everybody loses. Unnecessary sex appeal deters vast swathes while providing a crutch for lazy artwork and story.  This laziness damages even its own titillation.  The truly sexy character smothered by triple-D's. As if there's no sexiness to be found in reality any more.

It's easy to be distracted by the offending blow-up doll of the month, but if I consider this acceptable in fantastic pornography, it must be the setting, context, which is causing problems.  I mentioned this "mirror of a realistic world"
Where we expect some semblance of reality we are upset by visitations from across the threshold.

 Consider the world of Frank Miller's Sin City, or Tanino Liberatore. Here, we're invited to visit an amoral, deeply misogynistic dystopia populated by hideous pale shades of reality.  A disturbing look into the creator's mind and understandably not for all. 
     However there's a certain purity and honesty to Ranxerox's New York.  These may be Liberatore's fleshy fantasies, but the disturbing wobble is applied across the board.  There are no fantasy figures for the reader to transplant themselves into.  Nobody wants to live here.  The physical is reflected in the emotional.  The design may be amoral and borderline pornographic, but so are the personalities of the cast.  As grotesque in mind as they are in appearance.
Despite my low opinion of Frank Miller, I feel Sin City should be given the same leeway.  There's an argument to be made for claiming both books as unacceptable in their entirety, but at least in these cases there is uniform distortion and a justifiable(?) setting.

Like Shock art, we need to let these grotesques live. (2)

But where the setting is clearly inappropriate for this level of unbelievable vixen, where a porn fantasy personality has slipped into our soap opera, then, we have a problem.  Transplant a Sin City cast member to Sunnydale and you're in trouble.

The argument, I suppose, is whether an impossible male power fantasy should include impossible women as accessories.  James Bond and Spiderman, both doing the impossible with a disposable strumpet nearby.

I don't find that acceptable.  More importantly, I don't want to read it.  Most importantly, it makes for bad characters, and bad comics.
It is not acceptable to demean women for the sake of a complete male power fantasy package.

Let's substitute the issue for a hypothetical which i feel more comfortable asserting my opinion on.
Is it acceptable for a porn comic to depict racist stereotypes?  Yes.  This is a fetish.  This is fantasy.  But don't you dare dress it up as a soap opera.  Is it acceptable for Ranxerox to perpetuate racist stereotypes?  Again, yes.  This is a shocking dystopia, prodding at the worst in mankind.  The whole comic makes your skin crawl, why not also the black people.  I probably won't enjoy it, but I should leave it be.  It's clearly too much for me.

It is not, however, acceptable for spiderman to have slaves.

So where does this leave artists and writers like myself?
I am not interested in real people.  I am not interested in real places.  I wish to create a fantasy landscape populated by fantasy people.  And I want it all to be horrible.
It's all very well for us to sneer at the porn comics from a lofty moral vantage point, but I want to wallow in sex appeal. I want to intentionally create a slimy unnerving comic.

I suppose I must come to terms with the fact that some people will always find this offensive.
Yet i'm still deeply worried that i'll fall into that terrible valley between the twin chairs of real stories, and pure pornography.
This isn't liberal guilt, this is concern for my comic.

I want to sail close to the wind, and i'm at risk of capsising.
(1) I have no comments on live action pornography and its objectification of women or effect on viewers. That would be another essay. Or book. Or 100 books.

(2) There's also the argument that the "purpose" of the offending objectification is important. Is the sex appeal only to titilate or illustrate a broader point. This is a murky, objective quagmire. I feel there must be a better way.

Finally, and much more importantly, someone mashed up N.I.N, Nero and Delta Heavy. That's like Dividing by Zero.

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