Escher Girls

Float like a butterfly, Sting like a WTF!?

This is a blog to archive and showcase the prevalence of certain ways women are depicted in illustrated pop media, specifically how women are posed, drawn, distorted, and/or sexualized out of context, often in ridiculous, impossible or disturbing ways that sacrifice storytelling.

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How to do it properly

space-pioneer submitted:

Hi there,

I’ve been enjoying the blog and I’ve worked my way down to about page 50, so I thought I would send along a picture that I think sheds some light on some of the problems you and your readers are bringing up with other artwork.

This is the cover from Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories issue 155 by Carl Barks. The first thing you notice, of course, is that the characters are fanciful anthropomorphic ducks. The second might be that Barks uses the basic elements of anatomy much more successfully than many of the artists who draw humans for a living.

Look at Donald’s three nephews, for example. Barks was able to make three identically-dressed triplets look different just through posing, while someone like Greg Land often has trouble distinguishing between three women of different sizes, ages, and universes. Even though the ducks’ spines are more curved than a human’s and don’t really conform to how a real duck would look anyway, Barks was able to show one nephew leaning backward, one standing at attention, and one leaning forward without making any of them look broken.

Moving over to Donald, notice how even though all you can see is his head, you can still tell from the folds of his blanket where the rest of his body is. His tush is sticking out to the left, and you can tell where his knees and feet are from how the blanket lies on top of him. If one of your readers were to reconstruct Donald’s skeleton from the picture and compare it to another picture of Donald, she would probably find that Barks kept very close to Donald’s spec sheet when he drew this. This is because Barks likely sketched in Donald sleeping, verified his size and posture, and then drew the blanket over top to make the folds lie properly. You know, how a real artist does things.

Most importantly of all, Barks’ picture tells a story. This is the cover picture of what was at the time the world’s best-selling comic. The right to have your work there was something you earned by demonstrating that you could tell a funny joke in a single, simple illustration. Even if someone had been living under a rock and didn’t know who Donald or his nephews were, he or she could still get the joke. No character names are given on the cover or are needed.

I thought it was worth taking a look at this to underscore what is wrong with many other artists’ work. It’s not that they draw pictures of leggy, busty women. It’s that they don’t understand how to tell a story. When they do a pin-up cover, they have no story to tell. If a woman is showing off her legs or thrusting her ass towards the camera, why is she doing it? Many of the crazy anatomical mistakes you see these days come from the fact that they haven’t thought about what the character is doing and therefore don’t know where her feet or hands or anything else should be. When they are doing an action scene, they try to fit in a butt shot or two without any thought of where the point of view needs to be to justify it. Because the resulting picture has no coherent point of view, the depicted actions make no sense. Heck, in Barks’ picture, you can even tell where the sun is just from the shadows on the ground. That’s what you can achieve just by following a few simple rules.

I saw a couple of people defending terrible art on the basis of “style”. That isn’t the problem. Barks’ art had style but it still followed basic art principles. In fact, Barks was able to experiment with different kinds of story-telling because he could tell the basic structure of a story with fewer panels and brush-strokes than anyone else. That left more room for him to embellish when he wanted to. Even though nearly everything he drew was published anonymously along with that of other artists, Barks gained the reputation as “the good artist” because it became obvious over the years that there was one person at the company who could do the work better than anyone else.

To people who complain about the complaints, saying “these are only comics, what do you expect?” note that Barks drew a great piece of art for the cover of a 10-cent comic. You’d think maybe the guy drawing the cover of a $4 comic should be willing to put in a similar amount of work, hey?

Sorry for the lengthy rant, but like a lot of other people, I used to enjoy comics a lot more than I’m able to today. I just can’t get past the art. I’d be a lot more forgiving of some of the art in this blog if it was done by semi-professionals trying to get a foot in the door of the business. But the real problem is that this junk comes from what passes for top-flight talent these days, and that has obviously come down a long way since Barks’ day. It will come as no surprise to anyone to hear that his sketchbooks show that Barks the duck artist drew women better than most of the artists in the business today.

Still, it’s heartening to see that there are people out there eager to dive in and learn how to draw people properly. If enough of the women with axes to grind against the current batch of artists manage to get their feet in the door we’ll have better action comics and better cheesecake to boot.

That was amazing, and really really spot-on, and a great use of a “cartoony” cover to illustrate the point.  I bolded one part that i thought was especially relevant, that if the artist is caring more about showing the sexy or “oh my god I get to draw a female character!” (sometimes it seems like just having a female character makes their brain explode, like we’re a different species) rather than constructing a good comic panel, or cover, or even a pin up, then it’s more than likely going to look ridiculous, and you also get some of the anatomical screw ups we see because the other body parts weren’t planned for or the focus.  Sometimes limbs literally look tacked on, as if the artist really only thought and/or cared about drawing certain parts and forgot about everything else.

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