Dear Sir, Regarding Your Affection for A Compacted Catwoman
For all the chaps who are so upset, furious, offended, affronted that people mocked the Catwoman #0 cover, I have a few words of counsel.
First, please understand that the critics are not complaining that the cover is “too sexy”. Perhaps someone somewhere has said that the cover is “too sexy”, but I can’t find that person, so it’s not a common view let alone the consensus. Most comic readers probably agree that a character like Catwoman can’t be “too sexy”. She’s sexy and you know it.
In fact, I think most critics would agree that the cover isn’t sexy enough; indeed it’s not sexy at all. Catwoman should be considerably sexier than this chew toy-shaped carbuncle. But that’s subjective. Some people may find this fleshy bow-tie immensely sexy, and to each their own. I’m not attracted to women myself; if I were I’d like to think I’d prefer ones who don’t look like they’ve had a close encounter with a car crusher, but I respect your choices, sir. Good for you for having the confidence to stand up for your fetish.
The point is, “too sexy” is not the problem. I know that “this sex symbol is too sexy” is a nice easy position to pick a fight with, but it’s not what people are saying, and it’s simply not sporting to invent other people’s positions. The right to invent unlikely positions is strictly reserved for comic book artists.
Second, please recognise that no criticism of one piece of cheesecake is an attack on all cheesecake. Some people will and do attack all cheesecake, of course, but I will stand with you on the line against that assault, my friend, because I believe in cheesecake and I believe in your right to cheesecake. But most people are more nuanced than that; they may believe, for example, that women should sometimes be sexy femme fatales and sometimes be intelligent kick-ass lead heroes who never have to seduce anyone or endure sexual violence. We have names for these types of characters. We call them Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, et cetera.
You too can adopt a nuanced position. You too can acknowledge that a piece of work is bad without having to pack all your wank materials into black bags for the binmen. If you admit that this cover is bad - which it is, it really is - no-one is going to take your dog-eared Danger Girl collection to the local Sally Army for someone less enlightened to enjoy. Your freedom to enjoy visual representations of attractive women are not under threat. You will live to masturbate another day.
The point of criticising - or mocking - a cover like this is to flag bad art that embodies the comic industry’s tendency to reduce women to sexy sexy objects rather than elevate them as sexy sexy characters. That this cover was the work of Guillem March seems extraordinary, because he’s a skilled practitioner of the art of cheesecake. He’s built his reputation drawing glossily glamorous women. His ambition may have been his downfall here; he may have drawn Catwoman like this because he had a bold vision but couldn’t make it work on the page. The effort is laudable; the result is laughable.
I don’t think that’s what happened. I think March drew this cover as a joke. I think he was seeing how far he could push the pursuit of T&A at the expense of anatomy; his blog and work both show that he finds that tension fascinating. I think he played a game of chicken with his editor, and I think he was surprised when the editor didn’t blink, and I think he decided not to blink either, and we all lost that game. I suspect he probably regrets letting this cover out into the world, because there’s a serious danger of it being the piece he’s most famous for, and he’s much better than this. But that’s just a theory. Maybe Guillem March stands behind this cover. Maybe this is serious work.
And yes, the cover to Catwoman #0 reduces the character to her sexual assets. But in a diverse and perfect world you can do that in an artful way; you can be sexy, elegant, playful. This is none of those things. This Catwoman is a knuckle of tit. She could have been grown in a pleasure lab for lonely men. She could change her name to Fleshlight Armstrong. This cover is insulting to women, not because it’s sexual, but because it’s bad. It’s also insulting to heterosexual men, but heterosexual men have apparently never minded an insult they can wank to.
Third; it is an impossible pose. Yes, I’ve seen the pictures that supposedly show real people in the same pose. I know you like to believe that everything you see in glamour photographs is real even though you know it isn’t true, but let’s go ahead and take those photos at face value. They still don’t show women in the same pose. The Catwoman cover shows a woman leaping through the air. The photos show women stretching against solid surfaces. Try flexing your fingers backwards. See if your fingers go any further back when you push them against a table. Right? Right. The photos also show a different angle. There’s a reason you can’t find an overhead shot with a woman in the Catwoman pose, with her boobs and her butt both sticking out; because it’s imposible. And you’ve looked at a lot of photos of women bending their spines. If that picture exists, it’s on your harddrive. You didn’t produce it, so I have to assume it doesn’t exist.
And you know what else is different about the Catwoman cover? Her head. I know you’re only looking at her boobs and her ass, but if you force your eyes to meet in the middle, you’ll see that her head is impossibly placed. Spines aren’t drain snakes.
Fourth; you’re right, exaggerated anatomy is common in a lot of art. That does not place it beyond criticism. Art without response is just wallpaper, and even wallpaper sometimes merits criticism. Superhero art is especially ripe with anatomical implausibility. Sometimes it’s effective, but sometimes it isn’t, and when it isn’t we are allowed to call it out. You know how everyone mocked Rob Liefeld’s Heroes Reborn Captain America? You probably turned up to that party. Why didn’t you turn up to this one?
Fifth; I know you like to pretend that people only ever say that a thing is sexist because they want to be cool or popular or attractive to girls, but I think you know that’s not true. People talk about this stuff because it matters. It may stir up attention and it may increase circulation, but you have to understand that throwing bread to hungry people tends to cause a fuss.
You’ve never had to worry about getting scraps from someone else’s table. The culture serves you, sir. You are, and always have been, and always will be, the primary audience. Yet there are little corners of the world that serve other people - sometimes with you in the room, and sometimes when you’re out of it. And every time you notice it happening, you complain.
Every time the culture serves someone who isn’t you, and every time someone who isn’t you comments on culture, you moan, you jostle, you threaten, you splutter with indignation. “What is this? People are mocking the ample bosoms that I so enjoy? Fetch my blunderbuss.” And because the culture is almost always about you - so much so that you’ve never even consciously acknowledged it - you see anything that isn’t about you as a threat. But it’s not a threat. It’s not a mob, or a gang, or even a bandwagon. It’s just the rest of the world. And you’re not excluded from it; you’re just choosing not to participate because you know you’ll have to share the spotlight.
You are never going to stop being the primary audience. So put down the blunderbuss and throw the rest of the world some scraps from your table.
Sixth; saying you’re revolted, disgusted, angry that people are criticising such-and-such, that is a rhetorical trick that doesn’t work any more. “You’re offended by this art? Well I am literally vomiting with outrage that you would criticise my right to enjoy it! I’m sure if you had your way I would be flayed alive in the street, and that makes you no better than Jeffrey Dahmer”.
I know you learned this trick from actual minorities, the actually maligned with actual reasons to be outraged, and I know you’ve got some good mileage out of it, but you can’t be the majority and claim to be oppressed. Real life is not Fox News. Breathe in, breathe out.
(“You did not tell me to breathe in again; clearly you want me to suffocate, which is so typical of you liberal elites, always pretending to be tolerant and then trying to suffocate people who disagree with you!”)
And seventh; you’re right that we should all take some responsibility for how our culture shapes us. But if you grew up watching cartoons and never became a Thundercat, that doesn’t merit much applause. If you grew up watching cartoons with largely male ensembles and only limited roles for women, you may want to consider if that experience has contributed to your attitudes in any way.
I hope these notes have helped you to contextualise your feelings.
Yours sincerely, et cetera.