Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Over at Comics Should Be Good, there's a piece examining upcoming Marvel Comics covers.

Going down the page, I thought to myself, "Okay, okay, boring, boring, kinda grabby, good one, bleah..."

And then "OH COME ON!"

The cheesecake covers of She-Hulk are terrible, but this...this is ridiculous.

"I have an idea!" says the artist for this issue of Ms. Marvel. "Womens is pretty, but when they look at me looking at them, I get all icky feeling. Howsabout I cut off the top part of her head, so she can't stare at me as I look at her body! It's like she's just there for me to stare at! The good parts are all in the middle anyhow! I'm a genius!"

Ah, sweet objectification.

This cover is like something out of a women's studies textbook.

I can feel my hands wanting to reach through the screen to grip the lapels of the artist, David Mack, and slap the stupid right out of him. Why, David? What's the point of this cover, beyond "huh huh huh, BOOBIES!" Why reduce the title character to a sexualized object? Isn't she supposed to be a character? One about whom the reader is supposed to care? Or is the book simply wank fuel for the saddest of my fanboy brothers?

I love comics. But man, sometimes I hate 'em too.


Postscript: Below is a cover lovingly created on Like Scratches in the Sand, making the same point by using photoshop. Lo, and it was hilarious.




David Mack himself has commented on this post, explaining his approach to the cover. I responded with a longer explanation of my reaction to the piece.

Check out the comments section below for a more detailed and rational debate on the cover design.


  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger sean witzke, at 3:49 PM  

  • "It's like there's a civil war in my crotch -- and everyone's invited!"

    By Blogger Scipio, at 4:05 PM  

  • Hello from David Mack.

    Well, first of all, I'll give you a little context.

    I painted 3 covers for the Ms. Marvel Civil War tie in.
    They were to each vary to show contrast.

    The first was to be a mid shot that did not show the character's face. The second, shows her from the shoulders up. The third shows her smaller in the context of the background and shows her entire figure.
    I was asked to vary each a bit.

    The next thing to consider is that I painted 3 covers but there were about half a dozen cover drawings I did that did NOT get approved by Marvel.

    Now for this cover: The composition for this image, had nothing to do with "Boobies" as you accuse. In fact, most responses to the cover that even make breasts an issue have mentioned how
    much more realisticly proportioned and smaller breasted the character is here compared to all the other covers of her and her usual depiction.
    I knew I was drawing her less "Busty" than normally depicted, and that was a chance I took in it getting approved.
    Also, part of my consideration was the unusual cover design because of the Civil War Tie in.

    As it was going to be cropped close and horizontal, I chose the flag image to fit that shape with the idea of going with a kind of "Patton" compostition to fit the CIVIL WAR tie in.
    I would have explored the same exact compostion if it was a CIVIL WAR tie in to Captain America.
    Tight on the chest emblem, flag in back, face mysterious to focus on the costume symbol in front of the flag.

    I can empathize with your consideration for this, but in this case you are barking up the wrong tree concerning my intention.
    Consider the portfolio of my work, at Marvel (Daredevil, Alias covers, Echo) and twelve years of KABUKI.
    You can go to the fan site to see any of these covers.
    You will see that my work is very character oriented and female friendly and certainly not the sexist approach you seem to be painting it as.
    In fact, the majority of my readers of Kabuki are women judging from my fan mail and signing turn out.
    In fact, my work on Echo, and Alias and Kabuki, is known for it's very character oriented depiction of women that does not make breast size an issue, or sexualize the characters.

    If you take a look at the vast catalogue of my work in these titles, I think it will put your concerns of this cover in context.

    Kindest regards,
    David Mack

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:54 AM  

  • Mr. Mack,

    Thank you very much for writing and explaining the ideas behind the cover. I appreciate your taking the time to write and expound on your thinking.

    I am somewhat familiar with your work, having a good number of issues you've done for Marvel. My criticism of the Ms. Marvel cover is not one I'd extend to your body of work; just this one cover. My overheated rhetoric likely gave the impression that I'm tarring you with the dreaded label of "irredeemable sexist." For that, I apologize. However, I stand by my critique.

    You state that you've done a series of paintings of the same scene in different formats, and that this is one of three. Not reading Ms. Marvel and seeing only this one cover, I can only base my opinion upon it. Is this irresponsible? I would argue not, as the issues are sold and presented individually. Placed in a triptych, I probably wouldn't have thought much about the cover. But separated from the others by commerce and time, the individual qualities of the cover leap out.

    You explain the cover as one of iconography and composition. I can see that, but I'd also argue that the symbolism of the cover is more muddled than you may have intended.

    As you state, removing the character's face focuses attention elsewhere. It renders the character more symbolic and less individual. Yes, I agree. That's the crux of my complaint.

    By removing her eyes, she becomes less of an individual and more of a symbol. Certainly. But a symbol of what?

    Ms. Marvel's uniform symbol is not an iconic or meaningful one, lessening the value of such an approach. One does not see the symbol and think anything in particular. Captain America's iconography is clear. Superman's is widely known. Wonder Woman's is famous. Any of those would carry some degree of weight. Ms. Marvel's does not. Even in comic fandom, it's not a symbol of any weight. The character has had several different symbols before; this is just another random set of lines.

    Moreover, rhe yellow of the lightning bolt is washed out, as is the black of the suit, lessening its importance in the picture. The lack of contrast lessens the visual importance of her symbol. The picture centers on a symbol that is meaningless and downplayed?

    Moreover, the posture of the woman is not one of power, but more of a fashion model's pose. Her stance indicates neither action or determination, but rather a desire to appear attractive.

    The costume itself is painted in such a way that suggests nudity. Granted, in superheroes, this convention is widely accepted. However, in most cases, this appearance of nudity is mitigated by abstraction. On this cover, Ms. Marvel's form is so carefully outlined by her costume as to suggest body paint. Cloth cannot hug abdominal muscles as depicted here. The suggestion of nudity is quite obvious.

    Again, I know this is merely convention, and that you're not unique in this approach. It's merely part of the whole, an additional factor to consider.

    Your intended symbolism was to show an iconic superhero pose in front of a striking background. Those symbols are indeed there.

    But there were also the symbols I saw: a woman rendered anonymous by the loss of her eyes, posed in body paint with a cocked hip and a meaningless, faded symbol across her breasts. These symbols are also present.

    Sexualizing a super-heroine is common practice; doing so while removing her eyes, and thus removing her individuality, added the extra level of objectification that generated my reaction.

    Please accept my apology for my ludicrous rhetoric. I was expounding on my visceral reaction rather than exploring the source of that reaction. I overstepped my bounds as a self-appointed critic in that regard.

    After thought and consideration of the cover and your explanation, I stand by my initial reaction of "Oh, come on!" and distaste for the cover. I appreciate what you tried to do, but I believe the symbols contained in the painting that you did not address in your comment are prominent, important, and worth calling out.

    Many thanks,

    Harvey Jerkwater

    By Blogger Harvey Jerkwater, at 10:02 AM  

  • David,

    I'm trying hard to be polite, but I must say- WTF? You draw for a living, but it's as if you are completely ignorant of art history or the different ways men and women are normally portrayed in visual media.

    It doesn't really matter that you would have considered doing this to Captain America or any other male superhero, what metters is that doing this to Ms. Marvel means something different because of the multitude of times and ways this has been - and is done - done to women elsewhere.

    Your protestations are similar to those of a writer who killed off a black character by hanging them - and then argued 'but I would have done the same to a white character!" Yeah, so? Are you so ignorant of history (or art history) yourself that you think people look at your art without bringing with them any of knowledge of these things?

    I'm relatively new to comics, so I don't know how most comic book fans would react to this (Harvey's excellent analysis of it notwithstanding) but I know that I would never pick up a comic with this cover - at least not expecting to see anything I liked inside. Re-using a very common way of reducing a woman to her body - irregardless of your intent to reduce a superhero to his or her symbol - does not communicate to this newbie that I might actually be interested in anything you have to say. I fact, it's as if you put "STAY AWAY" in big block letters right across the front page.

    Your other stuff may be very nice, but, as Harvey says, I can only judge what's in front of me. The main purpose of the cover is to sell the story, and this doesn't sell it to me - and I seriously doubt it would sell it to any woman I know.

    By Blogger Mickle, at 2:31 PM  

  • As a gay man, I didn't notice anything sexual about the cover at all. I noticed the symbol of her costume above the American flag, like David Mack intended. It's a striking image and I thought it was very pretty.

    By Blogger, at 11:34 PM  

  • I've got to go with Mickel and Harvey Jerkwater on this one, and slap Marvel on the back of the head with a resounding "WTF Were You Thinking?" Like the Greg Horn-y covers they've pasted on She-Hulk and the Emma Frost series, this has no connection with the tone of the book inside and can only hurt their sales. I share comics with female readers from ages 18 to 35, and they all make the same complaints without prompting. I couldn't give Emma Frost away, until the paperback collections were published with less lurid covers-- now its the most popular series among the female readers (and cancelled, of course). Same problem with She-Hulk; once they get past the not-even-that-sexy covers, they love Dan Slott's humor (but not the direction the art has taken without Bobillo-- does Marvel DELIBERATELY try to destroy even their small sucesses?) This is not a call for censorship, but for taste-- I LOVE pin-up art, but this is just embarassing. A Marvel guy since childhood, t pains me to admit that for at least the last two years, DC has put put the better product with more appealing covers.

    Word Verification: fpkkep-- the sound I make when I scan the Marvel offerings at the comic book store.

    By Blogger Michael Fountain: Blood for Ink, at 7:21 PM  

  • This is a non-issue to me, but I'll say this: Try as I might I cannot help but think David Mack's choice for model is the problem here. Without the eyes, we are supposed to look elsewhere. The small(ish) breasts don't seem to me to be the focus, but rather the hands on the hips--which would suggest a tough "matter of fact" pose... if not for the shoulders. The shoulders are shifted in that classic pose of sultry seduction. We've seen it a billion times on model runways and in lingerie catalogs. I don't contest Dave Mack's defense of his intentions, but I don't think his photo resource served him well in this case.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:01 PM  

  • Aieee...was surfing and came to this blog via google searching. To me there is not a big problem at all with this cover, taking into account her bustline is very realistic (especially considering Ms. Marvel seems to be sort of power girl-ish busty as it goes). My attention does go to costume, not the bod. The thing that jumped into my mind was "where's the red sash??"

    Of all the costume characters in comics, Ms. Marvel is pretty modest. Her costume is skintight like 98% of the other heroes/heroines. In fact coming from someone that does cosplay and has worn a variety of costumes for conventions and parties, I think Ms. Marvel's is pretty cool. I think with the framing of the Civil War title and the square space for Ms. Marvel, it works pretty well to do unconventional cropping. BTW, I am an art design student and study this sort of thing probably alot more than I should... ^_^

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:55 PM  

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