The longer version: comics, and in particular super hero comics, have been inherently sexist in one form or another since their conception in 1938 until very recently when genuine strides have been made to feature strong, well written female characters in extremely mainstream contexts without pandering or poorly conceived storytelling slapped onto “hey girls we like you too!” initiatives.
While comics still have a long way to go to escape such tropes as books starring females only as models and girlfriends, women getting shoved into fridges, blatantly exaggerated and unrealistic portrayals of female anatomy and disappearing super heroines, I really like where things are currently in the industry, and in particular at Marvel Comics.
Which makes this week’s launch of “Totally Awesome Hulk” by Greg Pak and Frank Cho so problematic for me. Marvel’s first comic starring a Korean-American Super Genius with brain AND brawn powers, written by the creator of the character in a style very similar to his landmark runs on other titles SHOULD have been a must-buy for me. But Frank Cho is drawing it.
And Frank Cho is sexist.
Sure, he has been one of the biggest examples of the “cheesecake” style of drawing women in comics for decades. Not only do his women feature unrealistically gigantic breasts and tiny waists, but they are often not portrayed as wearing much on top of them. His pandering to the sexually-stunted, male parts of the comic readership (the percentage of which is way too high, much like the rest of the planet) has been more or less explicit for a very long time. That said, I own plenty of comics drawn by him in my dusty old longboxes. Because sometimes when you love something as much has I love comics, you excuse some occasionally awful behavior, hate yourself a little bit for it, and move on.
But that was before “OUTRAGE.”
Last year, Italian artist Milo Manara got into a little bit of hot water with a variant cover he drew for Marvel’s latest relaunch of “Spider-Woman.” The overly sexualized, anatomically incorrect pose he chose for the character was rightfully and mercilessly critiqued online before the issue even hit the stands. Manara defended himself and his choices (he has, after all, drawn his own kamasutra before and probably can’t tell the difference anymore), Marvel published the cover and it now sells for upwards of $250 dollars on eBay. To their credit, Marvel did cancel two other Manara variant covers, but the damage was done.
It could have ended there, with Manara’s reputation flagged, but not really impacted to a drastic degree. However, in solidarity with his fellow artist, Cho very publicly drafted a convention sketch featuring Spider-Gwen (Marvel’s OTHER Spider-Woman…don’t ask) in a very familiar pose, but this time with added attention drawn to the sexuality of the pose with some added objectification spice.
As expected, the internet responded as you would expect them to. Cho was waiting for them though, and proceeded to add insult to injury with a series of violently sexist sketch covers that completely abandon subtlety and champion poor taste.
The message being sent here is loud and clear, Mr. Cho. It is clear that you feel you have a right to be as sexist as you want to be and that anyone that opposes your art style or the style of your contemporaries is an uppity snot, deserving of ridicule. It is one thing to draw a certain way, and another entirely to flaunt it and act like it is somehow your right to objectify women in your work.
But what of the other half of the “Totally Awesome Hulk” team? What of Greg Pak and Amadeus Cho (no relation), the titular awesome Hulk? What of the important, entertaining story being told that deserves to be read? Yes, I encourage you to not buy this comic book.
But I do encourage you to read it.
Maybe you find a comic shop with a loose in-store reading policy. Maybe you wait until it ends up on Marvel Unlimited or some other streaming service. I won’t post any links or methods, but trust me, it’s out there on the internet right now too. Find it, read it, do your best to stomach the art (it is unfortunately pretty good), but do not pay for it.
Then go out and buy another Marvel Comic you would not have otherwise bought. The company is doing some of its very best work in years right now and you really can’t go wrong with any book out there right now (except for Karnak, which was boring as hell). Give Marvel your money.
Also go out and buy a second comic by Greg Pak. I’ve heard great things about his DC work, particularly his Action Comics run. Give Greg Pak your money.
Also go buy some back-issues or trades of Pak and Van Lente’s Incredible Hercules run featuring Amadeus Cho. It is one of the better under-appreciated mainstream comics published within the last ten years. Particular this trade, this trade and this trade. Give Amadeus Cho your money.
Do not give Frank Cho your money. Of course, he has already been paid for his work on the book, but not buying it will send a message that even if his art style is tolerable, his blatant sexism is not. Make Marvel hear that continuing to give him work will not earn pay the dividends they want it to. Maybe then we’ll start to see the industry become truly inclusive, instead of just pretending to be.