Everyone’s heard that you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. I think that’s supposed to be metaphorical though, and to apply to not making assumptions about people based on their surface appearance. You know, like ugly people might have really great personalities, or that handsome Christian Bale might be a rude, scary guy to work with on a set. Like that.
When it comes to actually books, it’s not always a bad idea to judge them by their covers. Particularly if you’re talking comics, since the cover is one of the few things retailers have to judge them by when deciding whether to order them or not (along with the creator credits, and a paragraph or two worth of description provided by the publisher. And, perhaps, whatever press the company or creators do).
The direct market’s two biggest publishers each announced a new series debuting in the summer that a lot of folks have judged by their covers and the little info so far available, and ended up judging them pretty harshly.
These are, of course, Marvel Divas, a four-issue miniseries by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Tonci Zonjic featuring four random characters and being promoted as a sort of ensemble superhero soap opera (albeit a soapier one than all the other superhero soap opera’s Marvel publishes), and Gotham City Sirens, a new ongoing series by Paul Dini and Guillem March featuring a trio of Batman villainesses.
The criticism of each is, for the most part, fair, and certainly anyone with an Internet connection or soap box and megaphone are entitled to pre-judge the hell out of them. That is why DC and Marvel release the covers and solicits, and then promote the books through media interviews and through in-house press efforts: To get retailers and readers thinking about buying their books.
Since the books were announced, I’ve heard an awful lot of criticism about the work of Siren artist Guillem March, based on the cover for the first issue that was released, and some of his other cover work for the Batman office.
I just wanted to take a few minutes today to defend March from some of the criticism, which seems to focus on how sexy he draws female characters, and whether or not it is somehow exploitive or inappropriate for the comics or the characters within them. While the effects of such art in general is certainly up for debate, I would just like to point out an important difference between March and a lot of the more established and popular here’s-a-drawing-of-a-lady-posing type artists: March is a really, really great artist.
You need not take my word for it, of course. I’d encourage anyone who likes looking at really good drawings to checking out his website for plenty of his comics and illustration work (Some images may not be safe for work, depending on where you work and how cool your boss is).
I haven’t personally read all of the work he’s done, not have I even read all of the work he’s done for DC’s Bat-books so far, but what I have seen has been pretty incredible, and puts him head and shoulders above some of his peers (Head, shoulders and torso over some of the guys who get paid to draw pictures of superheroes these days).
Let’s start with that Gotham City Sirens cover, and first look at it completely divorced from what we know about the book so far.
It’s the books three stars, wearing their regular costumes (actually, Poison Ivy’s wearing a lot more costume than she’s been wearing lately), posing on a spotlight, perhaps meant to be the Bat-signal.
First up, I count six feet, so hooray hooray, a comic book cover artist who can actually draw a human being from head to toe.
The content is perhaps a little silly; it’s safe to assume the trio won’t all be standing on a spotlight at any point in the story, and really, what’s Catwoman supposed to be whipping at? This isn’t really a story cover at all, but a pose cover; the equivalent of photo shoot with models, only instead of selling clothing or perfume they’re selling the comic itself.
It’s pure cheesecake, of course, but as often as I complain about comics’ treatment of female characters and figures, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with cheesecake or sexy art, I just prefer that it:
a) Not be gross, focusing on characters we know are minors and who may also be sold as children’s characters
b) Not be completely counterproductive to the story the writer is trying to tell, like almost every panel of Ed Benes’ Justice League of America run, which usually strives to make the story about Wonder Woman or Black Canary’s ass, whatever the characters might be talking about
c) Not be terribly drawn. Drawings of women (and men) don’t have to look like photorealistic women (and men), but some interior logic within the comic art is a must, and while anatomy can and probably should be exaggerated or abstracted in various ways, it should still stay within some set of rules. For example, just as it would be wrong to draw Superman with three arms or Batman with a little Tyrannosaurus Rex arms that don’t reach his waist, Wonder Woman’s breasts shouldn’t each be twice the size of her head and Supergirl shouldn’t have three rib cages stacked on top of one another.
In addition to being a nice drawing, the anatomy in that Sirens cover drawing is, as far as I can tell, perfect, as is what little drapery there is (only Catwoman has loose enough material for the material to even register as material), and the lighting all seems consistent.
(This is all art 101 of course, and stuff we should take completely for granted these days, but sadly, it actually sticks out as remarkable.)
And even though Harley Quinn is striking the classic display-both-breasts-and-ass-simultaneously pose, March draws only as much of her breasts as you’d be able to see if she were a real woman trying to turn at the waist as much as possible.
Now, I haven’t read the book at all of course, but based on the solicitation and Dini’s reputation for writing good girl and bad girl comics, I think it’s safe to say this cover isn’t selling anything that isn’t inside it.
Now just to compare March’s cover with something similar, let’s look at the Marvel Divas cover:
J. Scott Campbell’s style is looser and cartoonier, for which you can forgive the much less realistic proportions of his women…to a point. He’s not afraid or unable to draw feet, but in Black Cat’s case at least, he’s not drawing them right.
The characters are all posing, but it’s a pretty get-em-all-in boring sort of pose, one completely divorced from reality. (Where are they supposed to be, exactly?)
And what’s up with the lighting? There’s a sun-like flare at the top, and Firestar is generating flames in a bunch of different places, so the light is coming from everywhere, and everything seems to glow from within.
All four women look the exact same, and they’re only distinguishable by their costumes and hair.
And Monica Rambeau’s left fist is about the size of her lips, the poor, poor woman. I bet she has a hard time shopping for gloves.
Is this image representative of the contents of the book? Well, not only is Campbell not drawing the interior, but artist Zonjic has a completely different style. Check out his blog here.
But back to March. He’s been providing covers for a couple of time-marking Batman-related miniseries, Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight, of which I’ve heard virtually nothing positive or negative beyond “Holy crap, Frazer Irving’s drawing an Azrael comic?!, and Oracle: The Cure, which has been read and reviewed by a lot of female fans on the Internet, and they haven’t been all that happy.
This is perhaps unsurprising, given that Oracle and Black Canary are two characters that are pretty popular with female super-fans, or at least with female super-fans that talk about comics online.
They haven’t been thrilled with the book, which I haven’t been reading myself. Here are March’s covers for it, and you can probably guess what a lot of readers don’t like about ‘em:
They’re all good drawings. Again, note the anatomy, the clothing and the lighting; really, note the clothing—how often is Oracle seen just wearing a skintight boobsock-style spandex turtle neck or some other garment that only exists in comic books? That shirt looks like a real shirt you might find in a real story and be able to wear in the real world. That…that shouldn’t be as rare as it is, should it?
Oracle’s a grown woman so it’s not super-creepy to be ogling her the way it might be if that was Supergirl’s blouse we were meant to be staring down on the second issue’s cover. Whether that’s the best way to sell a comic book is, of course, a different matter, and I would understand any complaints about the third cover working a woman in peril theme into a sexy drawing of Oracle being sexy at the same time.
March isn’t drawing the interiors, so I suppose it’s something of a bait-and-switch, although not tonally. Whether you appreciate the decision to use Oracle as a sexual object on the covers, they’re consistent wiht the interiors: the first issue featured a shower scene, so it’s not like DC was selling sex on the cover of sexless book or anything.
I did read his two-part “Last Days of Gotham” story with Denny O’Neil, one of the several “Batman: R.I.P.” codas that followed the climax of Grant Morrison’s run, and March’s art work just blew me away. He proved adept at character design, at acting through the characters, of orchestrating action, at designing a page and laying the story out in a way that pulls the reader’s eyes through it.
Again, this is all stuff that all comics artists should be good at, certainly by the time they get a gig drawing one of the industry’s biggest publisher’s biggest books, but coming after Tony Daniel’s run on Batman, it was a breath of fresh air, a reminder that, “Oh yeah, this is what a comic book is supposed to look like, huh?”
So, in summary, Guillem March is a very good artist, and while fans can continue to talk all the trash they want and avoid any comic for any reason, I do hope they keep in mind that sexy Batman covers could be assigned to much, much, much worse artists, and Gotham City Sirens is pretty lucky to have him drawing it.