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Eric: When did we become the No Fat Chicks club? I think I need to see the bylaws.

So, I was talking about body shapes in one of my snarks, yesterday. Specifically my Questionable Content snark. And it's inspired some lively debate, which I'm good with. Debate means people are thinking about what was said, and there's literally nothing else an essayist can ask for.

But one of the comments threatened to move away from the point of the snark, and into questions of unrealistic body image, sexism... the usual, in other words. And I suggested that particular snark's comments weren't the right place to discuss those issues, because that wasn't the point of that snark.

But, it also occurred to me that it's a good topic of discussion. Because body image and the choices artists make in webcomics, especially in depicting women, is an area strongly worth discussing. And also because the complaint, when ascribed to Questionable Content, actively surprised me.

I read a lot of webcomics. By now, you've figured that out. (Though at least one webcomic creator of note, when discussing Websnark, has indicated he likes the site but wishes my trawl list wasn't so limited. On the other hand, said creator's strip is one of the ones not on said trawl list, so that might have something to do with it. Or it might not.) And one thing I figured out early on in reading webcomics is the women aren't very realistic. They don't act realistically. They don't look realistic. There's lots and lots of bodysuits and bikinis and miniskirts and catholic/japanese schoolgirl outfits. There's breasts that would give Supergirl a backache as far as the eye can see, and they're copiously on display. Female sexuality becomes implicit, in many, many, many webcomics, including some by artists who would vehemently deny it.

The Unsurpassable Wednesday White examined the "Smoking Hot Geek Girl" phenomenon in detail over in her Comixpedia article on the subject. It happens over and over again. Jade and Miranda in PvP (though Marcy is a solid geek girl without the need to be red hot). Ki in GPF. Miranda in User Friendly. The utterly pneumatic Cecania in Sore Thumbs. The seminal, supergenius, supergorgeous Helen, Sweetheart of the Internet.

If we extend the scope of the discussion beyond geek girls in particular, it goes nuts. Josh Lesnick's Wendy (and to a lesser extent, Girly). Any female who was in Exploitation Now (and most of the ones in Errant Story) by Michael Poe. Almost any science fiction babe. (The fact that we can typify them as science fiction babes, for that matter.) And so on and so on and so on and so on. I can name examples pretty much as quickly as I can type. There are acres of gorgeous girlflesh just a-waitin' for you out there.

On the other side of it... there's a significant dearth of plain girls, or of attractive but overweight girls, or of attractive women who are older (and are depicted as older, rather than looking thirty-one with grey hair). But go on the other side of the aisle and you'll find tons of overweight, balding, bearded, misanthropic men. Sometimes dating the gorgeous women, no less.

Which brings me to why the commenter's complaint over Questionable Content surprised me so much. Said complaint was twofold -- the women were unrealistically attractive, and they were uncomfortably sexual. Well, I grant they're both overtly sexual and overtly attractive -- though I think they're far, far, far from most of the women I mentioned above. The former was a little surprising because... well, this is essentially a sex comedy. The central conflict of the series is "will Marten and Faye get together," and it's clearly not to hold hands and discuss poetry. This is a series based on sexual tension. Which is appropriate for young twenty-somethings who're still pretty flush with hormones (when I was that age, I thought about sex pretty much all the time, which my girlfriend of the time could no doubt attest to). In a comedy, you accentuate the points of tension for comedic intent. In a relationship comedy with a core premise of sexual tension, that's what gets accentuated. Further, the men are neither studly nor homely either. There is equality of attractiveness, which sets more of a theme instead of an inequity. This is Romantic (sex) Comedy, not workplace humor where the gorgeous systems administrator is having regular sex with the male hacker who has no sense of hygiene.

But more to the point, the complaint was about their appearance, and that just floored me. Let's set aside one complaint, which was unreasonable height proportion -- it's cartoon art, and cartoon art is... well, cartoony The same way that we accept Charlie Brown's mammoth skull, we accept that Faye and Marten's heads are larger than normal.

So, taking the cartoony nature of the art as a given, the question is are the women particularly unrealistic. And I have to say that not only aren't they, but that Jacques is actually touching on body image issues far more realistically than I've seen almost anywhere. And that's in the charming little ball of neurosis that is Faye.

Faye is very pretty. There's no denying it. Marten and Steve have both remarked on it. But Faye's little sister grabbed Faye's stomach and made disparaging remarks, which Faye deflected. And then Faye began making remarks about her 'squishiness,' and said the same to Ellen, who she didn't even know. Clearly, Faye is sensitive about her weight, even though she clearly doesn't need to be. And she compares herself to the skinny Dora (who's skinny enough that Ellen described her as "boyish" and put her foot in her mouth over it). And which Dora clearly has some (minor, one hopes) issues about herself.

Yeah, they're all pretty... but they don't know that, it seems. And that's ground that rarely if ever gets covered in webcomics.

Does that make the commenter wrong, in what she (she identified herself as female) said? No, it sodding well doesn't. I might disagree with her opinion, but I understand it. Would I like to see more diversity in feminine archetypes in webcomics? You're damn right I would. Every day, Bruno (the Baldwin version, not the McDonald version) seems lonelier and lonelier out in the webcomics world. Strips like Fans, which takes pains to cover all sides (and shapes) of the SF Fan community, and treat them all as both worthy of attention and attractive in their own right are precious gems, all the more precious because of their sad rarity. And it makes a strip like Lost and Found Investigations, which played with the subjectivity of appearance (Beth gained enough weight that she got dumped by her shallow boyfriend, immediately began seeing herself as much fatter than she really was, but when we saw her from Frank's point of view she was ravishing, because that's how he saw her) intriguing and interesting in the extreme.

But from where I sit, that doesn't mean a strip like Questionable Content (or Scary Go Round, or Diesel Sweeties, or Queen of Wands, or Something Positive, or any other strip that trods the relationship ground) has to fill those gaps. People are going to tell the stories they're going to tell, and there's nothing wrong with using attractive people to do it, if that's what the artists are going to draw.

But at the same time, we need to have an awareness of the issues at hand. And if someone wants to have a sexy, sassy female lead who's also a size 18 instead of a size 6, they'll have a reader in me, at least.

And as for my practicing what I preach? Well, Rhonda, the one female character I drew in Unfettered by Talent, certainly didn't look like the traditional standard of beauty. Of course, that could be because she looked like a sock puppet made by a deranged four year old with a glue gun, but I digress.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at December 7, 2004 4:24 PM


Comment from: ria posted at December 7, 2004 6:34 PM

I get rather conflicted over the issue of the female ideal. I don't think I am particularly unattractive, but I have much larger hips than I have chest -- think Faye but underweight -- and the ideal today seems to be medium-to-large-size breasts and very narrow hips. So be it; my boyfriend prefers me this way, fortunately for me.

It delights me in a way to see a female lead (whether in a webcomic or any other sort of story) who is a little "squishy," and especially whose hips are larger than her breasts -- it's a "dilemma" I can identify with, because Mr. Jacques makes it clear that it is not a dilemma at all. I very much respect that, even as his way of drawing his characters seems to be growing a bit -- well, thinner -- he makes it clear in his dialogue, in his characters' interactions, and in the differences between each individual character, that Faye isn't meant to be particularly skinny. She's fleshy, and she's very beautiful that way. It has been a point of his for awhile now that a girl needn't fit into a standardized, pre-molded ideal to be beautiful -- and he makes the point well.

Also, that all the female characters have their own individual struggles with their own individual beauty (rather, they wrongly perceive a lack of it) is a very realistic thing. Confidence has to be learned, and it seems too many female leads are a little too confident in themselves for comfort -- having a positive self-image is something many, many women struggle with daily, and I know in conversations with my friends, we often do as Faye did and pinch our tummies or butts and lament our squishiness. Self-deprecation seems to be the norm, not self-confidence.

In that, I think J. Jacques has been rather accurate in portraying women.

I also think it's important to keep in mind that every story need not represent humanity as a whole. QC represents a few random twenty-somethings (and a seventeen-year-old) who nearly all have an affinity for indie rock and hang out in a very cute little indie coffee shop that isn't afraid to offer wholesome violence on its chalkboard menu. These obviously aren't "normal" people, inasmuch as you can ever really represent "normal" people in a comic -- then you fall into stereotyping and "token" characters, and that is never well-received, is it?

I personally appreciate what J. Jacques is doing with his female characters -- it's a fun look at something I'd say most women struggle with. He's making a statement, but it's in a subtle and realistic way (at least, in the way I've observed my very-not-indie friends interact), not really a preachy one. And that's a good thing.

Good luck deciphering any of that. I really shouldn't try to make a point when I'm not feeling well.

Comment from: patricia storms posted at December 7, 2004 7:39 PM

Excellent topic. I would love to see this discussed more on other forums.

From the limited amount of strips I have read on the web, I would say that there are certainly some women that are blatant cartoon sex objects, and nothing else. But I would say that most of the unrealistic cartoon women (ie, mammoth breasts supported by tiny waists and hips) still can be found mainly in comic books. Even in comic strips, I think, a lot of the women characters are made to look either plain or quirky (Cathy, Ellie from FBOFW, Stone Soup). Tina from 'Tina's Groove' is one of the few cartoon characters in strips that is the main character, and is physically attractive.

I don't think there is anything wrong with having characters that are physically attractive. If it works in TV shows (ie, Friends), why not comic strips? But yes, it would be very refreshing to see major characters who are not glamour queens, or who are overweight.

Even I created a physically attractive cartoon character for my strip. For whatever reason, that is how she ended up appearing. But what I like about my character is that she's not (I hope) two-diminsional. She may be hot, but she is definitely a flawed human being.


Comment from: Kris@WLP posted at December 7, 2004 8:07 PM

Speaking as someone who writes and publishes sexually oriented comics playing upon male fantasies, here are my thoughts.

First, although by no means a majority of them, a significant number of WOMEN like comics about women with absurd proportions. Body-based fantasies and desires are by no means restricted to men, any more than the desire for comfort, cuddling and mere companionship are limited to women. I've acutally had a small number of women thank me for publishing WLP's various works (and one woman, last A-Kon, who actually hugged me around the knees and worshipped me, in the nonsexual sense, for being -that- Overstreet.)

Second, one hallmark of the comics medium is exaggeration. It takes D-cup proportions in ink and paper to convey the same visual concept as might be provided by a photograph of a B-cup woman. The same sense of unreality which makes it easier for comics readers to identify with the characters and accept outlandish plots makes it difficult to accept a woman drawn normally as an object of sexual desire.

One explanation of this phenomenon I advance is the history of comics in general. In the olden days- the days of Bob Kane, Siegel & Schuster, the early Kirby & Lee collaborations, most comics focused on dense layouts with no fewer than six panels, often eight, sometimes more... half of which were filled with superfluous narration. (Hint to Golden Age fans: anyone who looks at a picture of Superman running, who -needs- a text box reading, "Superman runs to the rescue!" AND a thought balloon reading, "I've got to run swiftly if I'm going to save Lois!" is either six years old or mentally defective.)

Anyway. With the panels that small, and the narration that thick, there wasn't all that much room for actual -art.- As a result, a lot of figures had to be drawn fairly small. If looking from long range, the figures were smaller still... and yet, in the case of -female- figures, the artist had to draw the figure so you could -tell- it was female from a long distance away... and then, for close-ups, the proportions had to stick.

(Again, to go back to the Golden Age: true, Lois Lane's collar went to just under her chin, and her skirt always stayed mid-calf or below, and her blouse was never tight or soaked down to cling to her skin, but look at her and -tell- me, even back then, even given S&S's rudimentary art skills, that she didn't have a loverly bunch of coconuts.)

Even if you don't buy the explanation above, you have to admit that exaggeration is a vital aspect of comicdom- from the classic shock-flop of the early days to takes to plots to, well, everything. This extends to all comic art- to the point that, in my case, breasts fetishists who are delighted to witness a C-cup in a tight shirt, who consider apple-sized breasts large and beautiful, will accept nothing less than watermelons in their -drawn- cuties, and would prefer women so busty that their boobs attract passing asteroids and hold them in orbit.

Third, there is the constant motto of all artists everywhere, but especially unpaid web comic artists: "You can't please everyone, so please yourself." Frank Cho, for example, makes no bones about his hormones and how they affect his artwork. Although not many -female- artists do the boobage thing, there are some- the principal artist on "Mine's BIGGER!", starring the only female character in a non-adult comic with a bigger rack than most WLP characters, is female. Also, Kittyhawk of Sparkling Generation Valkyrie Yuuki does quite a few big-booby jokes.

Finally- and this must be remembered- NOT ALL COMICS DO THE ABSURD WOMEN THING. From my personal pull-list alone, I count the following strips which do NOT draw women in absurd proportions:

Kevin & Kell, Safe Havens, On the Fasttrack - Bill Holbrook

Mallard Fillmore - Bruce Tinsdale

Funky Winkerbean - Tom Batiuk

Popeye - Hy Eisman (King Features Synd.)

Tumbleweeds - Tom Ryan

Real Life - Greg Dean

Something Positive - Randy Milholland

Queen of Wands - Aeire

And one more: Wapsi Square, well-known for the main character's 8-ball shirt, also shows string-bean girls, girls with braces, strong girls- girls who are neither top-heavy nor sexual in the mass-market sense.

So, if you're upset that -some- comic artists draw absurdly proportioned women and don't draw any other kind, I'll go along with that, and accept that your tastes may not go for fantasy material. But if you claim that -all- comic artists draw absurdly proportioned women as sex objects, well the evidence weighs heavily against you... and I'd have to presume that the real reason you're ticked off is that you don't want -anyone- drawing absurdly proportioned women.

There. I've said my say, and tried my best to defend my silly little company. Now I'll sit back, shut up, and wait for someone to complain about how everyone draws absurdly proportioned -male- sex objects... }:-{D

(cricket cricket)

Comment from: UrsulaV posted at December 7, 2004 8:21 PM

While I can think of a coupla chunky heroines (other than my own, who's a wombat, and thus probably exempt from body image angst) I find that I mostly think of them in more adventure comics--Girl Genius is what I'm think off offhand--than in relationship comics. But then again, I don't read very many relationship comics, so I'm probably not a good benchmark.

I do know, however that this is one of Those Debates. You do a painting of a fat chick and you get five thousand people saying "Yay! A fat chick! Finally!' and a couple dozen taking offense because somehow the people going "You never see fat chicks!" must be insulting their choice to draw supermodels, because hey, there really ARE people who look like supermodels, it's not that they're pandering, they just LIKE drawing that, and they're offended that anyone would say that this is a more realistic body image, because obviously it's all about them.

And then a troll comes in and goes "ug u suk fat iz gros"

And so, the cycle of nature is again complete...

Comment from: patricia storms posted at December 7, 2004 8:22 PM

Ha ha. Those are some very good points. And it is true about creating recognizable characters, especially if you have to draw them small.

I have often been told by professional cartoonists that if your cartoon character is recognizable in silhouette form, then it will really help in terms of 'branding' or recognition. A cartoon character is a lot like a logo, really.

Let's see....some more 'plain' women.... Olive Oil....the Fat Chick from BC and Nicole Hollander's 'Sylvia'.

And I don't see nearly enough absurdly-proportioned men in comic strips, sadly.

Comment from: Kris@WLP posted at December 7, 2004 9:19 PM

Aw, c'mon, Patricia, surely superhero comics help you out on that account. }:-{D

For that matter, one of WLP's comics might be up your alley this week. (No, no link: the comic in question is Chocolate Milkmaid, and after a few pages of plot it's getting back into the porn. Google it, if porn is your thing.)

One additional item: although I confess to a preference for bountiful bosoms, I have nothing but disgust in me for the Brittany Spears / Paris Hilton / etc. body shape. I mean the skeleton-with-boobs body shape. I'm not a fan of plumpers per se, but I do NOT want to see bones. Bones are not a sign of sexuality, they are a sign of debilitating disease and malnutrition.

In short, I prefer the type of women who are prepared to survive a famine to the type who look like the -aftermath- of a famine.

So nil desperandum; there are still males who find a few extra pounds attractive. }:-{D

Comment from: TODCRA Productions posted at December 7, 2004 9:21 PM

I dig this topic. It's one I sort of think about quite a bit. With the breast-size issue, I'm not sure about Sore Thumbs and Wapsi Square; I definitely don't put them in the "Hey, let's give our characters a gigantic rack so we can get readers!" category; with Sore Thumbs, Cecania's proportions seem pretty clearly to me to be a parody of that convention, and in Wapsi, Monica's breast size is actually an aspect of her character (er, aside from just being "WHOA B00BS!"); although sometimes I wonder (especially with newsboxes) if it's one of those "having cake and eating it too" things, since most of the newsboxes tend to go "Hey! Our main character has huge breasts! Check it out! Tits!". (Of course, with Cecania, it ties in more with the whole parody-aspect of her curves -- but just because it's a parody doesn't mean it's still not a little exploit-y.)

I suppose a good argument on this end could be made that, in the case of, say, Wapsi Square, women with breasts like Monica's do exist (duh), and real women can find both aspects of them as well - the pain issues (backaches/finding bras/etc.) as well as the pleasure issues (mainly referring to putting them on display to attract people, just because that's what applies to my point). So, while Monica does feel embarrassed sometimes about her breasts, she'll occasionally use them to her advantage, so I suppose it's the same thing with the Newsboxes; she (or, rather, Taylor), found a time where her breasts can be useful, just like a Real Live Monica might show cleavage (or in other ways draw attention to her breasts) if she wanted to flirt with someone.

On other size issues, the only strip I can think of off hand to have a beautiful, overweight character is Shinpad. I always thought that was really cool; Katrina's heavy, but she's attractive and sexual (and you never get that it's a joke; Camelio has never gone for the "ha ha! She's fat and she wants to have sex, too!" "joke"). Nothing's ever made of her weight or anything. She knows she's fat[1], but she doesn't care, and that's cool. I like that she's her own character, and she's not "The Fat One", like a lot of fat characters in things. Her weight isn't her defining characteristic, which is how I think it should be. I think we need more characters like that in comics. (Well, and film, and cartoons, and pretty much everything.)

[1] My use of the word "fat" here isn't to offend; I honestly don't think of it as an offensive word when not used as an insult. I used to be fat myself, and I was never bothered by the word (or, well, actually being fat, either). So, yeah; I know a lot of size-acceptance folks (which I consider myself one of) are fine with the word as well (and I think it's sort of a reclaiming thing, sort of like "queer"), but I know some people aren't (even amongst the size-acceptance folks), so I just wanted to clarify that no hurt/malice was intended by my use of the word.

Comment from: Riot posted at December 7, 2004 9:43 PM

TODCRA, I can totally understand you with the "fat" terminology. My wife is overweight, and she doesn't like being called anything other than "fat". To her, it's like they are calling her fat, and patronizing her at the same time. Double doodie. XD

I actually draw a lot of semi photo-realistic stuff, and you really get a mixed bag when it comes to comments on chubbier women. You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't draw them. I mean, I don't even make them all too chubby. Just a little bit more fleshiness and I'm already getting comments about how she looks too fat. I suppose in this sense you can't please everyone, and if you're actually aiming to please, you can only hope to please the majority.

As far as my tastes go, I like chubby. My webcomic girls tho, aren't chubby. I simply have to face that the majority of the reader population don't operate along the same brainwaves as I do.

Kris, do you folks over at WLP have any darker-themed comics? Or is it all funnies? I've never been, so kinda curious. '-'

Comment from: BigNickNewt posted at December 7, 2004 10:14 PM

It's funny, I never really thought about the breast size issue, at least not in terms of webcomics when it came to readership. I read all over the place and I don't think that breast size has ever influenced me. I guess I just can't seem to see why it would someone else for something like a webcomic. I mean, I got to them for either a laugh or a good story-line, not for any real sexual nature.

As for the whole subject of the girls in QC being overly sexualized, I got hooked on the comic just yesterday and went through the whole archive. I actually thought that it was a pretty spot representation of the way that women talk about sex. At least the women I know, and I lead a pretty hum-drum life for the most part. Hell, my girlfriend can make me blush with some of the things she says at times when she's just talking with her friends.

I think some people just need to realize that what they think is right and true just might not be.

Comment from: Kris@WLP posted at December 7, 2004 10:15 PM

WLP is open-minded to darker material of a -non-sexual- nature. Maid Attack is fairly light adventure material (and gen-audience); the other three web comics, and the adult dead-tree comics we print, all lean heavily to the silly and will stay there.

WLP's policy re: sexual material:

Sex is inherently silly.

People are at their silliest when either having sex or -attempting- to have sex.

If you're writing a story where a sex act constitutes the entire plot, you're already -being- silly, so you might as well go full bore gonzo.

Cruelty is only funny when taken to incredible extremes or presented in an unbelievable fashion- both words "incredible" and "unbelievable" used in their most literal sense. Consensual BDSM may be amusing, but deliberate humiliation, rape, torture or maiming of a victim is -never- so. There is no reason to present such acts explicitly and in detail, especially in a graphic format, unless that explicit presentation is the most important facet of the work; and WLP will -not- publish sexual material with such aspects. Any explicit sex published or produced by WLP will be enjoyed by all parties and, for the most part, will be consensual. Nonconsensual sex is tolerable only if: (a) the sex results in an ironic and humorous twist; (b) the rapist or rapist receive some form of comeuppance; or (c) consent is eventually attained.

There are certain acts which, both for legal reasons and reasons of good taste, WLP will never, ever portray, for any reason, no matter how funny it might be. These include any watersports or fecaphilia (if you don't know, don't ask); bestiality (sex with non-anthropomorphic, non-intelligent animals); and child pornography/lolicon (sex with small, pre-pubescent children or children obviously below the age of consent). We will either edit out material which violates this or reject it altogether.

So, to give examples of the above: we -might- have published Omaha the Cat Dancer, had we been offered it; we definitely would NOT have published Faust or Bondage Fairies; and I personally would give my arm to science if Phil Foglio offered to let WLP publish XXXenophile, although he has done XXXenophile stories which violate some of the above.

We skirt the edges of the above policy quite a bit, but that's about where we stand.

In short, we're willing to do darker (if it is VERY good- I personally don't enjoy unremittingly dark and angsty material), and obviously we do porn, but we will not now nor will we ever do dark porn.

Comment from: Kris@WLP posted at December 7, 2004 10:52 PM

Oh... and Patricia, "Tart" destroys me. Just so you know. }:-{D

Comment from: Pest posted at December 7, 2004 11:14 PM

Personal baggage shouldn't dictate artwork. Period. Want to see more plus-sized women in webcomics? draw your own.

Comment from: Patrick Harris posted at December 7, 2004 11:19 PM

Speaking of appearance issues, how about Davan for S*P being convinced that he's blindingly ugly? It's always stated (by him) as a simple unquestionable fact, but it's clearly not a part of the way he's drawn or the way anyone (except Kharisma) reacts to him.

Speaking of Charlie Brown's skull, have you seen this? http://www.michaelpaulus.com/gallery/character-Skeletons

If not, you should.

Comment from: SuperHappy posted at December 7, 2004 11:29 PM

Ironically, I only find girls attractive if they weight at least five hundred pounds. I draw thin girls for no reason whatsoever.

Comment from: TODCRA Productions posted at December 7, 2004 11:33 PM

Riot -- I know what you mean; sometimes people sort of skirt around the issue and it just seems a little silly. It's not like "fat" is a value judgment or anything (well, at least not normally...), it's just an adjective. Although, some of the euphemisms can be funny -- "festively plump" or "jolly" spring to mind.

And, yeah -- I actually do see the artistic dangers that you put forth; part of it might just be that we're more conditioned to expect thin people in comics (and other facets of our culture), so someone who's chubby ends up coming off as really big. And, yeah; it's partially an audience thing, too. There's a lot of tightrope-walking type stuff with these kind of issues. It's not quite as simple an issue as I think I originally made it sound. (I think I might come off a little bit like "You! Cartoonists! Draw more fat chicks!") So, yeah; I think it's more something that should be commended when it happens (i.e. Shinpad), and less a thing to necessarily sit down with the intent to do. (Though, I suppose if it's to be commended when it happens, that could make people want to sit down with the intent, so I don't know. I think I'm just rambling at this point.)

Comment from: joenotcharles posted at December 7, 2004 11:43 PM

I'll add this to this discussion instead of the one with the actual comic, so it has more chance of being noticed:

What impressed me about the art, and what I assumed you were talking about, is that they're *subtly* different. These are obviously 3 girls who look fairly similar, but they're still easy to tell apart and have slight - and realistic - variations in body shape. You can't point to them and say, "This is the fat one, and this is the one with funky hair, and this is..." because the differences are more subtle than that.

Compare (to pick on an egregious example) Megatokyo, in which I can't even tell how many girls there are supposed to be. (I get confused a lot in Scary-go-round, too.)

I don't find it at all unrealistic that three similar-looking girls would hang out together. People have complained that they didn't look *different* enough - that there weren't enough body shapes on display. Come on, we have a sample size of three here. Three people who, as somebody else mentioned, are part of the same scene and hang out at the same coffee shop, and thus probably have similar senses of style. Not every group of three people is going to have somebody that's extremely tall, and somebody that's extremely skinny, and somebody that's black...

Comment from: William_G posted at December 8, 2004 12:34 AM

Eric, the thing is that all artists are really little more than filters for the world that surrounds them. Consciously or unconsciously, whenever we put pen to paper we are telling the world how we view it.

Now, if you're grown up on a steady diet of Pam Anderson, Rachel Phoebe and Monica, Lara Croft, and music video chicks, then it's not unexpected to have idealized women in webcomics. In YEE OLDEN TYMES a learning artist would be forced to go out and look at the real people around them. Today, Hollywood controls our perceptions and that's why you keep seeing this big-titty nonsense.

Add on to that the simple fact that the beautiful people are considered beautiful because they have absoultely nothing unique about their faces. Beauty is a lack of unique features. (Human biology: Unique fetures suggest a few misfired genes, to ensure the survival of your offspring, the less defective genes being passed on the better) and as such, they are easier to draw than "real" people.

I'm not saying any of this is a good thing, but there is a reason for it.

If you're looking for a webcomic that presents a wide variety of body shapes, try Loxie & Zoot by Stephen Crowley.

Comment from: Julio Dvulture posted at December 8, 2004 1:06 AM

Loxie & Zoot is specially interesting for this discussion for is not just a comic with humans of all shapes and sizes, but being a nudist comic, it also discuss how most people see sexuality and the human body and if should be this way. It's also whimsical, funny and lighthearted on the way it presents these issues.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 8, 2004 3:09 AM

Man, of all the nights to fall asleep early... ;)

A few blanket comments. First off, I didn't mean to condemn any of the above strips -- from Girly through Sore Thumbs -- so much as highlight the prevailing trends. Which I think came across, but I wanted to be sure.

Secondly... on WLP (and Slipshine and Sexy Losers and the like, for that matter): I think you get a certain bye when you're doing sexually explicit material, because that's one of the expectations of the form -- not just idealized figures but overly idealized figures, male and female. Josh Lesnick is a great example, here. His Sekilala steps away from presenting stereotypes and heavily into stylistic choice. Yes, the women are defined by breasts and hips and hair, but the combination becomes more exaggerated than exploitive.

One of the interesting aspects of several of WLP's comics -- particularly Milkmaid/Chocolate Milkmaid -- is the "transformation moment." Characters who are attractive, admittedly (it's Adult OrientedŮ -- we have to have certain expectations) become overly exaggeratedly so before the "adventure" (and generally the sex) begins. In a way, it almost highlights the core of the dialogue -- you have characters who, if they were proportioned that way in "real life," would look like a Playboy Model, but before they actually get to the sex their proportions balloon many times over. It becomes ritualized, almost -- pornography as kabuki theater.

Wapsi Square is an interesting one. The female characters come across as very real to me, regardless of their bust size. I probably should have mentioned it, above, just because it breaks expectations so well.

In the end, I guess it comes down to this: having a strip about pretty people isn't a dealbreaker for me. I wouldn't mind seeing more diversity in webcomics, but I sure as heck don't want to have it enforced upon webcomics.

(And Loxie and Zoot hasn't crossed by radar yet, but it sounds interesting. As does Tart. Mmm... interesting webcomics.)

Comment from: TME posted at December 8, 2004 3:11 AM

I personnally think the faye character doesn't look remotely fat, here http://www.questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=247 if you look at panel 2 faye and dora have nearly identical body types. While jaques does do a better job in panel 4 it is relatively hard to tell that faye is supposed to be squishy without being told so. I think Sam Logan does a much better job with Andrea, in this comic http://www.samandfuzzy.com/archive.php?id=378 you can imediately see the that she is supposed to be larger. While I commend Jaques for trying he doesn't pull it off that well, and there are better examples of realistic bodies than in questionable content.

Comment from: JackSlack posted at December 8, 2004 3:27 AM

TME, on that one, I completely disagree. While we're in matters of perception, I can clearly see the differences between Dora and Faye in panel 2. It is obscured slightly by the different poses (Faye is standing straight up, Dora is twisting around to see Ellen leaving) but you can still see the narrower hips on Dora, and their chests are notably different: Faye is fairly busty while Dora is much smaller.

Your mileage may vary, since we're talking perception, but from my viewpoint, panel two there has two distinctly different women in it.

Now, Ellen and Faye, granted, are harder to distinguish by body type alone. But even there, I agree with Eric that the differences are notable.

Comment from: Slick posted at December 8, 2004 3:46 AM

Heh, looks like Sam Logan and you were thinking along the same lines at the same time. Check out the latest Sam and Fuzzy Strip.

Comment from: Prankster posted at December 8, 2004 4:16 AM

I don't want to toot my own horn...oh wait, yes I do. Anyway, my webcomic Freak U. (http://freaku.keenspace.com) has a pretty wide variety of female body types, including a goth chick of somewhat motherly proportions, and a really tiny, skinny girl (of course, she's Asian, so now I'm getting into a whole other problem area...) This is actually something I've been trying to take care with, inasmuch as my somewhat limited drawing style allows it. Of course, whatever points I gain by this are probably lost by having a girl who looks like Marilyn Monroe tearing her clothes off in the current strip. Oh well.

Comment from: jjacques posted at December 8, 2004 4:33 AM

When it comes to my artwork, I tend to err on the side of subtlety more often than not. Some people see the differences, others don't. It's pretty cool that people think enough of my comic to critique it!

Comment from: JackSlack posted at December 8, 2004 5:35 AM

William G: I checked out Loxie and Zoot, and yeah, it definitely does do a lot of different body types well.

Of course, given the premise, it really has to. :)

Comment from: William_G posted at December 8, 2004 7:50 AM

I think Crowley has one of the more unique visions on the web with Loxie & Zoot.

Here's the URL for those who are interested


Dont let the "Keenspace" scare you away. In my not so humble opinion, I would dare say it's a better comic than a lot of Spot's stuff.

Comment from: HK posted at December 8, 2004 8:04 AM

I was fairly surprised when the main characters in Namir Deiter http://www.namirdeiter.com/ changed from skinny-cute highschoolers to fairly zaftig ... it seemed to happen 'overnight' (see the archives... compare the earlier ones to today). Notably, I don't think Isabel ever said why. She just let them off their diets, I guess :-).

Still a great strip.

Comment from: JackSlack posted at December 8, 2004 8:10 AM

William G: I'd agree with you, too. Loxie is really well written, has a wonderful art style, and is a lot of fun. It's oddly charming.

Comment from: TODCRA Productions posted at December 8, 2004 10:18 AM

Just in case -- I didn't mean my thing on Cecania's proportions to be like "Oh no, you're unfairly picking on Sore Thumbs!" or anything, so, yeah...8) I suppose worst case scenario is that both of us are overly worried on how the other reads us, heh.

Also -- Sam & Fuzzy is one of my favorite comics, and it's a good point about Andrea that TME brought up. (And the topic of today's S&F is also seconded as something for folks to check out, heh.) So, yeah. I just wanted to give Mad Propz, y0 to Sam Logan. Because he's awesome.

Comment from: streever posted at December 8, 2004 10:49 AM

To be frank, while the discussion in and of itself is interesting, I think the ultimate premise is not valid.

I grew up with images of large, strong men, who were heroic and noble and wonderful. They were all 6 foot 3 and pure muscle. Young men delight in watching wrestling and action movies, in which a chiseled chested square jawed man uses his physical prowess over and over against his enemies.

Did it damage me or make me horribly insecure? I'm short (5'10") and can never get any taller. I could care less... there are advantages to being 5'10", just as there are advantages to being 6'3", so I just play to my strengths. (Frankly, I can't think of any of the advantages, because it's not something I contemplate)

What this is bringing me to is a very basic question... What is the point? If a largely male audience likes seeing busty women wearing skin tight clothing while they fight crime or something, then who cares? Are men supposed to clamor and complain that the top ten sexiest men are all tall and square jawed and rich and famous?

I don't think that anyone expects real life women to "live up" to comic book characters anymore then anyone expects me to be Arnold or Captain America. Besides... why does anyone care? A quick glance at marriages and couples in your local community will show you that a vast majority of men AND women are not perfect and still somehow manage to fall in love and have babies and houses and 3.9872 and a half automobiles per domestic pet.

Furthermore, I think there is a huge assortment of comics out there which do not force unrealistic expectations on women ONLY. Note what's important there... going back 2000 years in history we find the same trend in art that we find today in Scary Go Round or Questionable Content or any of the other comics I read. The human form is idealised and perfected.

There aren't any overweight women in Scary-Go-Round--but nor are the men lacking in attractiveness or "unnatural" behavior. When a male character is funny looking, it's part of the story, it's part of the joke. I doubt John Allison wakes up and says, "I'm going to oppress the 10 million people on the inter-web today by making them see fat men dating busty but skinny women."

That's the key ingredient--no one forces anyone to read any comic strips.

I think it's a fascinating academic study, and I hope I haven't offended anyone with my overly long post, but I hardly think that comic creators should start drawing overweight people every day.

This is entertainment, no different than TV. How on earth could I be entertained by some doofy looking guy sitting around and typing comments on an internet message board? :D

I sincerely hope I haven't offended anyone--I'm not trying to shout out the discussion or invalidate anyone personally. I just personally wouldn't be interested in an entertainment form that was a mimicry of my real life.

Comment from: Kris@WLP posted at December 8, 2004 11:13 AM

Why Eric, it's nice to know you do read WLP's stuff on occasion. }:-{D

Seriously, you've reminded me of one aspect of the Milkmaid print comic project which I'd almost forgotten; in every script I'd made a point of showing Beth, without transformation, in such a way as to make her normal, ordinary (if skinny) form sexy. There's one issue on the drawing boards (if we ever get there) which doesn't have Beth transforming AT ALL- a Milkmaid comic with no Milkmaid. I'll have to consider that point for other WLP projects.

(Of course, having a transformation that doesn't lead to sex, or a story with no transformation, is liable to upset quite a few regular readers, since those stories are distinctive -because- of the TF element, but I enjoy shaking things up if I can. }:-{D )

Comment from: Slick posted at December 8, 2004 12:17 PM

@strever: An advantage to being short....smaller targets are harder to hit....

Comment from: Shaenon posted at December 8, 2004 1:48 PM

Streever -- The thing is, big muscley superhero guys are a teenage boy's idea of the perfect male form. Huge-breasted, tiny-waisted, big-haired babes are a teenage boy's idea of the perfect female form. Impact on society aside, sometimes it's just nice to see characters who suggest a more sophisticated idea of "attractive." And, just as it can be refreshing to see the occasional TV show or movie in which everyone doesn't look like a model, it's a pleasure to read comics in which the people approximate the looks and fashion sense of actual human beings.

Anyway, Eric's original point wasn't that the female characters in QC aren't attractive, because they're obviously smoking. His point was that they're attractive in a slightly offbeat way, and that each of them has a subtlely different face, figure, and sense of style. To me, the difference is almost too subtle -- two of the girls have essentially the same hairstyle, and the differences in body types are so slight that you can't really tell which girl is supposed to be the "squishy" one -- but the fact that there ARE differences suggests that the artist puts thought and effort into the way his characters look. There are a lot of webstrips in which all the female characters have identical faces and figures, and it's boring, not to mention occasionally confusing.

Comment from: Phalanx posted at December 8, 2004 1:54 PM

Dammit Willie! You beat me to mentioning Loxie and Zoot!

Stephen's stuff has always been an inspiration for me to try different body types; I'm not sure if anyone else has this same problem, but for me, drawing someone who is NOT of ideal porportions is far far FAR harder than drawing an idealised figure.

It's been a theory of mine that a lot of artists also stick to ideal porportions because it's the easiest to draw and it's what they know best; It's been hammered into them from the moment they start drawing. If you don't get what I mean, try drawing a plumpish woman that doesn't look grotesque. Unless you really understand your anatomy, the end results tend to look... wrong somehow. Ditto for very thin people.

I've always tried my best to differentiate my body types for my comic (for example, Jin is asian, so typically petite and flat-chested, Lysanne is European, so buxom, taller and has wider hips) but from time to time I keep lapsing back to bloody ideal porportions. Like I said, it's hard.

All that said, this has been an interesting discussion. Yay for Eric for bringing this up.

Comment from: Phalanx posted at December 8, 2004 1:55 PM

Which brings up another topic: Everyone notice how in most comics characters all tend to be the same height?

Comment from: Chris_Baldwin posted at December 8, 2004 10:57 PM

Hey Eric,

The is Chris Baldwin, author/illustrator of Bruno (and Little Deee) and I just wanted to thank you for the nod. I don't really feel that I'm great at having a diverse enough body type in my comic, although I hope I've gotten better over the years. But in comparison, it's pretty distinct, I do it more than most. In other comics, it seems that, if anything, you occasionally find the token "large woman" just like you have the token "blacK' or token "goth" or what-have-you.

if I have any theories on the why, it probably comes down to gender training, that if you draw a woman less than "perfect" it doesn't fit the visual expectations, and so they look "male" to you. My suggestion: practice. Griffin from Jenn Lee's Dicebox is an very well-done example of a non-traditionally-female looking woman (even though she's thin as a rail!). The other reason that i think this likely happens in comics, is that most cartoonists, well male at least, draw women shaped like those they'd like to have sex with.

but anyhow. I'm on no moral higher ground. I just try because it matters to me. I think the most important thing is to think about it, and so discussions like this are great. Thanks! :)

Comment from: streever posted at December 9, 2004 11:00 AM

Shaenon--I agree with you, I really enjoy QC and appreciate the differences in the characters. I don't personally read the comics that people are talking about with big-busted Barbie dolls, so don't even have any background in this.

When it comes to American entertainment in general I have such a low opinion of it that I do not own a TV or subscribe to cable--and I can't tell you the last time I saw an American movie.

I wouldn't expect to much of American entertainment, TV, or movies in general... and I especially wouldn't expect them to portray realistic body types. Leave that to the French!

Comment from: SuperHappy posted at December 10, 2004 1:31 AM

Sorry to sound snarky there (ha ha ha! Just like the name of this website!), but I felt I should say something after being mentioned, yet I can never think of anything serious to add to discussions like this anymore.

The truth is, I like to draw different body types myself, but only for a fun artistic challenge. When depicting realism is a goal, the look of the comic isn't as important to me as the emotions of the characters.

It's just something I prefer not to think about too much.

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