We've started seeing more female superheroes in the mainstream over the past few years, thanks to demand from women who were tired of being portrayed only as sidekicks. But unfortunately, these characters are often depicted as sex objects rather than multidimensional people. Comic artist Renae De Liz's guide for drawing female superheroes shows how we can combat this tendency in a delightful series of tweets.
As De Liz points out in an email to Bustle, it’s not the fact that sexualized characters exist that’s the problem; it’s the fact that for women, there seem to be so few alternatives. “Sexualized or objectified characters will most likely always be a part of our society. People love sexy men and women, and that’s OK. It’s also OK as an artist to choose to create such works," she tells Bustle. "The issue I focused on is the amount of women who are objectified.” (She acknowledges that men, too, can be objectified, but “it’s not to the same degree imposed on women.”)
That’s where her drawing tutorial, which she posted on Twitter in July, comes in: Says De Liz, “To me, the biggest first step is to include more alternatives to the normal sexualized/objectified female characters. … This would show our children women are valued for more than just their bodies. I would like these ‘alternatives’ to become part of the norm.”
De Liz admits in her series of tweets that even she used to draw all her female characters in a very sexy manner, since that's what she'd seen elsewhere. “It wasn’t something I thought about,” she further explains to Bustle. “It just naturally worked its way into my art growing up. The superhero comics I read, every single female [character] I remember was sexualized, and I just accepted that was the right way to draw them.”
But when you're saving the world from evil, De Liz realized, athletic gear is just more realistic than tight dresses, even if tight dresses have their place and time elsewhere. It also doesn't really make sense to stick your butt out and turn toward the camera with a sultry stare while you're fighting crime. So, instead of depicting women who are manipulating their faces to look sexy, artists might instead create facial expressions that reflect what the characters are doing, De Liz explains in her tweets.
She also encourages practical outfits ("breasts can easily fall out during hero work, which would be silly," one of her tweets reads), muscular builds, and powerful poses. When in doubt, she advises picturing a man in the woman's position and asking yourself if anyone would ever draw that.
Sexy portrayals of female superheroes that disregard their jobs have been an issue in comic books and their accompanying movies for a while. In 2012, artist Kevin Bolk called out a poster for The Avengers that included Black Widow in an unnecessarily sexy pose by creating his own parody with the rear ends of all the male characters displayed instead.
There's also a website called The Hawkeye Initiative that shows male comic book characters in the same poses as women to expose the double standard for how male and female heroes are portrayed.
“Looking back on some of previous works, I’m shocked at just how much I sexualized my female characters, without even thinking about it," De Liz tells Bustle. "If someone asked me to draw Wonder Woman, I’d draw her sexy without even asking.” She adds that this overall pattern is another reason she created her tutorial: “This is also an issue I tried to tackle with these tweets, as many artists do the same thing,” she says. “I want to help them become aware of this automatic response, so they can then make an informed decision either way.”
The good news is that things are improving. In mainstream comics, De Liz cites Batgirl, Ms. Marvel, and Hellcat as great examples; she also says that she has made an effort in her own work to address the issue, particularly in “The Legend of Wonder Woman.” She adds, “And looking at other publishers, there’s books like Faith, Bandette, or Lumberjanes.”
It's important, too, to note that, again, the issue isn't that sexy female characters exist; it's that sexy is often presented as the only way to render female characters. Says De Liz to Bustle, "My purpose is not to shame others who choose to draw sexy characters, only provide alternative considerations. If a person then goes on to help change the landscape of how women are portrayed in the media, then they are my personal superheroes."
While it's easy to spot objectification when you see it, it's harder to articulate what kinds of images objectify someone and even harder to say what kinds don't. But in just a short series of tweets, De Liz does a pretty excellent job of it, and her advice should be required reading for any comic book artist or really any artist at all.