A few months ago, my artist Andre Siregar mentioned that he would like his comic book pages to be critiqued like this in the future to improve his craft. Up until page 12, there hadn’t been a need for me to be so critical of his art, I approved of his art overall and only suggested edits when an omission of a detail would disrupt the story. I felt I needed to weigh in heavily on this panel however. Here’s the panel description that I wrote:

Script for Sevara issue #0, page 12, panel 1.

Script for Sevara issue #0, page 12, panel 1.

I’ll admit, my panel description is short. Most of them are. I try to give my artist the greatest degree of flexibility to be creative. My early scripts described every camera angle, but I found that it prevented Andre from making great art. Andre’s job is to turn a group of panels into a single coherent beautiful page. A really great page needs panels that flow from one panel to the next, and the entire page needs to be a work of art that you can stand back from and admire in its entirely. So I’ve taken to leaving the camera angles up to him unless I’m really set on a certain perspective. Here’s the art that Andre sent back based on this slim description:
page12panel1artorig

If I were working for a big comic book company, I’d simply send in my script and that would be the end of it. An art director would take over. Luckily, this is creator owned, so I have guide the art in the direction I want it to go, and this wasn’t what I wanted from this panel for a lot of reasons. We aren’t under any major deadlines either, so I went back and gave Andre a serious critique, which I’ll share in a moment.

I do have some schooling in feminist theory and thought, which I’ll admit has been extremely helpful as I write a story about strong women trying to save the world. The first class I took was at Boston University with the Director of the Center for Women’s Studies. The most influential class was a graduate level course Geography at UW-Madison with Leila Harris. Without these classes I don’t think I would have had the analytical skills to look at how Sevara is being portrayed.

I’ve also done some great online reading about how women are portrayed in comics, which anyone interested in gender in media should take a look at. If you haven’t checked out The Hawkeye Initiative, you should! It’s both entertaining and thought provoking at the same time. It asks readers to imagine male characters posing the way female characters are typically posed, and its hilarious! Would Hawkeye ever pose the way Black Widow or any other female superhero poses? No way! But on The Hawkeye Initiative, he does. Check it out. The Avengers movie poster parody got a lot of attention not long ago.

Kevin Bolks Avengers parody

Kevin Bolks Avengers parody

There was a lot of great writing about a particular piece of comic book art featuring Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The different perspectives on the image are worth a look, and just by reading the different articles you can see how complex the subject of women in comics is. The discussion starter with Ray Sonne’s detailed post at Eat Your Comics about the particular image. The debate raged, and Adam Joseph Drici’s lengthly post not only added some great insights, but solicited an alternate perspective from a professional feminist that takes the discussion further.

The image in question.

The image in question. Art by Sean Murphy.

So, after all this, what did I sent back to Andre? Here’s part of the email:

Panel 1 – In the previous panel we established that Sevara really wants to get the staff. This panel doesn’t really back that up. I don’t see the anger or rage or joy that I would expect to get from this part of the story. Sevara seems to be posing for the camera, like James Bond does in the opening shots of each movie where he steps right into the camera and freezes. I’m not sure why she would stop here to pose. The camera angle is very simple, a full body shot from the side, not very original. And we don’t know if she is moving or preparing to jump, she is just hanging there posing for us. If the sword is of key importance, I would emphasize it more http://www.impawards.com/2006/ultraviolet_xlg.html I also don’t think its clear to the readers where the sword came from. It is too big to fit inside the case, so readers will be confused. Is it is the two pieces of the case are going to be hanging around her, which will be clumsy. It would be better if they simply disappeared. The camera angle and pose is a big deal, especially since the camera angle is so good on the last two panels (really good!) Check out this link for a pose and angle: http://www.posemaniacs.com/archives/1467

My main concern with the image is that Sevara is posing for the male reader to observe her. It just doesn’t make any sense, as she’s in the middle of a battle against a relentless giant robot. To stop and pose for us is just playing to the readers fantasy. It also detracts from the story and the drama. I want Sevara to be a book that both men and women will love. I particularly want female readers to love Sevara for her strength and compassion. Sure, there’s a lot of skin in my book, but the amount of skin isn’t the issue. Character motivation is of primary importance. Why would Sevara stop here? Who is in control, Sevara, or the male gaze? Not unlike the TV show ‘The Wire’, where the show’s creators made it a point never to ‘fish’ with the camera. Alternatively, in the 1989 Batman, why does the Batwing stop right there in front of the moon? The camera is above the clouds, so no one in Gotham can see this cool shot, only the audience. I think Andre was happy to get my critique, and he went back and made edits. I feel luck to have the opportunity to work directly with Andre to bring the pages to life. If I worked for a major company, I’d have to say in how the art turned out!

The re-drawn panel.

The re-drawn panel.

This is what Andre came back with. I think he totally got what I was saying. I love this new image, Sevara is strong, and the camera angle was chosen for maximum dramatic effect instead of to please the audience. If you like this post, take a look at our Kickstarter campaign http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/damianwampler/sevara-issue-0

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Damian Wampler

A Femininst Critique of a Comic Book Panel (from the man who wrote the panel)

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