Monday, October 01, 2007

Should Superheroine Comics Have Sexy Covers?

I know, I know...we've only tread over this issue five billion times before. but Lisa Fortuner's post about talking to a female shop clerk about Greg Horn covers sort of brought it all back. So bear with me.

At issue is the question of whether comic books featuring superherones should have sexy covers.

And on that topic I'm thinking specifically of Adam Hughes on Catwoman, Terry Dodson on Wonder Woman, and Greg Horn on Ms. Marvel & She-Hulk.

Does a sexy Greg Horn cover immediately delegitimize a She-Hulk or Ms. Marvel book?

Do comic companies purposely assign "cheesecake" artists to draw covers of their superheroine books?

Questions, questions....

Point One: Is Greg Horn a bad artist?

No, Greg Horn is not a bad artist. He paints photo-realistic covers much in the same vein as Joe Jusko, the Hildebrandts, Frank Frazetta, and just about every other classic Sci-Fi, Adventure, and Romance paperback cover artist.

This style, while possessing a mass appeal, is not universally embraced by the more high-brow comic aficionado (with Frazetta being the possible exception). In this rejection of the photo-realistic style I see the same rejection art critics have had for "classic" realistic art versus more abstract modernist works.

Ergo, "Paul Pope is a better artist than Greg Horn."


"Pope's work is unique and fraught with deep meaning and Horn's is nothing but commercial lifeless shill."


I think some of Horn's more absurdist covers for She-Hulk & Ms. Marvel are actually quite good. For example, the "Awesome Andy" cover for She-Hulk #14. The combination of Horn's hyper-realistic style and the absolute absurdity of the cover subject matter creates a surreal, humorous effect.

I would also point to "American Gothic" cover parody for She-Hulk #12 that Lisa referenced in her Newsarama blog. I don't buy the argument of the shop clerk that the cover is ruined because Horn didn't paint She-Hulk exactly as plain as the woman in the original painting. Again, the contrast between Horn's photo-realistic style & the absurdity of the subject matter works for me.

However, Greg Horn is generally not hired to paint quirky absurdist covers. He is hired mostly to paint covers that, to a large extent, do fall under the rubric of "cheesecake."

Rather than savage him as an artist, it might be more helpful to examine why there is a need/market for these covers in the first place.

It is true: look at past and present runs of superheroine-centered books like She-Hulk, Wonder Woman, Elektra, Catwoman, Ms. Marvel, Supergirl, Emma Frost, and others, and there is a clear pattern of cheesecakey covers. (I'm not even figuring books like Lara Croft, Witchblade, Vampirella, and others of that type into the equation, since it seems like a forgone conclusion in these books that cheesecake will be a large part of the story.)

Do comic book publishers feel a need to put cheesecakey covers on their superheroine books because they're afraid that not enough men will buy them if they don't?

Do these publishers feel that they can't count on enough female readers to pick up comics about female characters -- and so they increase the odds of getting good sales by at least making the covers appealing to their biggest demographic?

Honestly? I think in some cases this is absolutely true.

But are these covers at the same time chasing away the very same female readers that publishers complain do not support the books?

She-Hulk has a new cover artist, Mike Deodato, as of issue #22. While his She-Hulk is undoubtedly beautiful & buxom, the main accent of these covers seems to be much more about Shulkie's strength and fighting ability than sex.

If you are a woman and are too embarrassed to read a She-Hulk trade or an issue of Catwoman because of the cover, what can you do?

You can give your opinions online. You can write polite e-mails & letters to Marvel & DC explaining your point of view.

But you can also bear in mind the Catch 22 in all this:

If you do not support these superheroine-centered comics because of the covers, and are not counted as readers, it only fuels the editorial belief that there are not enough female interest in these comics. And when the editor feels that there will not be enough female interest to keep this female-centered superhero comic afloat, turning to gimmicky cheesecake covers in order to stir up more male readership may happen (or outright cancellation).


  1. I have to say in all honesty that I do like the cheescake covers (like the power girl one). They don't factor in a whole lot in whether or not I buy something though.

    From my experience as the one science major hanging out with all art majors in college, male illustrators draw a lot of sexy/naked women. I guess the comic artists that are well known for it are hired with the sexy covers in mind, but nearly every comic artist draws overly sexy women, in part probably because characters are designed that way and because they want to.

    Thinking about it, are there any women superheroes that wear loose fitting clothing? Nobody really comes to mind?

    Well, to summarize and conclude this scattered comment...

    I'd like to see more superheroine comics in general, and with less T&A in the covers, especially if the inside art isn't like that. I also don't have a big problem with the sexy covers, but it seems like every female superhero having sexed up covers is pretty silly.

  2. I think that last cover is actually the Ed McGuinness variant, rather than the regular Mike Deodato one.

    By the way, I didn't mind Greg Horn when he was doing the goofy, quirky She-Hulk covers, but his generic cheesecake style bugs me. The women's skin looks like plastic most of the time, which is not very appealing.

  3. I don't think that sex compromises competence, nor do I think cheesecake has to be derogatory. The Catwoman cover, for instance, is an easy juxtaposition of sex & danger- which is the mood often being evoked in covers of any kind.

  4. I think you can't tar all covers that have sexual content with the same brush. I look at those She-Hulk and Catwoman covers and I see art and design that is hip, playful and sexy. Whereas that Power Girl cover is just gross, adolescent and dumb.

  5. I find that my opinion on this subject is mostly shaped by my opinion of the artist. For example, I have no problem with Greg Horn putting a cover on a book I like; I find a lot of his cheesecake work witty and fun. Adam Hughes is a fantastic cover artist. Heck, Brian Bolland has done some fantastic cheesecake work- ever seen his Pope and Actress stuff?

    On the other hand, I've seen very little work by Mike Deodato or Michael Turner that I like. Deodato is a lumpy stylist that can't draw covers or interiors, as far as I'm concerned. And I'll never understand the appeal of Turner's work.

  6. I think the more important question is: What do female comic readers want to buy? Female comic fans will often complain about what they're offended by, but it seems rare that they ever say, "Here's an example of something I like. I want more of this." I think the problem really hits home when well written books with realistic depictions of women, like Birds of Prey or Welcome to Tranquility, struggle to maintain sales while a book like, say, Ms. Marvel with its porno covers sells better.

  7. >On the other hand, I've seen very little work by Mike Deodato or Michael Turner that I like. Deodato is a lumpy stylist that can't draw covers or interiors, as far as I'm concerned. And I'll never understand the appeal of Turner's work.<

    I've never understood why Turner's work is considered sexualized (let alone oversexualized). His female and male figures are roughly equally 'idealized', and their idealization doesn't usually appear to be in an intentionally sexual direction.

    If you don't assume sexual intent, his (female) art can very easily be interpreted as how a female reader might see herself 'idealized'. He's my little sister's favorite artist, both for females and for males.

    When reading Superman/Batman's Supergirl story, she kept running down the hall to tell me how someone had finally drawn Wonder Woman right, or that Superman and Batman looked great, that someone other than Jim Lee had finally understood the Man of Steel. A few weeks later, she insisted we go into a comic shop (she hates them) so that she could by a Turner's Sub-Mariner poster for the wall of her room.

    Turner's art is cool, exaggerated, idealized, and trim. I don't think it belongs with the 'cheesecake' (what does that mean, anyway?) people usually deride.

    Have you seen his Supergirl? I've never seen eyes so filled with hope.

  8. >I think the more important question is: What do female comic readers want to buy? Female comic fans will often complain about what they're offended by, but it seems rare that they ever say, "Here's an example of something I like. I want more of this."<

    I offer the case of my sister above. Michael Turner is the only artist she really loves. ;)

    (Joe Mad and George Perez have also earned a lot of positive comments from her.)

  9. Greg, I was just reading your comment thinking, "How could anyone think Michael Turner draws over-sexualized figures?" I can see why your litter sister likes Turner, his characters have that eyeball appeal and look sleek, elegant, and refined. And I applaud your sister for buying stuff she likes rather than buying stuff she's just going to complain about.

  10. 1) No really, Greg Horn is a shitty artist. He basically just let Photoshop do all the work for him, so that everything looks (literally) plastic and lifeless.

    2) I can remember selling Wonder Woman comics regularly to exactly one female customer in my eight years as a retailer. This includes when guys like Brian Bolland, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, and John Byrne were doing perfectly respectful covers.

    3) I don't remember how many woman bought Jim Balent's Catwoman, Tarot, and Chaos! Comics work, but there were a lot of xx readers of Lady Death and her fellow bad girls. Admittedly, more often than not these women were proportionately unattractive, and likely felt empowered vicariously through these characters' sexuality and strength, but that's comics fandom in a nutshell, isn't it?

    4) Say what you will about Bad Girls, but there was no Lord Death, Vamperfella, or PurgaTony that they were meerly derived from.

    5) The biggest selling comics with women in my years? X-Men, of course. Plenty respectful of their heroines, but hardly averse to showing them in a sensualized light.

  11. P.S. Michael Turner is also a shitty artist. Have we never seen Witchblade's "costume," in which her armor conveniently fails to cover most of her chest, all of her internal organs, plus her biceps, thighs and ass? On the other hand, women loved his hideous, exploitative work on that book more than the actual character...

  12. I think you may be misreading Lisa's argument a little here.

    Lisa's not arguing against cheesecake covers in and of themselves. I don't think she's even necessarily even arguing against Horn's work in particular.

    Her argument is that in the case of comics like She-Hulk or Ms. Marvel, the cheesecake covers don't actually reflect the content within. And in fact, they scare away a lot of fans who would otherwise enjoy the interior content.

    Neither Ms. Marvel nor She-Hulk are the cheesecake titles that Horn's cover art implies, but the customer has no way of knowing that without opening the book. Since a cover is supposed to be incentive TO open the book, this becomes problematic. People who buy the book looking for cheesecake would be disappointed, while people who might otherwise enjoy the book take one look at the cover and say "No thanks."

    I don't think Lisa would have as much of a problem if Horn's covers were on books that are supposed to be cheesecake-fests inside and out. Then at least it's an accurate advertisement/warning of the content.

  13. Dont forget that Greg Horn used a gay porn star as a model on the She Hulk cover with that cowboy guy.

  14. P.P.S. I sold a lot of comics on the cheesecake covers. It wasn't a case of misrepresentation, because the consumer was buying the cover art, with no regard for the interiors. Most books that use this tactic couldn't survive without it, so "scaring the girlbase" wasn't a sales issue. If you lose 1,000 good girl art fans to gain 10 actual girls, it might be commendable, but in a similar fashion as hari kari.

    Say, anyone remember Hari Kari? The Shi knock-off?

  15. y'know, the amount of "flesh" on, say,
    a spider-man or superman comic doesn't bother me, nor does the amount on a powergirl or spidergirl cover.

    i think the "problem" [if thats what we call this] is the intent, superman is flexing and stuff but he isn't winking or smiling at the reader [thank goodness!]

    sure it makes me ashamed of my gender sometimes, but then so do covers with shambling zombies on them.

    anyhoo, till WonderWoman wears pants, or batman has bare legs,
    i make mine, literally.

  16. I agree with kalinara here. Cheesecake covers are great for cheesecake books, but some of these books aren't cheesecake books. I don't buy those T&A books. I have no interest in them, but they might be good. I've never read Fathom, Lady Death, Vampirella, etc. because I assume from the covers that the book is going to be some straight guy sex fantasy. While I have nothing against straight guys having sex fantasy books, I'm not interested in them. When books like She-Hulk or Ms. Marvel have similar covers, I'm discouraged from reading them because I think they too are going to be straight guys sex fantasy books. I missed a lot of She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel because of the covers. It took seeing Modok on the cover of Ms. Marvel to get me to buy it. And Modok ain't sexy.

  17. Actually the bodice ripper covers are starting to be a thing of the past on romance novels. Most romance novels just picture the guy or if they do picture a female/male pair they tend to be in a more "lets kick butt" pose. Really the comic book industry would do themselves a favor to look at the romance industry. They have really changed with the times, and now are attracting more people all the time (men included).

  18. I think the sexy covers can be fine, emphasis on can. But the sexiness/cheesecake factor should be predicated on the artist's understanding of the characters. For example, with most Adam Hughes cheesecake covers, he shows a great understanding of the character. His Wonder Woman doesn't just pose or preen- she exhibits strength. His Catwoman is more sultry... it's a different kind of sexiness that's instantly apparent.

    In those cases, a certain "in character" sexiness adds to the appeal. But this is why Hughes is not only a master of cheesecake, but also a great comics artist. Along with his anatomical rendering, he brings all the other elements that should be in there. It's seamless.

    So while I'm not more likely to buy a comic with a cheesecake cover (actually it's the opposite), if Adam Hughes is drawing it, I'm tempted.

    Whereas if it's Greg Horn... not so much. It's not that he isn't a great renderer. It's that as another commenter pointed out, his imagery is lifeless. The "Hulk" cover aside, the White Queen cover at the top of this post is hurt by her dead, dead eyes. It's static, a lot of gorgeously painted zombiefication. The "American Gothic" cover suffers from being the laziest visual cliche on the planet other than another Mona Lisa cop. It's like a band doing yet another cover of "I Want Candy" or "Mickey;" do we really need another lazy "American Gothic" parody?

    That's the biggest problem with Greg Horn- his failure of imagination. He has these skills at photo realism and piddles them away with micronized ideas... that barely qualify as ideas.

    Michael Turner is another artist with a rep for "sexy" ladies, and people have talked about idealization in relation to his work and I don't see it. I just see someone who absolutely cannot draw, letting his colorist bail him out with a lot of computerized effects.

    Idealization? Anatomic disaster is more like it. There's absolutely no underlying structure to his figure work. And did you see the variant cover he did for the new "Battlestar Galactica" series with Number 6? That was supposed to be cheesecake but all it really is is an embarrassingly lazy and slapdash drawing. It looks like he churned it out at the sketch table at a convention in 15 minutes... and yet there it is, a "sexy" Turner cover.

    And it's not the only one.

    I know he's a nice guy and I don't begrudge him the work (there are actually worse artists out there) but I will never understand his appeal or why people attempt to defend his artwork. To me, his covers say, "Stay the hell away from this... the inside might be as crap as the outside."

    So yeah, I'm all in favor of sexy covers... but only if they're done with craft and verve. Out of all these guys, only Adam Hughes manages both. Failing that, I'd rather see something action-packed and dynamic!

    Actually, action-packed and dynamic equals sexy in my book. Not some model posed and Photoshopped.