Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Twisted Truths: Justsayin's Problematic Posturing

This is a response to those posts Justsayin made regarding comic character positions.

You picked out these two images:

And have this to say:

Let’s forget for a minute that it is a supremely stupid and impractical pose for fighting because hey, it’s a comic book. If it looks neat, it doesn’t matter that a real fighter would never, ever do that, right?

Really? Really?

No real fighter would ever, ever do that?

Now obviously, those aren't the exact same poses sported by the objectionable superladies above. The rear arm is down instead of up, and the torso twist is less extreme. But the basics are pretty darn similar. Certainly enough so to demonstrate how bogus your categorical claim is. Never mind the fact that real fighters can't fly through the air.

Hey, did you know that the makers of Avatar: The Last Airbender brought in martial arts experts to demonstrate moves, to make sure that they were both making sure things looked cool but also getting them realistic, thereby making iteven[sic] more awesome?

Wow! Real martial arts moves! Like this one?

Not enough for you? How about a whole friggin' article about the move?

From that article:

"A Superman punch, for the uninitiated, is basically just a big flying overhand right (assuming an orthodox lead) coming in when you are expecting a kick. A common setup is to throw a couple low kicks or knees, then a faking a low kick by lifting the knee, then kicking the same leg back while jumping in and throwing a big punch with the rear hand."

Lifting the knee, then kicking back and throwing an overhand punch with the rear hand. That seems like exactly what Cassie and Diana are in the midst of doing.

I am, actually, physically capable of posing like Cassie above, if we stuck with just the torso twist and had the arms by the hips instead of up the way they are. It isn’t natural or comfortable of course (this is, keep in mind, coming from a person who can, and does, often browse the internets while maintaining a floating middle split), but it is physically possible for me, even with the intense exaggerated curve of the spine and position of the lower half of the body.

However, I am unable to imitate Cassie’s full pose.

Psshhh. You know what, Ms. hyper-flexible martial arts master? I am practically able to imitate Cassie's pose (this is, keep in mind, coming from a person who once heard a legend about what the inside of a gym looks like, but has never seen one himself).

Give or take a few degrees of hip swivel, that's not a bad approximation, for a dude who can't touch his toes. Never mind the fact that she's in motion. Surely you concede that there are poses that might occur momentarily, but would be much harder to hold for a longer period? My attempts to imitate Wonder Woman's pose were less successful, by which I mean the doctors think they'll be able to re-attach my intestines, once medical science advances a few more years.

Now I’m sure there are some people out there who probably are able to mimic the way these two (and so many other female comic characters) are positioned above. I’m also pretty sure that there aren’t many, and that these characters can’t. Regardless of the fact that they were drawn that way. I’m going to go ahead and say they can’t.

Based on what? Oh, I see, you mean... no, forgive my impudence but BASED ON WHAT EXACTLY DID YOU CONCLUDE THAT THOSE CHARACTERS COULDN'T ACHIEVE THOSE POSES? Your intimate knowledge of canonical Amazonian anatomy? They're superheroes. With powers and shit. Is some extra flexibility too much of a stretch (sorry)? Spider-man does impossible poses all the time, I don't hear anyone complaining. And if your point was that it's less believable for non-powered characters, why did you use these examples?

I understand artist license. I understand exaggeration. I understand suspending disbelief.

Do you? Then maybe I don't know what those terms mean. Because taking pains to demonstrate the physical impossibility of a comic book pose strikes me as exactly the type of thing someone who doesn't understand exaggeration might do. I mean, what else could exaggeration mean, besides making something more extreme than in reality?

I’m so turned around by how bad the art and positioning is that I really can’t find them sexy or anything. Which, you know, was probably the whole point of them being drawn that way.

Ah, but now we approach the true crux of your gripe. You object to the fact that it's just female characters forced into this particular unnatural pose, because it's so obviously a mere excuse to show off their T&A. That's why one only ever sees female characters in the pose, because the overwhelming misogyny and homophobia of comic book artists precludes them from showing male heroes in such an uncomfortable, degrading way. Oh, wait...

There. Now we've cleared up that little misunderstanding. But why, you may still ask, is that pose used so often, if not for the T&A opportunities it presents? I'll tell you. Because it looks fucking badass, that's why.

Sure, a person couldn't really twist like Wonder Woman is in that picture. But that's not what's important. What's important is conveying a sense of energy and physicality in a still image. Comic book art doesn't work the same way as live action (such as your fight choreography experience), or even as animation. In Avatar:TLA, the artists can show the speed and force of an action through timing and many individual frames of the character in different poses. No such possibilities in comics. If the artist wants the audience to sense the intensity of an action, they have to build that into the pose itself. And that means exaggeration. It means sacrificing realism for expressionism. It evokes the extreme contrapposto of Italian High Renaissance figurative art moreso than Playboy centerfolds. If that Wonder Woman drawing had been relentlessly photo-referenced, it might have come out accurate, but you wouldn't feel the pose the way you do when it's stretched beyond reality. Were her hips less tilted, you'd miss the sense of forward momentum. Were her torso less twisted, you couldn't anticipate the force with which she's about to snap back around. It would risk seeming stiff and static, which is anathema to visceral excitement.

Obviously you don't want to let reality go completely out of the window, or you end up with Rob Liefeld. But the samples you showed seem, to my eyes at least, to hit a pretty solid balance between anatomy and stylization. And if you want to get into the issues with female objectification in comics, talk about costume design or fridge stuffers or uniformly porn-star-ish body type or actually degrading poses. Don't hate on the Superman Punch. It's practically THE superhero pose. It's goddamned iconic, and makes anyone, regardless of sex, look totally rad.

P.S. I don't usually wear too-tight briefs. It was for demonstration purposes only.