Friday, September 18, 2015

Pin-Up Mentality

After college I spent a few years experimenting with the idea of drawing graphic novels for a living. It was fun. I worked really hard and developed my mediocre drawing skills into fairly decent people-drawing skills. Not so much life drawing, but sketching little characters.

I was part of a forum (sadly now defunct) that had some big names as members (folks like Immonen and Francavilla) and I got a lot of excellent feedback and advice while I was there. But, in the end, I don't do well at drawing things. And I'm pretty damn slow at everything else.

For a while I thought maybe I would just focus on pin-ups; drawing women was fun and very popular and I could probably have made some money at it if I'd really wanted to. But I kept finding I wasn't especially happy with only drawing women as... sexy things. And I was still hideously slow so I turned to other pursuits.

Recently though, I've been thinking about pin-ups again. It started with a cartoon I saw on FaceBook (but cannot seem to locate for specific reference so bear with my word version of it.) On the left hand side was a (roughly drawn) woman in a chainmail bikini type costume. (It was generic, and poorly rendered, but it may have been supposed to be Wonder Woman or perhaps Red Sonja or maybe just a woman in a chainmail bikini.) And the caption was something like "When a woman wears this to ComicCon she's strong and empowered." And there was (I think) a voice balloon that said "You go girl!". On the right hand side there was a dude sitting in front of an easel with (essentially) the same sketch of the scantily clad woman on the left. And the caption said "When an artist draws a woman like this he's a sexist pig." And (again, I think) a voice balloon that said something like "Misogynist!". [I tried really hard to find the original to link to, but I don't know who drew it and Google searches under relevant terms were distressing. So, I am paraphrasing and leaning on my (sometimes) faulty memory.]

The obvious thrust of the cartoon was to imply that there's a double standard about how women portray themselves and how men portray women. Especially in SF/F. Especially in the visual arts.

And my initial thought was "This is missing the point." Because we all know that women are sexy sometimes. We are known to wear things that we think make us look attractive. (Even I, on occasion, take off my battered jeans and worn out t-shirt and put on some fancies.) But, and this is the missing thought in the above mentioned cartoon, we are more than just a sexy thing in a chainmail bikini.

The objection to artists who consistently draw women as first-and-foremost sexy/attractive is that they are reducing them, reducing us, to something to be looked at. Admired. Drooled over, even. Praised because of how sweet we look or how luscious our curves are. They are reducing us to objects. Again.

It feels like I shouldn't even have to point that out. But then I see things like Game of Thrones Women as Pin-Ups. (A Google search will turn up a lot more than just those five.) Or Disney Princesses as Pin-ups. (And there are a lot of those too besides the artist I linked to. He's just the most recent to get a write up.) And I see the previously mentioned cartoon and I realize it needs to be said again.

Women are more than just sex objects. We aren't just pretty things who are there for the Hero to ogle and take home as a prize after he saves the world. We are more than a bikini (chainmail or otherwise). More than a pretty smile.

Does this mean that no one should ever draw pin-ups? Or that men should never draw women in a way that suggests they are attractive or desirable?

Of course not.

It does mean that it behooves all of us (men and women alike) to remember that we are first and foremost humans. Sure, our dangly bits are different, but we are defined by more than just that.

"Fine," you say. "But I'm not an artist so why should I care?"

Because this is a lesson for all of our creative endeavors. There are still too many books being written in which the women or the PoC or the LGBTQ folk are just sidenotes - summed up into a single aspect of their humanity. Women as sex objects, PoC and LGBTQ as "other" and foreign and tragic friends who do not get to reap the rewards that the Hero receives. There are still too many books being written in which the Hero is likewise put in a box and distilled down to a handful of characteristics that limit his growth and depth by relegating him to a role which can only be those things which are not identified as a part of Women or PoC or LGBTQ characters.

And this doesn't mean that every book must represent all parts of every spectrum of humanity. Just as it doesn't mean that no one should ever draw pin-ups. But it does mean that consistently seeing a particular group in a specific way will limit the stories you tell and cramp (if not cripple) your skills to present characters that are fully rounded.

Depth of character means depth of skill, depth of perception, depth of understanding.

It means putting aside the pin-up mentality that turns every character with girl-parts into something to be ogled. It means writing not about the Hero or the Love Interest or the Queer Friend.

It means writing about humans. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Irons in the Fire: Update 9.6.15

This year has been different than last in that I keep getting this feeling like I've not gotten much accomplished. To the point that a month or so ago I had a really down moment where I started wondering if I was going to have to write this year off as a complete wash.

Of course, then I started looking at what I've actually done this year and realized I have been writing and finishing things. I just haven't been writing and finishing novels at the pace I was last year. But that's a topic for a different day.

One of the projects I've been working on is an OGN (Original Graphic Novel) script. The project is still in the early stages - the script is finished and I have an amazing artist working with me as we put together a pitch for the book - but this week I got the first batch of character sketches and (with Tony's permission) I'm sharing them here.

First, here is the brief summary of the book.

For nineteen years, Gwen has avoided a future in which she ushers in the apocalypse, and resisted the plans her father, Odin, has made for her. Her unwelcome companions, the ravens Munin and Hugin, nag her to take up Odin's spear and defend Valhalla in the coming war. Gwen's mother coaxes her toward the paths of peace and positive change.

When the soul of Arthur Pendragon wakes up in the body of seventeen year old Tristan Morgan, Gwen reluctantly agrees to help the ravens and finds the warrior-turned-teenager to be an unexpected soul-mate. Gwen can keep her semi-ordinary life and lose Tristan to the magical schemes threatening Yggdrasil and all its connecting Realms. Or she can take her father's place, save Tristan, and become the Champion of Valhalla. With the threat of Ragnarok still hanging in the balance, Gwen clings to the one truth she knows: if you want to change the world, start with yourself.

And character sketches (property/copyright Tony D'Amato 2015). 

Gwen Sinister


I'm incredibly excited about this particular project. Tony is knocking it out of the park as he brings these characters into a visual medium. 

If you would like to check out some of his other work (storyboards and illustrations) you can visit Tony D'Amato Dot Net or his Tumblr page at TD'

In the meantime, I am still working on several other "words only" projects, including finding a home for the Southern Gothic novella trilogy, and finishing up an epic little Steampunk Apocalypse novel. You can also look for more reprinted or new short stories coming closer to Christmas.