With the New York Comic Con a mere month away and Halloween a couple weeks after that, I’ve been working on my costume lately. I wanted it to be equal parts geeky for the Con and recognizable for Halloween. I eventually settled on Cheetara from the ’80s cartoon show Thundercats.
Cheetara’s costume in the old show was pretty tame, especially compared to the male characters. She’s fully covered by clothing except for one arm, has reasonably small breasts, and no visible cleavage. The males, meanwhile, wear little more than briefs and big muscles. The new Thundercats TV show (currently airing on Cartoon Network), however, has the male characters all wearing pants and serious armor while Cheetara is stuck in shorts and a “shirt” that’s basically a glorified sports bra. She’s also sporting way too much cleavage for a kids’ show, her boobs appear to have grown about two cup sizes from the original show, she barely speaks, and she’s a love interest for the protagonist even though she was not characterized as such in the original show. Way to dumb down and sex up what used to be a great, strong character! But sadly, it’s par for the course.
I’ve been a consumer of comics and anime (Japanese animation) since I was a kid. I’ve worn the monikers “geek” and “nerd” proudly since I was a teen. But there’s one part of nerd culture that has driven me crazy for as long as I can remember: Female characters are almost universally portrayed as sex objects for men to enjoy—even the supposedly “strong” characters. It makes me seethe with rage to see female superheroes fighting crime in thongs and thigh-high boots. Or a catsuit unzipped to the navel. Corset and miniskirt. Stiletto high heels… well, you get the idea.
But the one little aspect that I’ve zoomed in on the most, and that drives me bonkers, not only as someone with an art background but also as a naturally well-endowed woman, is the way boobs are drawn. Boobs in the vast majority of American (mainstream) comics and an excessive amount of anime and manga (Japanese comics) are drawn just plain incorrectly. Here are the most frequent misconceptions:
1. Boobs are not magical anti-gravity spheres that stand at perfectly perky attention at all times. Likewise, they do not naturally have cleavage, nor do they generally touch in the center, without the aid of a push-up bra.
2. Boobs are not made of pudding. They do not bounce around like a balloon filled with jello, do not ripple like water, and do not squish between your fingers if they’re squeezed.
3. However, boobs do move. Because they do not stay still, a single strip of fabric or pasties masquerading as a bikini (I’m looking at you, Jack from Mass Effect 2 and Ivy from Soul Caliber) are not adequate coverage. The boobs will shift. No amount of double-stick tape can make such a skimpy amount of fabric stay in place.
4. Boobs have nipples. And areolas. What is up with all the sexless breasts? Nipples, by the way, also do not stand at attention at all times.
5. When fabric is stretched across boobs, no matter how tight the spandex, it does not suction cup itself to each individual breast. (Hellooooo every single DC and Marvel character ever created!) It gets stretched across the boobs horizontally. I cannot even begin to explain how ubiquitous and infuriating this is. It’s such a simple rule and yet so few comics illustrators and figurine designers are willing to follow it.
In order to avoid all this boob nonsense completely, I would have to pretty much stop reading comics and watching anime entirely. But since I’m not willing to do that, here are some recommendations for reading and viewing materials that are slightly less boob-centric:
It is so hard to find mainstream American comics that aren’t boob-tacular that I almost never read them at this point. The exception is when you get an artist who’s not a regular superhero comic artist. Try DC’s Bizarro Comics and Bizarro World, Marvel’s Strange Tales, and especially Marvel’s Girl Comics.
Anime & Manga:
This is actually a lot easier. In Japan, manga and anime aren’t subcultures. They’re straight-up culture, with themes that run the gamut of literally anything you can think of, and plenty of titles geared toward every age group and interest. Unfortunately, only so many get translated into English, and adult women are the least pandered to market in the U.S., so choices are a bit slim.
However, some of my favorite “josei” (for adult women) manga include Suppli (unfortunately discontinued after volume 5, but you can find them in other languages on foreign Amazon sites); anything by Erika Sakurazawa, if you’re looking for something a bit racy; anything by Ai Yazawa, whose works are heavy on music and fashion; Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ôoku: The Inner Chambers, about a fictional feudal Japan wherein the sexes’ roles are reversed after a disease decimates the male population; and Mi-Kyung Yun’s Bride of the Water God.
As for anime, where to even begin? The late director Satoshi Kon had a penchant for excellent female characters; any of his few movies are a good choice. The drama series Revolutionary Girl Utena plays with gender and gender roles in a really groundbreaking way. And the sci-fi Neon Genesis Evangelion, currently undergoing a reboot, has a variety of interesting female characters.
Lastly, there are a multitude of excellent blogs and websites devoted to feminist issues and geek culture. If you want to read more, I highly recommend the Geek Feminism Blog, the Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor tumblr, Go Make Me a Sandwich, “a (mostly) humorous look at how not to sell games to women,” and my personal favorite, Boobs Don’t Work That Way.