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Cheesecake (noun): Also called Leg Art. Photographs featuring scantily clad attractive women.

T&A (abbreviation): Tits and Ass.

I know some people are having a hard time wrapping their heads around why we in the comics blogosphere are blowing our stacks over Catwoman #1, especially people in the comments of places like Comics Alliance and Newsarama. I mean, after all, comics are a medium in which women are portrayed as hyper-sexualized all the time, and thus, we should expect it to come with the territory.

Never mind that nobody can actually give me a good reason for why that is the way it is, other than “That’s how it’s always been.” which, frankly, isn’t a reason to do anything.

“I keep stubbing my toe on that coffee table!”

“Well, why don’t you move it?”

“But it‘s always been there!”

Highly illogical.

One of the biggest defenses rising from that mentality is that Catwoman qualifies as a Cheesecake Art Book and not an Objectfying Claptrap Book.

I am here to shut those people up. So sit your ass down, you’re about to get schooled.

I’m going to open this discussion with what is my favorite commentary on the whole debacle thus far, courtesy of Ty Templeton’s Bun Toons:

More concisely than I could ever hope to, Templeton sums up exactly what’s wrong with much of Catwoman’s book, but there’s still more to say.*

Let’s revisit some of the imagery of Catwoman #1:

In my summation, these images are the equivalent of a guy talking to my chest rather than talking to me. The emphasis is not on Catwoman as a whole person, but rather as a series of body parts--and the fact that those body parts are primarily of a classically sexual nature is incredibly telling. With the focus on her breasts, lips and ass, she is reduced to the status of sex object, rather than whole human being. Of course, these panels aren’t the only ones to contribute to that problem, nor is the segmenting of Selina. Really, it’s more about how much she’s presented as an object for the sexual gratification of the male audience throughout the issue.

In fact, would you like to know how little of Catwoman #1 features Selina as a whole person who isn’t overtly sexualized?

Of the fifty-seven panels that she appears in, a whopping twenty-three:

1.) Place undue emphasis on her body parts (breasts, ass, lips)
2.) Feature Selina half-dressed
3.) Contain blatant sexual imagery.

Twenty-three out of fifty-seven. Of the remaining non-sexualized panels, do you know how many show her full face and fully clothed? Twenty-four. The leftovers are made up of shots of other body parts--like eyes and feet--which is still objectifying, but not in nearly so horrible a way.

That means Selina is an object almost sixty percent of the time.

When you look at those first few pages, what do you see? Do you see Catwoman? Because all I see are body parts, and not even cat-themed ones, at that. Absolutely NONE of the panels in question give any indication that this is Catwoman and not some original character. Even setting aside the objectification, that’s bad storytelling. No distinct character should ever be indistinct. Hell, a single Balent silhouette of the nineties was more easily identifiable as Catwoman than the first two pages of the new series.

And Balent, as you may or may not be aware, was criticized harshly for his sensational portrayal of Catwoman’s body.

Now, am I saying that body parts should never be featured in a comic book? Well, duh, of course not. Yay for boobs! Am I saying that emphasis should never be placed on breasts, or lips, or hips? No, I’m not saying that, either.

What I am saying is that T&A shouldn’t be the majority of a character’s appearance in any given story, and even then, I insist on having a reason for emphasis on such things to be there. Like, for example, this great sequence by Darwyn Cooke:

These pages segment Selina into a series of body parts, but it’s not objectifying because there’s a reason for it to be happening--she has made a conscious decision to reinvent herself with a new costume and this scene serves as the transition from the old one to the new one. Further, it works in context; the nudity, the segmenting, it all plays into the larger narrative.

(I also think that this is a much better example of good Bat/Cat than Winick's version, but then, what isn't?)

Find me a reason for the same segmenting and Selina's being disrobed to happen in the first four pages of last week's Catwoman #1 and I will eat my hat.

Further, why is she half dressed? Did she just get out of the shower? Was she having a patented [livejournal.com profile] captaintwinings Naked Thursday? Nope. She’s just randomly half dressed.

I’m sure one could argue that it’s sexier this way, and that’s all the reason comics need. While that may have been true in the nineties during the Bad Girl era, there was really no excuse for it then, and there’s certainly no excuse for it now.

I mean,, look: if there were fifteen panels of buildings, or fifteen panels of radishes, accompanied by unrelated monologue, you wouldn’t put up with it because it‘s bad storytelling. Why should Boobs For No Reason be any different? Why are people so willing to let this book off the hook when they’d be demanding their money back if those panels were replaced by fluffy puppies?

The easy answer is misogyny, I suppose, and how prevalent it is within comics fandom--internalized or otherwise. We’re okay with it because the subculture says we should be, even if an outsider might point out that it doesn’t make any sense or if it hurts us in the end.

(For further reading about why cutting Catwoman into pieces is a bad thing, I recommend this post by [livejournal.com profile] captaintwinings. She's super smart and funny, I promise.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. I don’t want to talk about misogyny and sexism in comics fandom--that‘s too complex a topic for right now; I want to talk about why it’s wrong and unfair to equate T&A with Cheesecake art.

For comparison’s sake, I’d like to cite Gil Elvgren, one of my favorite pin-up artists of all time:

Do you know what I see here? I see whole women with actual reasons to be showing some skin. From the content of the paintings themselves, each single image tells the whole story of why these women are flashing their garters at you. A naughty school child startles teacher with a frog; a young lady out shopping gets her dress caught in an elevator door; wet paint ruins a new dress; a secretary tries to keep her balance on the precarious ladder she needs to get to the files in the top drawer, only to have her skirt get hung on the way back down.

Conversely, what do you see in the first page of Catwoman #1? The exposed parts of a woman for no discernable reason… for four pages. What Elvgren accomplished in one picture, Winick could not accomplish in fourteen.

This is bad storytelling, especially at a time when comic book pages in which to tell that story are at a premium.

The reasons I don’t consider Catwoman #1 to be Cheesecake should be fairly obvious.

A.) The vast majority of Cheesecake art has a story to tell through its Cheesecake-y-ness

And B.) Even the Cheesecake art in which the women featured don’t have a reason to be getting naked, they are never reduced to mere parts.

…no, wait, actually, that’s not true. I can think of ONE piece of vintage pin-up art that reduces a woman to parts. I can’t actually locate the original image, but it’s a woman’s legs in stockings and high heels, as seen through a keyhole. Yet, this is still somehow less objectifying and offensive, because there’s a reason that this woman is nothing but legs: your perspective is through a keyhole. Even that wordless image tells more story than Winick did.

How people are still defending this issue is completely beyond me. It’s not just offensive, it’s objectively bad because it’s poorly written. LE SIGH.

And the worst of it is, in all fairness to Winick, I actually really like some of his work (some of his Batman run, specifically, and a bit of his Green Arrow) and by all accounts, his Batwing does right everything Catwoman does wrong. What is it about this title that made him totally jump the rails?

*A note to commeters: Though I'm posting this webcomic, I don't condone use of words like 'hooker' or even 'prostitute'; sex worker is the only term really welcome here in regards to the profession in question, so I ask you to please respect this when commenting. Sex workers read comics blogs, too, you know. :)
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This is the back-up account for what I hope will be the Ultimate Catwoman Fan Blog--Dr. Von Fangirl on LiveJournal. You should go check it out over there. I much prefer the original article.

November 2011

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