A senior Marvel executive has said that “a conversation about how women are depicted in comics is relevant at this point” after the comic-book publisher provoked outrage by revealing an illustration of Spider-Woman drawn by a renowned erotic artist.
Unveiled earlier this week at the site Comic Book Resources, Milo Manara’s variant cover for the forthcoming Spider-Woman series shows the superhero on all fours, in what Slate called an outfit that “looks more like a colonoscopy than a costume”.
“The (physically impossible?) pose – bottom up – is familiar to anyone who has read erotic comic books,” wrote Time magazine. “I get it: superheroes wear spandex and a lot of excitable teenage boys read these comic books. But this cover takes the sex-factor to a new extreme … A male hero would never be placed in the same physical position.”
Writing on Tumblr, Tom Brevoort, the senior vice president of publishing for Marvel Comics, responded to a fan question about the uproar. Brevoort said that “the people who are upset about that cover have a point, at least in how the image relates to them”. But he added that Manara has been “working as a cartoonist since 1969, and what he does hasn’t materially changed in all that time. So when we say ‘Manara cover’, his body of work indicates what sort of thing he’s going to do.”
“It’s also, for a Manara piece, one of the less sexualised ones, at least to my eye. Maybe others feel differently. But given that the character is covered head-to-toe, and is crouched in a spider-like pose, it seems far less exploitative to me than other Manara pieces we’ve run in previous months and years,” wrote Brevoort. “But all that said, it’s the right of every reader not to like something.”
He added that the cover is a variant one, meaning that “people will likely need to seek it out if they want it, rather than it being the display piece for the book”.
“I think a conversation about how women are depicted in comics is relevant at this point, and definitely seems to be bubbling up from the zeitgeist. That too is fine. Nothing gets better unless ideas are communicated,” said Brevoort.
Time quoted statistics from Comics Beat, which found that “in February, the Facebook universe of self-identified comic fans grew to a new high of over 24 million fans in the United States. Of that 24 million, women account for 46.67%”. Comics Beat also said that of the 5.8m people on Facebook who like female comics characters, 62% are women.
In February, Axel Alonso, Marvel’s editor-in-chief told the Washington Post that “while we don’t have any market research, the eyes don’t lie. If you go to conventions and comic book stores, more and more female readers are emerging. They are starved for content and looking for content they can relate to.”
Marvel has recently launched titles including Ms Marvel, now a Muslim teenager, and revealed that Thor, in a new incarnation, will be female. Alonso, speaking to the Washington Post about female characters including Black Widow and She-Hulk, said that they “are not the big-breasted, scantily-clad women that perhaps have become the comic-book cliche. They are women with rich interior lives, interesting careers and complicated families who are defined by many things – least of all their looks.”