Since December I’ve been on kind of a graphic novel kick. Part of this is Amazon and Comixology’s fault, running great end of the year sales on the “DC Essentials” followed by Google’s beginning of the year sale that about doubled my collection of Fables, Runaways and Saga.
Prior to this explosion of graphic novel reading I’d been trying to pick my way through the penultimate volume of The Sandman, The Kindly Ones. The art in that book seems so hastily sketched and primitive (or Picasso’esque jarring) that I’m finding it hard to enjoy it with the same relish as A Season Of Mists.
The last month has been almost exclusively a Brian K. Vaughan month, tearing through Y: The Last Man (which deserves a whole post on its own), the first two volumes of Saga, and Runaways. It’s this last I want to touch on.
For those of you unfamiliar, Runaways is in the Marvel universe (see Avengers, X-Men, Spiderman, etc.) but is set in Los Angeles (most super hero action happens in NYC). The book’s main premise is that a group of teenagers discover their parents are actually a cabal of super villains called The Pride. Their reaction is to freak out, run away, and try to figure out what to do. In the midst of this they discover their own set of super powers, including the fact that one is a mutant, one has a telepathic link to a dinosaur, and one is an alien.
With me so far?
It’s actually a pretty engaging story, with likable and diverse characters, and doesn’t lean too heavily on knowledge of the Marvel Universe. Vaughan likes to work with his own characters, and that’s evident in this book and all of his other books I’ve read. This book is a little teenage drama-y, but it’s got a great sense of humor and engaging colorful artwork.
At least in volumes 1-3 (issues 1-18).
At the end of the third book the first narrative arc closes and in real life Runaways took a brief hiatus before starting up a second series with a new issue 1. And that’s where the artwork took a turn typical of comics, but I think really unfortunate considering the subject matter. All of the girls were drawn skeletal thin.
In comics women are drawn one of two ways, with giant breasts and revealing clothing, or other-worldly thin. This is a book about teenage girls (and 1 guy), ages 16 to 17, and the characterizations make this a book that should be appealing to that demographic (if not more so). That would seem to me to be an age where we want to be encouraging positive body images, not unrealistic ones. Yes it is a superhero book, with one of the characters being an alien, but otherwise they’re normal teenagers.
One character in particular is treated pretty unfairly in this, Gertrude, the one with the dinosaur. She was drawn a little heavier in the first few issues, and this has a natural affect on the character’s personality and interactions with other people. In the second volume she is still treated in the same way, but is drawn as what for many girls would be considered a normal body type.
Now this is an old book that is now finished, but still one that people pick up, particularly if they’re trying to read some of the “classics” or at least “notable” comics. And it’s a trend that I suspect has not gotten any better.
An interesting exception to this is my new recent read Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore (who worked on Runaways for its third series). This is not a book I would expect to like. At the center of narrative is a love triangle between a lesbian woman named Katchoo, her best friend Francine who Katchoo is in love with, and David who is enamored of Katchoo. The book is about human relationships, sex, and friendship and it’s so far been surprisingly intriguing (real living characters help). In particular Francine is a unique thing in comics. She’s overweight, and the artist is unafraid to draw a few rolls. But at the same time she is portrayed as beautiful and very sympathetically. Her weight is occasionally a plot point, but never in a cruel way. I don’t know the whole trajectory of this story, and admittedly it would be kind of inappropriate for the Runaways demographic, but I think it’s a much more sympathetic and healthy view of girls, women and beauty.
Any other graphic novels you’ve read that portray women realistically?
** Oh, and I also read some Batman: Hush and the new 52 Batgirl. Hush was amazing though I feel like the ending was abrupt (and definitely a much more male oriented view toward the drawing of women, particularly Poison Ivy and Huntress). Batgirl has been enjoyable, though I’ve found myself putting it down for other books, but now I’m back in.