When the cover for Teen Titans #1 was released, I didn’t think much of it.
Featuring art that I would call “standard” for Kenneth Rocafort, the cover presents the new team for the second reboot of the Teen Titans in the New 52. Excluding Solstice and Skitter—the two women of color who were on the team’s previous iteration—and Superboy, the team’s makeup is not unsurprising.
But the characters on the cover are not what sparked a lively debate that quickly turned venomous and eventually devolved into rape and death threats.
Comics journalist Janelle Asselin recently posted her dissection of the cover, which she deemed “bad,” on Comic Book Resources. Asselin’s major complaint, other than the skewed perspective of the piece, was about the depiction of the under-18 Cassie, aka Wonder Girl:
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Wonder Girl’s rack. Perhaps I’m alone in having an issue with an underaged teen girl being drawn with breasts the size of her head (seriously, line that stuff up, each breast is the same size as her face) popping out of her top. Anatomy-wise, there are other issues — her thigh is bigger around than her waist, for one — but let’s be real. The worst part of this image, by far, are her breasts. The problem is not that she’s a teen girl with large breasts, because those certainly exist. The main problem is that this is not the natural chest of a large-breasted woman. Those are implants. On a teenaged superheroine. Natural breasts don’t have that round shape (sorry, boys). If you don’t believe me, check out this excellent tutorial from artist Meghan Hetrick.
A secondary problem is that no girl with breasts that large is going to wear a strapless top for anything, much less a career that involves a lot of physical activity. In previous New 52 “Teen Titans” covers and issues, we’ve seen this same costume, but more often than not, WG’s breasts are drawn smaller, or the top is pulled up higher. The way Rocafort has drawn her here, we’re one bounce away from a nipslip. On a teenager. In case you forgot that entirely relevant point.
Asselin argues that this cover will automatically alienate more than half of the audience for Teen Titans, which is not untrue, considering teen-based books tend to attract more female readers than male, just look at the number of women who read Young Avengers or actively watched Young Justice (some of whom claim this is the reason the latter was canceled). Teen teams tap into the same demographic as Young Adult novels, and that’s women ranging from 11 or 12 into their 30s and beyond. To alienate such a large demographic seems laughable, and Asselin makes this the major thesis of her article.
Of course, her opinions were not taken to kindly, and, as reported by the Outhouse and on Asselin’s own tumblr, DC artist Brett Booth began a verbal attack on Asselin on Twitter that created a torrent of male fans implying Asselin didn’t read comics, was not a “real” professional in the comics industry, and flooded her survey about sexual harassment in comics with comments ranging from lewd to rape and death threats.
I realize now that my personal blasé attitude toward the cover when it was initially released is a big part of the problem. My reaction towards Rocafort’s presentation of Cassie as a buxom teen in peril of a nipslip was something along the lines of “oh, it’s just Rocafort art. His depictions of Starfire are far more sexualized and much worse.”
But the sexualization of female characters shouldn’t be put on a sliding scale.
The fact that I brushed off the cover speaks volumes to the fact that women truly have to grasp at straws to find positive, non-sexualized artistic depictions of women, especially young women, in comics. Outside of the all ages “genre,” it’s most likely that even the best artists will go out of their way to draw women with prominent nipples, in pointlessly revealing costumes, or in back-breaking “boobs ‘n butt” poses.
Open up the pages of Batwoman, a comic lauded for its positive portrayal of a lesbian lead, but you’ll note J.H. Williams takes special care to shade and color Kate in a way that alludes to prominent nipples just underneath her costume. Or look at Power Girl, one of my favorite series, with art by Amanda Conner, and note that Peej is shown in all number of compromising, if humorous, positions involved near, if not actual, nudity.
As I’ve said before, I love tongue-in-cheek cheesecake humor. I think titles like Empowered can be great, but there’s the ever-present caveat of “when done well.” Cheesecake art can be great, when done well. I have absolutely no issue with nudity, sexuality, or skimpy costumes in comics, when they are done well, and when they have a good reason. The cover of Teen Titans #1 doesn’t seem to have much of any reason to show Cassie in such a low-cut iteration of her costume. It’s not in line with the character’s development in the New 52, it doesn’t make much sense with her personality, and it’s inconsistent with the costume’s original design (if only slightly).
Viewing the cover as “sexualized” or not is certainly a matter of personal opinion—art is in the eye of the beholder—but the fact that one woman voicing her (very justified) opinion caused a hailstorm of threats on her life can easily be universally acknowledged as horrible. The fact that this is not the first time this has happened online (just look at what happened to Anite Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency, Courtney Stanton, who spoke against Penny Arcade and the ensuing “dickwolves” debacle, and Pinkiepony of the My Little Pony fandom) is even more disheartening.