Frank Cho, Artistic Freedom, Clowns, and Your Dollar.

I actually now have a New 52 Harley Quinn figure for reference.

I actually now have a New 52 Harley Quinn figure for reference.

The figure is nowhere near articulated enough to do that Milo Manara pose, however. Not by a long shot. She makes a good reference as to the modernized, very complex clown costume that Harley wears though.

What’s up with this post? Glad you asked. On some level, it is a commentary on the kind of “storm in a teacup” controversies that seem to rapidly grow up on the internet around comics these days. It seems like the Internet is a place where people like to get mad at each other, and levy really rough criticisms about things that could better be left uncommented.

That being said…do I appreciate that comics have more gender diversity in their fan base right now? Yes, yes I do. Is it awesome that all of the things that were previously associated with unsavory basement geeks are now mainstream entertainment, that people enjoy with a minimum of “geek scorn?” Also yes.

By no means am I even suggesting that we turn the clock backward at all.

Still…there was a huge amount of internet controversy over a Milo Manara Spider-woman cover some months ago. I even wrote about it, here. In short, The story began when Comic Book Resources posted exclusive cover reveals from Marvel’s November books. One included a variant cover by Manara that many took issue with for its “blatant sexualization” of a character on a title meant to be reaching out to women. Some people I know shrugged their shoulders and said, “big deal, she’s crawling…doesn’t Spider-Man do that too?”

I can kind of see the point. it had a share of validity, especially in the current marketplace, where marvel makes announcements on “The View.” The thing is, a very simple search of Spider-Woman art shows relatively recent images, most notably by Ed Benes, all PUBLISHED by Marvel, that the internet didn’t give two #$%^ about.

That whole thing blew over. Marvel put the logo of the book in a strategic place, and ultimately got some free press.

Fast forward to last week, True Believers.

About a week ago, the artist Frank Cho, known for realistic but pretty ‘cheesecake” art in comic books, posted a parody of the infamous Milo Manara Spider-Woman cover. This cover featured the Gwen Stacy version of Spider-Woman, Spider-Gwen, and was done on one of Marvel’s blank “Sketch Covers.” Much like a Manara piece…Frank drew how he draws. You get what you get.

He posted the sketch to his own web site…a thing that artists, and really, let’s say it…Americans with Free Speech, can do. You know…all of us, presumably.

It caused a little discussion among my friends. We looked at it as a fairly standard Frank Cho piece. We started to see that the Manara art had gone beyond its first purpose, and that this image was now a repeating meme and had been embedded in comic book culture.

Then the Internet pointed out to me that the Gwen Stacy of the title Spider-Gwen was a teenager. The twenty-something college student character I remembered was left back in the seventies, something I think I never fully acknowledged about the current book. It is clear in the book…it just isn’t situationally important, you know? Which did give the drawing a different flavor, one that the Internet then pointed out. At length.

With vitriol.

Robbie Rodriguez, co -creator of Spider-Gwen, tweeted some rough thoughts about it. And Frank Cho. It seemed like he was actually threatening to hit Frank Cho should he see him at a con…and that was really pretty crazy. Thankfully, that was clarified as a promise about hard conversation, not hits to the head.

Still…the image is clean…really not so different than the pose Harley is in above (two reasons for Harley, BTW, I’ll explain) and it is pretty much his freedom of expression. It’s not really inappropriate, definitely tamer than the Manara art, and posted to his own web site. Artists can still do that stuff, I’m pretty sure. Haven’t checked the Constitution lately.

Do I think it was a great choice? No, I don’t. However, i also failed to notice, despite having read the comic, that this character isn’t the adult Gwen Stacy of the 70’s…most probably because for me, the character’s age is somewhat fixed in those stories. Still…upon reflection, I didn’t like JMS’ stories that suggested that Norman Osborn, a much older man, had an affair with the Gwen of the 70’s…that seemed exploitative. Given that, I think that frank Cho, a fine artist, could have made a better content choice for his Spider-Gwen sketch.

That having been said…it’s Free Speech. If you don’t like Frank Cho’s art or expression, you don’t have to go to his web site or buy it. Simple.

Weirdly, Rob Liefeld leapt to his defense, which is odd. odd because I find myself on roughly the same side of an argument as Rob Liefeld.

I agree that the comics marketplace is changing, and that we should be mindful of it. Definitely so. I think also, there does come a point where an artist, not representing a company, can just sketch the things they want to. If the viewer obejects, that is also well within their rights.

By all accounts, Frank Cho is a nice guy. He also seems pretty aware of the latitude of his free speech, posting another sketch, with brief commentary. He felt that the whole internet took the whole thing way too seriously, and that he himself didn’t take anything personally. That was a pretty high road for him to take, and I respect that.

The attached sketch was a Harley Quinn cover, in the same pose. With the Joker advising her to stay in that position until the Internet breaks. It was very much a smile and a shrug, and a pretty reserved “I’m going to draw what I draw.” He posted it to his own web site, and hasn’t commented in forums or responded to requests for a statement. Pretty much, he feels his statement is his art.

That’s why we have Harley above. Earlier this week, a Harley style therapist sat down to counsel the protagonist (see Monday’s post). I felt like I wanted to support artist free speech in general, but I have to admit…I didn’t want to do a Manara style Spider-Gwen. Frank himself created the avenue of compromise for me, with a psychotic clown holding the same pose. Also…I think maybe everyone could just chill out a bit…as a non clown, non psycho therapist might tell us.

Sadly, our hero only has clown therapy.

Also…the speech balloons say it all. Down to the fact that I needed to get my camera to do the digital reproduction, and further, like the clown, I think that maybe we should all get over this sort of thing. Comics is a growing fandom, and supports many markets and consumers. Frank Cho has his audience, and as a consumer with a dollar, you don’t have to be it. That’s free speech too.

On comics shipping day, a talk about Creator’s Rights and Free Speech for Artists. There you go, Whole Internet. Now go out there with some Dollars, and support the artists that you do like, who ever they might be, True Believers!

Next Issue: Factions!

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