Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A promising new Cassandra Cain Tumblr...

This has been a nice week for those of us still toting the Cass Cain fandom banner.  First comes a neat blog about her, Wonder Woman and Lois Lane, and this morning I tumbled (Heehee!  I'm so clever!) what appears to be a brand-new blog that promises to become a fascinating regular read-- Understanding Cassandra Cain, a Tumblr devoted to a deep reading of Cass and her motivations

As a Cass fan, these kinds of analysis, whether they're psychological or literary or both, are exactly the kinds of things I enjoy reading, second only to comics featuring Cass herself.  For a while there it seemed as if this was going to be the only blog that tried to do much with Cass.  Cass fandom quieted down to a mere whisper compared to the very active one devoted to Stephanie Brown.  Now we're starting to make some noise of our own and it's about time!

Let's go!

Monday, January 27, 2014

But who will save the Powerpuff Girls?

I love the Powerpuff Girls cartoon, and I think IDW's series is one of the best comics from any company.  Lately, the controversy over the "sexualized" alternate cover for Powerpuff Girls #6 hit my Facebook feed hard from both Comic Book Resources and Comicbook.com, a couple of fun and useful feeds that keep me in the loop about the upcoming releases and the crazy comic world news.  You know, like this.

Cartoon Network commissioned artist Mimi Yoon to do an older version of the girls for the IDW book, and Yoon responded with an image of older versions of the characters wearing latex versions of their familiar color-coordinated outfits.  Dennis Barger, co-owner of a comic store in Michigan, felt it sexualized the characters, wrote about it, one of those Internet firestorms erupted, Cartoon Network pulled the cover, the involved parties made statements, and the bell rang for round two or three (I lost count).  This morning, while drinking my coffee, I read both letters and some of the comments on Comic Book Resources' Facebook feed.

Those have been... interesting.  Some decry the artwork, some defend it.  There's at least one person claiming Barger is in favor of censorship, which is silly because that's what governments do, not private corporations or retailers.  There was one of the "this is what comics are, so shut up" aimed at assumed feminist protesters.  Some of the comments (even from Yoon herself) have involved speculations of a very personal nature aimed at Barger.  You can go look them up.  I don't think those are very constructive at all.

After all of it, though, I'm sympathetic to both sides, Barger's as a concerned retailer and fan and Yoon's as an artist.  But even I have some problems with this cover.

For one, I really can't for the life of me figure out what Cartoon Network was thinking.  Powerpuff Girls is an all-ages series, and why they felt the need to single out one specific portion of that audience, I will never know.  Especially when that portion is already over-served in this area.  And at what point was the world crying out for older, sexier Powerpuff Girls?  Although I'm sure there are "unofficial" versions galore on the web.  I don't dare look. 

But someone had to have thought, "You know, in this current day of almost constant Internet outrage, whatever our intentions might be-- a little harmless fun, some cheesecake for older readers of this title-- isn't there a chance by trying this with characters perceived as children we might touch off a round of bad publicity, kind of overshadowing the positive aspects of this property and ultimately damaging the brand for both ourselves and IDW?"  In retrospect, it seems like a pretty bad idea, but it wouldn't have taken a mentalist to predict the inevitable outcry over this imagery. 

The other thing is the art itself.  After having read her letter, I get what Yoon was going for, and think she has every right to stick up for herself and feel pretty angry about the whole thing.  Cartoon Network gave her an impossible task.  But at the same time, I don't think she helped herself with the final product.

Because I think she really missed the mark.  Yes, this is a finely rendered piece.  Yoon has mad chops as far as tone and form go.  And it's not as if Yoon painted the kid versions of the girls in latex clubwear.  These are obviously older than your usual Powerpuffs.  According to her response, her intention was was "to illustrate modern, pop cultured, SASSY (not sexy), and humanized Powerpuff Girls who have just beaten the crime lord and have him on the ground."

Modern and pop cultured, definitely.  But I don't particularly read it as "sassy" or even "humanized" as much as I do static and dull.  This is the aftermath of the beatdown, which is the least interesting part.  The pre-fight has all the tension, the fight itself has all the action, but the post-fight is just kind of... nothing.  Hanging around, breathing a little hard, not much to see.

The girls are certainly in a dominant position compared to Mojo Jojo, but they look more or less like tourists posing naughtily on a statue commemorating an event rather than the heroes who dealt out the beatdown itself.  And they don't even seem too engaged in what they've accomplished, which makes them read more as mannequins or statues themselves than people.  I tend to go with John Kricfalusi on a major point-- if you want to convey "attitude," you have to put a little more into the acting into the art.  Do something other than have characters look at you out the corner of their eyes.  The facial expressions in the art are generically smug rather than character-specific or unique, and their poses not particularly interesting.  Just sitting or standing, a fist clenched here, legs crossed there. 

Maybe if Yoon had depicted the fight itself, or had given us a little more emotion from the characters, there wouldn't have been so much focus on the latex dresses-- and by the way, no, "all superheroes" don't wear latex; they usually wear spandex (although some artists have made Cassandra Cain's Batgirl costume look more PVC or latex than spandex or even leather at times).

Anyway, while I'm not all that impressed with this particular piece, I'd love to see Yoon get more work.  It looks as if IDW will be making it up to her with another cover, which is cool.  If nothing else, this controversy has made me aware of a talented artist.

It's just unfortunate this example just seems to have been a bad idea all around.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sometimes you read something you immediately recognize as truth...

This is kind of old news, but thanks to my following a chain of fan/comics industry horror stories today, I came back around to something that bothered the hell out of me late last year.  Something I read about a bit, then never followed up on because the person telling the story was being so cool about it I felt we wouldn't get the most important piece of information and we'd all have to go our separate ways after saying our various pieces on it.  Eventually, though, the thing I was curious about came to light.

What he did was wrong.  Coming clean was right, but then again, his apology is wrong.  But this is not wrong at all.  This is so right.

What happens when you make a Tumblr blog about Wonder Woman, Cassandra Cain AND Lois Lane?

Lots of great art and animation, apparently.  We'll be keeping an eye on this one.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Somebody already did a VERY nice Cass Cain redesign!

And it's Thomas Branch coming up on the inside, taking the lead by a nose... one length... two lengths... running away with it down the home stretch!  Six lengths and the finish!  What a race!  What a win!  What a costume! The Wonder Girl is a fantastic design, too, even if that's not my favorite version of the character.  I'm a 1960s era Wonder Girl fan and I always will be.  She's cool and fun in a way not many characters-- even those claiming her superhero name-- can match. 

But this is a Cass Cain Batgirl blog, so let's talk about Branch's work on her costume.  While I'm not sure if it's Cass-Batgirl or Cass-Black Bat, it works for either.  I like the exposed eyes for visual communicative ability and giving an artist the opportunity to draw her facial expressions, even if she's not going to be chatting everyone up like your Spider-Man or Deadpool type heroes.  The capeless look for extra-martial arts freedom-of-movement magic is definitely the way to go.  She really needs to tie back that hair so it doesn't get in her eyes while she's kicking ass, though.

There are some interesting points raised by both Dean Trippe in the post and by a commenter below it in the comments thread. 

One, I agree with Trippe these costumes have a "Marvel" kinda vibe.  But I think Branch's Cass also has a GI Joe action figure look.  You know, the 1980s toy line, which featured ninja and ninja-inspired characters like that guy with the mask with the wolf and that guy in white.  That mask-wolf guy didn't talk either, for some reason.  I don't remember their names, but you know who I'm talking about, right?  Cass looks like she could be a friend or partner to either of those guys.  Maybe it's the katana strapped to her back.  None of this is remotely a negative.  Actually, I think these are all positives.

Two, as the commenter asks, does Thomas Branch use fitness magazine or celebrity photos as reference, or does he trace directly from them?  Whichever it is, I don't care if he does.  As Trippe points out in his reply to the person bringing this up, Branch adds to or changes the image enough that it constitutes an original work.  I look at both those drawings and the farthest thing from my mind is tracking down original photos Branch might have based them on.  Trippe is also correct in stating there are plenty of artists who work this way-- I could list some big-name greats who occasionally (or more often) relied on photo reference (my university illustration instructors were always after us to establish our own morgue files for that kind of thing in case we got jobs drawing cars or fashions from three years ago or something), either drawing from it or tracing it outright then modifying the proportions and lines to fit their styles or used half-tone or high-contrast copies to paste up backgrounds in their work.

Some people do misuse this resource-- there's one guy who's infamous for it and I think we all know who he is without my having to name him-- but using a photo to draw from or even tracing it are not in themselves wrong.  I don't feel like going into great detail the times when it is wrong.  Think about it and get back to me with your own take. 

I will tell you upfront here my own process sometimes includes referencing some of those crazy Japanese martial arts pose books you can buy here, with fight scenes photographed from several angles.  I've "cast" celebrities as characters before, too.  One of my Cass drawings stars Japanese actor Ryoko Hirosue because I liked the pose and extreme camera angle.  Probably not appropriate for a story, but perfectly fine for one of my crap drawings-- and it does help me learn about anatomy and foreshortening for when I come up with a pose out of my own imagination (I do this a lot, too).

Use the tools you have.  That's what they exist for.  Lately, I've been playing around with Manga Studio 5 and you'd have to be crazy not to take advantage of that program's customizable and poseable male and female figures.  Do a thumbnail of the pose you want, pull one of those onto your page, stretch and bend it until it work and use the heck out of the three-point perspective ruler Manga Studio automatically generates based on your camera angle.  You can trace out a rough based on the pose, then add your own proportions and details in your own style and dress it up, but it's a handy tool to have at your disposal, especially if you're a like me-- I'm a stickler for relative heights and distances between characters and their environments and getting perspective just so, but I don't have the brains to figure all that out manually or the skill to fake it believably.  I know the theories behind it all, which is important even when you're using Manga Studio... but now I don't have to sweat the math.

Anyway, the point is, Thomas Branch has a way with costumes!  I'll flat out state for the record however he works, he's a better artist than I am, and I'm jealous as all get out of his Cass!