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, 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.

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