Sunday, April 22, 2007

Comic Book Animation: The Evolution

I loved comic books when I was a kid. My mom was very understanding about my strange pastime and would often buy comics for me to read. At least I was reading something right?

Truthfully, I was probably more interested in the animation than the actual story. Yet, that's kind of the point isn't it? If we wanted just the story, we'd buy a novel and call it a day.

But the animation has sure changed over the years hasn't it?

I'm certainly not the first one to notice the trend or comment on it. But I am often struck by just how much things have changed. I suppose one could say it's a natural effect of time and changing technology, taste and culture. Well, I guess that is it in a nutshell.

Still, when I look at the way things have changed I have to ask why everything has become sooo exaggerated?

It's not shocking that women have always been, shall we say, idealized. Take this classic image of Batgirl: super tight costume- check: provocative pose (for the time)-check: unrealistically proportioned body-check.

But that is nothing compared to how women are depicted today.
Look as this updated picture of Batgirl; Can you say painted on? Is there a reason she's actually wearing a costume? And this is a fairly tame comic book woman. Take a look at this picture from the comic book Mantra, mentioned over at Dave's Long Box: I can honestly say I never went to school with anyone who dressed like that.

But we all know it isn't just the women: Check out Batman and Superman in this picture.

When did they start making steroids for superheroes?

Animation in general has improved but I do wonder why it has become so over-exaggerated and hypersexualized? It seems almost too easy to say that it's because the target audience is hormonal, teenage boys. I've trolled the net enough to find lots of different people who like comics, including women; and not everyone is really into the current trends in animation.

So what do you think of where comic book animation is going? Do the images ever bother you or do you think it's just a natural progression? Do you think characters like Batman and Superman will continue to look massively over-muscled or do you think the artists will scale back?

I would ask if you thought the images of women would become less voyeuristic, but they've pretty much always been that way, and I don't see that changing.

But really, what do you think of comic book animation in general?


ShadowFalcon said...

I think if you read certain types of comics the style of animation etc is to be expected. I'm a huge fan of Salvador Larocca, Alex Ross, John Romita, Jr. and Takeshi Miyazawa.

Yes men and women are idealised but isn't that the point of fantasy, these people aren't normal? One thing x-men did quiet well with the school for a while was make the teenages looks like teenagers...

Hey there, Skippy said...

I'm not really a comic book reader, but I do love the art on a purely aesthetic level. Some of it is genuinely beautiful and, were it not connected to a genre that most people still consider to be for "kids", would garner considerable critical praise.

There's no doubt that comics art improved drastically over the last thirty years, in terms of realism if nothing else. Of course, what we now seem to have with all these extraordinary bodies is a sort of hyperreality. Like Shadowfalcon suggests, it is one of the points of fantasy and on that level I have no real problem with it. WHat irks me a bit is that it seems mostly to be the women who are overtly sexualised, rather than the men who are just ripped without any sense of sexual apeal. Could this be anythign to do with the sex of most comic book authors/readers?

Carl V. said...

As far as animation goes, I like the newer animated style of the Batman shows. I think they do both the men and the women in stylized ways without making them too over the top (the women aren't ridiculously busty, for example). Comics are a mixed bag. Some are very, very good and others are so strangely objectifying to both women and men that I just don't understand it at all.

Speaking of old animation, I had a chance awhile back to watch some of the old Superfriends episodes that dominated my Saturday mornings as a kid. They are so much cheesy and yet so nostalgic.

avery said...

I think the animation reflects the social values at the time it was drawn. Hot women have always been high on the list, so obviously, they'll keep being put into the pages wearing as little as social mores of the the time permit.

And I think it's all about that -- the time. If you look at the old Batgirl picture, she looks like a pinup model, sporting the wavy locks and hourglass figure that was the ideal in mid-twentieth century western culture. Our new Batgirl is simply another reflection of our values. What's currently important to Americans? Fitness and leaness. So, our revamped Batgirl is sporting a six-pack, 3% body fat and more muscle tone than I can ever hope to achieve.

I suppose where the animation goes after this point is up to the mercurial and mysterious powers that are ever formulating the next trend.

SQT said...


Now that you point it out, it's obvious that the original Batgirl was modeled after a pinup. How did I not see that?

I think I can safely say that after having kids, I will never, ever, have abs like the later Batgirl either.

Hey there, Skippy said...

But on the plus side, SQT, you'll never have to jump around other people's rooftops in the middle of night wearing unflattering leather pants.

Crunchy Carpets said...

Can we say 'art' and not animation?
Animation is for cartoons and not comics and I know a few artists of comic books who would be a bit miffed.

I think the art has progressed along with the rest of pop culture and people's tastes and 'needs.'

It is mostly still men that draw the crew and it is still mostly men that read the you will always have the fantasy aspect of the body types.

Technology does make a difference too.
Printing costs, paper quality, etc all made a we have digital inking and colouring.

Art quality has changed too....there are MORE artists to choose from.

It used to be a small group of people making comic books and drawing the there are thousands and wannabe's out there, some with talent and some without.

jedimerc said...

Well, both animation and art has progressed. I have even seen it in anime. If you look at the animation from the 70s/80s classic era of Anime and how it has progressed today, the evolution as been just as amazing as in regular animation, though less emphasis on CGI, though almost all of it is drawn on computer now, rendering cel animation a lost art... amazing what you pick up about animation at Anime shows :)

SQT said...


I didn't intend to offend. I was thinking primarily of comic book art, but the 'old school' Spiderman at the top is from the cartoon; so I was including both.

It did occur to me as I was writing this that I've seen a lot of comics now referred to as "graphic novels."

I just didn't realize that people were so picky about the terminology.