2013-10-09

"Monica's boobs are getting on my tits."




First, I apologize for the title of this post; I was careful to put it in scare quotes, but understand that in spite of the impression you might have got of me from my recent interview on Rocking Self-Publishing, the title of this post is an accurate representation of how I really talk.

I know I have already intimated that I am a regular reader of webcomics, and I may even have listed my regulars somewhere.

Among those is the generally excellent Wapsi Square. Wapsi went from being a carefully* drawn casual webcomic about a "small group of twenty-somethings getting up to hijinx with obligatory supernatural mascot" to a beautifully and distinctively drawn comic with a sense of humour that regularly deals with serious subject matter through supernatural (and increasingly allegorical) storylines that occasionally seem to retcon the only medium that can't be convincingly retconned. As such, you have to keep up to date or you can find yourself in big trouble.

If you don't keep up to date, and decide to go on an archive binge, you have to be prepared for the following repeated WTF moments:

  • I remember him/her/it/that... whatever became of him/her/it/that?
  • wait, she has super powers now?
  • wait, she has super powers too?
  • How old did you say you were?
  • Oh, now she's indestructible.
  • No, wait, just immune to bullets.
  • No, really indestructible... 
  • and so on
In a way, all this is par for the course. Certain long running webcomics, of which I guess one of the major grand daddies is Sluggy Freelance, shows that you can not only continually reinvent certain characters (provided other characters develop in a more conventional way), but you can (and probably should) lampshade the fact (warning: that last link was to TV Tropes. Only follow it if you have time to kill. ). Aylee the alien regularly changes appearance and personality throughout the first few years of the comic.

Somehow, we accept plotting oddities, incursions from other fictional worlds and total overhauls in webcomics that would be utterly unacceptable in other media.

Wapsi Square makes up for its oddities with some strong and compelling central characters (Monica, Shelley, Tina, Katherine, Phix), and Wapsi's creator Paul Taylor even pulls off the improbably coup of giving the impression that we the readers are still just beginning to get to know those characters, familiar though they have become.

As with all long running webcomics, Wapsi has also seen a significant transformation in the artistic style, as Paul Taylor has developed from a newb comic scribbler into, let's face it, an artist.

His style looks slapdash... a lot less careful than those early strips. But he seems to have discovered how to cram all the necessary emotion onto the faces of his characters exaggerated eyes and teeth notwithstanding.

So... to the boobs.

Dig a little in the archive and the forums, and you will discover that there is a sensible-ish reason why Monica's boobs are so disproportionately huge. And indeed, the disadvantages to her distinctive distinguishing anatomical feature are explored honestly (though not without a little humour). Having said this, as Taylor's style has become more and more individual and differentiating, it has developed into a style that emphasizes details of characters' appearance. As a result, Monica's boobs have got bigger and bigger.

Now, there are times where a little exaggeration goes a long way, and not just for comic effect. And Taylor also draws what I think are joyous and liberated old school pin-ups of his main character where the exaggeration is also ... forgivable.

And those boobs can also be useful for leaving us in no doubt that even transformed into an embodiment of righteous rage, this is still Monica.

However...

Increasingly often, Monica's physique is distracting to the point of undermining an otherwise liberal, equal, empowered treatment of women**, both in terms of character portrayal and in the underlying symbolism of the stories.

In today's comic (pictured above), the distraction is underlined because Tina's torso is much more natural than Monica's. This is true of pretty much all the other characters. They look like cartoony exaggerations of realistic physiques - even the supernatural ones. Whereas Monica has become increasingly "impossible".

The scare quotes around "impossible" are there because there absolutely are real women who have a petite figure and impractically large breasts, and all the risks, problems, prejudice and stigma that go along with that. So if there are people in real life who have that physique, surely it's fine?

It isn't fine, though, because a webcomic is a story, and stories are about what it means to be human, and visual media in particular, communicate their cultural message visually as well as through words and stories.

Cephalopod Monica (see footnotes) does not create a problem. Whereas sharp-toothed Monica (in Taylor's style of today) creates a visual dissonance with the emotional subject manner that is undermining rather than unsettling.

In my opinion, Taylor could dial back Monica's boobage just a little, and the original sense of a character whose personality, intelligence and personal empowerment is entirely contrary to the expectations imposed by an excessively sexualizing culture will be recovered.

Ahem. That's one of those sentences again. Let me try again.


Monica is drawn and written as a contradiction. This is good. She is drawn in way that makes her look as if sexuality is her primary characteristic. She is written in a way that shows that it is not. This exposes our culture's visual prejudice towards women. This is an important message but it can't be the ONLY ONE. The current mini arc (obscure though it may be) is not about this. It's about rape. And the boobage is undermining the message (that treating a woman only as a means of sexual gratification is not acceptable).

Mini disclaimer:

Most women, I hope, don't need to be told about this particular message, and I'm sure the many women who read and enjoy this webcomic are much less distracted from the message by the boobs. What I'm saying here is that I am. And I suspect I'm not the only male who is.

____
* I had a hard time coming up with the right word here. Sometimes those early strips seem to be populated with jello-people. "Sally's Bar" is really the first place where you discover that Taylor can draw people rather than cephalopods.
**I'm trying to avoid a particular word. Can you guess what it is?

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

You gave a decent review, and I'm not going to take you to task about that, but about the mammary problem.

You concede that there are women like Monica. I have in fact known one from childhood through graduation.

If Paul was a casting director instead of an artist, would you fault him in his casting choice of Monica because of her endowment? If so, that is the problem Paul is fighting. If her sheer size offends you, imagine how the women that look like this feel. You would deny her the chance to play this character simply because she doesn't
fit the character she is playing. "Honey, you're perfect, get a breast reduction and come back."

What Monica has accomplished was in spite of her breasts, not because of them. The message is don't worry about the physical what's internal is more important. You seem to care about the messenger and not the message, this is the problem women with extreme assets fight all the time. What is nice about it in the comic medium is there is no real girl getting a review from you that will shatter her ego simply because of her figure and it doesn't fit this particular story line.

Anonymous said...

I noticed the change in Mr Taylor's style for Monica a couple of years ago, and I feel the same way about the imposing presence of such large breasts. I posted a mild complaint about one illustration showing each of Monica's breasts larger than her torso. The responses were along the lines of "You're kidding, right?". I am a tremendous fan of the stories, even when I'm in a fog about what is going on. That being said, I have purchased some of the original art that Paul puts up on Ebay, and I keep most of it in a drawer, as it's too 'Hot' for me to hang on the wall. Let's hear it for a more realistic style...

Harry White Dewulf said...

As usual, I'm sorry that both commenters chose to remain anonymous - but I quite understand. There's a reason why I allow anonymous comments. Some people who have a reaction to what I've said might not post their reaction at all if it weren't possibly to do it anonymously.

Harry White Dewulf said...

The first commenter has me all wrong - but I take that as my failing, not theirs.

I think maybe because of my title, I gave the entirely false impression that I was offended my Monica's breasts. As it says in my instructions to commenters, you can't offend me. That's a personal commitment on my part not to take offense even if it is intended and that's just as true when I'm looking at someone else's site as when people are commenting on mine.

In my next post, I follow on from this comment in the hope of making my intention plainer.

Harry White Dewulf said...

In the current arc, Paul is addressing this issue head on, which is awesome.

http://wapsisquare.com/comic/just-a-kid/

I'm glad because it's forcing me to re-evaluate my reaction. Again.