How to draw empowered female characters: 7 steps from artist Renae De Liz

A language and content warning for this post – Warning, this post discusses artistic depictions of the human body, and some swears. Proceed with caution if needed.

Marguerite Bennet sent out this tweet in April this year. It’s already August, soon to be September, but it’s important to stop and take a deep breath.

Equality in story telling will emerge when more stories are published that show equality in their visual design.

Art that captures diverse personality, genders, and body shapes, for instance helps build equality. Representation is important.

Here’s another tweet, this one from artist Renae De Liz

De Liz published a set of neat tweets that explain how to de-objectify and empower female characters in comic artwork. I’m no artist, but these tweets show clear steps toward more equal representations in comics (in Superhero comics specifically):

1 – Distinct facial features promote personality.

A common expression in comics is to have lidded eyes, and a pout. While promoting a sensuous character, the side effect is lessening personality. Place personality and uniqueness first. Consider what your character is thinking about when drawing them in a scene, or in a single image.

2 – Commonly, breasts are drawn to outline and accent their shape, and as fully separated circles. What’s realistic for a hero is major support.

Athletes wear sports bras and apparel designed for support. These often have a specific look. Consider that many super hero profiles list characters as having olympic level fitness. It follows they would dress to match their athletic ability.

3 – Give her muscles! If a Superhero you’re creating or drawing from has super strength, or strength best fits her hero persona, you can depict that in her arms.

Arm length and size differs widely, but heroes who can lift a Renault Van, if they are male, have bicep and tricep measurements of around 19 to 22 cm. Powerlifters who are women are more than capable of matching that arm and strength capacity. It all depends how a person trains, moves, and interacts with their environment, or how their abilities have impacted their lives.

4 – Hands are set in a way to promote strength

Hands set in a softer way can reduce the sense of strenght about a character. Set hands in a way to promote strength and accentuate power.

5 – The “arch and twist” accentuates a “boob and butt perk”. Stick to what can realistically be done, using arches without the sexualised intent

The muscular-skeletal system is flexible, especially when trained to be. Consider a circus performer who practices stretches daily. It’s not realistic to flex the spine in such a wound up twist.

6 – Poses overall should be more functional versus simply being for sex appeal

Fairly straightforward, but a functional superhero pose is a different stance and attitude to posing.

7 – On heels. Modern heels amplify stance, but are not too realistic

There is a scene in the Young Justice animated series where Zatanna transforms her heels into comfortable flats. She couldn’t run across a rooftop in heels.

Consider what your character would choose as footwear. Consider low heels, or no heels.

To wrap up, the intent here is to help those who want to promote change in their work, and not to shame those who choose otherwise in their artwork. And for more about De Liz you can read her website . If you liked this post, or you are an artist who can give some more insight, why not leave a comment below?

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Batman Eternal #42 – Comic Review

Bluebird arrives in the latest, weekly instalment of the epic Batman Eternal story arc.Batman Eternal #42 offers:

  • Artwork with good use of body language and perspective
  • Contrast between two character to raise themes of control and Agency
  • References to Alice in Wonderland, a classic story featuring a female protagonist

This review contains minor character spoilers for Batman Eternal #42

The moment where the story shifts gear is captured when Harper Row dons a new hat. Body language and perspective contrast Harper Row and Stephanie Brown.

A powerful moment in the artwork takes place at a key turning point in the narrative. Harper Row dons the Mad Hatter’s green hat, taking his power away, and taking control of the army of slaves that he has under his thrall. A full page is devoted to Harper Row – now using the identity BlueBird – striking a pose, while tipping her newly own hat. She faces the reader,
tipping her hat, probably as a greeting gesture, since this is the first time she is using her new identity.

The artwork also contrasts Harper Row and Stephanie Brown. Row leaps onto the rooftop of the Mad Hatters Headquarters. Brown wakes up in a pristine bedroom.

Stephanie Brown’s house is eerily clean. The washed out peach light spread across the panels adds an unnerving tone to all the scenes where she interacts with her mother.

The body language drawn into the comic establishes themes of control. Harper row is confident, and snatches control from the Mad Hatter. Stephanie is drawn with forced perspective to appear smaller than the other characters around her.

Harper Row as Bluebird, and Selina Kyle as the new Kingpin – Queen – of crime both
have strong moments. Bluebird informs Red Robin it’s laughable that he could influence her: she choses when to act, and when not to.

Harper Row debut’s her new identity: Bluebird. This debut marks a turning point for the character, and ties into a plot point woven into the New 52 Batman storytelling back in Batman #28, which contained a small flash forward into the storyline of Batman Eternal. With this issue, the storytelling connects and catches up with those events.

The comic also explains how the Catwoman captured Stephanie Brown, and held her hostage. Selina Kyle appears in this issue to take Brown prisoner.

Red Robin also has a discussion with Bluebird about how much influence he had on her decision to act against the Mad Hatter’s plans. She says it is laughable that he influenced her: she chose to act, and makes her own decisions. Again, Harper Row takes control, and shows agency.

Themes of control are brought out in The Mad Hatter’s plan, and through contrasting
Row and Brown. With reference to Alice in Wonderland, the comic explores female protagonists with agency. It is likely Stephanie Brown will follow Harper Row, and similar build her own identity to reclaim control.

There’s a theme of control here. Including the Mad Hatter as the villain also adds an over-arching Alice in Wonderland theme to the storytelling.

Considering Brown is literally smothered by Catwoman‘s knockout chemical (soaked into a rag), and Harper Row takes the Hatter’s hat, and wears it herself, the contrast highlights the power of decision making, agency, and taking control. These two characters are opposites in this issue: one is empowered by her actions, and breaks out into a new identity. The other is controlled, and held down.

Catwoman’s role in the comic adds somewhat to the Alice in Wonderland theme. The super thief recently became a kingpin of crime – a queen of crime. It’s fits the theme that a Queen-like character would feature prominently. Particularly as an obstacle for Stephanie Brown to eventually overcome as a character who resembles Alice.

Harper Row seizes control, while Stephanie Brown is controlled by others. Further, adding a references to Alice in Wonderland explores storytelling with female protagonists.

It is likely that by contrasting Brown and Row, that Stephanie Brown will soon follow Harper Row in breaking out into her own new identity where she can retake control and agency.

Batman Eternal #42 is published by DC comics ($2.99 USD). Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV (Story.) Kyle Higgins (Script.)
Ray Fawkes and Tim Seely (C.W.) Jed Dougherty, Goran Sudzuka, Roger Robinson (A.) Lee Loughridge (C.) Steve Wands (L.)
Cover artwork by Reis, Prado, and Moon.

Avengers #40 – Comic Review

Black Panther has a long running legacy as King of Wakanda. In the Illuminati, he found both allies and enemies. This comic brings together a key set of plotlines running through Marvels’ Avengers comics.

This review contains spoilers for issue #40 of Avengers: key character interactions. Avengers #40 offers:

  • Thoughtful art choices and panel arrangements
  • Key character deveopments for the long running Avengers comics under the Marvel Now tag
  • Value placed in keeping principals despite circumstances becoming near-untennable

The blue lights of the Incursions events appear, and villains are appear with strong lettering and detail. Panels toward the end of the issue are thoughtful, and push the story forward to its conclusion.

Expansive blue light fills most of this issue. Blue colour has a special significance. It marks a type of incursion. Rapid atrophy of the multiverse brought on by two identical Earths colliding with each other are either red or blue coloured. Villains such as Proxima Midnight, Black Swan, and Thanos appear in this comic. Lettering and penciling artwork depicts these formidable characters in detail.

Strong artwork appears in the final sections of the comic.

Blackbolt speaks loudly. The force of his voice sends Namor flying off a platform. The art in the following scenes are emotional. Panels of equal size, dividing the page into a grid, break up the page. Each panel flashes between Namor and Black Panther, pushing everything forward to the final two pages.

Black Panther receives key character development. The endgame in chess from the beginning of the comic plays out toward the end.

There’s a legacy played out in this comic. A knife – Wakandan weaponry – is handed down from Black Panther, to Black Panther. The blade moves in and out of T’Challa’s (Black Panther himself) possession. Eventually, the knife gains a purpose more than legacy. T’Challa’s character grows in this issue. A plan he has put into place for a long time – a fragile plan that might fall down if variable do not work – comes together.

A quote from Doctor Doom on the endgame in chess placed in the opening pages plays out as T’Challa’s plan reaches its end. The final two pages fullfills the premise put into place by quoting Doom.

Other interesting character moments are Beast finding a new lesson to teach Cannonball and Sunspot – both former students, and Captain America growning weary with the Illuminati making plans around him and his team of SHIELD/Avengers heroes.

It’s not a spoiler to state the Three Kings (Namor, Black Bolt, and Black Panther) all play a key role in the comic’s finale. A comment is made: Characters who keep values in place, and those that don’t are contrasted.

Doctor Doom says “Once you know what your opponent is capable of, you can manipulate the board to engineer a successful endgame. A successful endgame is two strategies rolled into one. First, you show them what they guessed might have been coming. And then…you show them what they didn’t”.

T’challa showed Namor what was coming – a blade directed at him in revenge for the war Atlantis unleashed on Wakanda. What he did not know was coming, was a third king arriving. Black Bolt’s support of Black Panther against Namor tips the scales.

The plan Black Panther used, which Namor expected, was to trap the Cabal in a doomed universe, which was about to collide with the mainstream, Marvel Universe Earth (an incursion event). Through a contrast between Captain America and the Illuminati, the comic values perseverance, and keeping principals in place despite circumstances changing. Namor abandoned any code or ethics in an effort to save the Earth from repeated incursions. That plot line is brought down, to it’s eventual end.

Avengers #40 is published by Marvel comics ($4.99 USD). Jonathan Hickman (W.) Stefano Caselli (P.) Frank Martin (C.) VC’s Cory Petit (L.) Cover artwork by D. Keown and J. Keith.

Justice League #37 – Comic Review

In the face of a viral outbreak, most of the Justice League are infected. Superman and Batman search for patient Zero – the infected who could help the League devise a cure. Lex Luthor’s attempt at redemption, and the lives of thousands of people across North America are in danger.

How responsible is Luthor? Justice League #37 offers:

  • Character Development: Lex Luthor struggling with past bad decisions
  • Strong action artwork
  • Themes of infection
  • Science information: Virology history and information

The artwork has weight, and scenes where Wonder Woman battles patient zero have strong sense of space. Heat vision makes for a dazzling distraction early in the comic.

While the comic might have some grim interior scenes, where infected Justice League heroes wait for a cure, dramatic fighting scenes and gothic outdoor scenes add weight to the artwork.

Wonder Woman joins the battle against the infected. Her appearance gives the comics a sense of space and gravity. Patient Zero – Doctor Armen Ikaraus – was a scientist at Lexcorp. In the ruins of the Lexcorp lobby, Wonder Woman leaps from the top left of the page, down onto the monster’s back. The direction indicated by her pose, combined with the movement lines, gives the comic a sense of space.

An earlier scene, where Superman and The Batman first encounter the infected, shows off a flash of bright orange energy. Adaptation has always been a feature of the villain Amazo. The Amazo virus infecting Doctor Ikaraus allows him to analyse the facts of a situation, weigh up the information, and form a path of counter attack. Heat vision and flight, in this case, are the most useful skills to distract and turn away the Man of Steel and The Dark Knight long enough for the infected to escape.

Without a sample of the infected’s blood, the Justice League and Lex Luthor cannot create a cure.

Luthor and his sister Lena have a character defining conversation. Luthor’s path to redemption may be run down by his past, bad decisions.

Lex Luthor has a conversation with his sister Lena that gives an insight into his character. What’s fascinating is Luthor’s lies. Luthor is clearly a character struggling with an anti-social personality; egotistical, arrogant, selfish. Despite this, and his history of bad decisions, Luthor wants redemption. Joining the Justice League was the first step on this new path.

He’s deeply conflicted, and can’t easily face the truth. He designed and stored the Amazo virus. He can’t tell his sister why.

Clearly tired of being labeled the villain, Luthor wants a chance at being seen as a contributing, virtuous person. The truth about why he created this virus carries too much weight, however, and could stifle his second chance. His sister wants to know the truth, but telling her that he designed the virus to kill Superman would effectively damage their relationship. His redemption will not work if reconciliation with his last living family member is damaged beyond repair.

His innner struggle becomes clear when he ends his conversation with Lena, and snaps in anger at Captain Cold after returning to the infirmary to start work on a cure.

The big theme of the comic is infection: Luthor’s presence seems to have infected the Justice League. Scientific information on virology appears early in the comic.

Infection plays out as a central theme in this comic. Luthor joining the Justice League is immediately followed by most of the team members becoming ill. Luthor himself is like an infection. Even the environments that make up the story are dark and gloomy. Light sources are limited. Rain is heavy. All the parts of the comic work together to spread this infected theme.

There is disagreements on whether the League can trust Luthor. Superman thinks in black and white terms, and his default position is distrust of Luthor. He might be right to, however it’s unclear at this stage whether Luthor has the patients to complete his redemptive story arc.

Scientific information appears in the opening pages of the comic. Virology history is listed by the Batman in his opening narration. The World Health Organisation is also named.

With themes of infection, it makes sense that the Amazo virus continues it’s spread: the issue ends on a cliffhanger as another member of the Justice League comes down with viral super powers.

Justice League #37 is published by DC Comics ($3.99 USD). Geoff Johns (W.) Jason Fabok (A.), Brad Anderson (C.) Carlos M. Mangual (L.) Cover artwork by Fabok and Anderson.

Secret Six #1 – Comic Review

Despite their moods, their personalities, and identity clashes, the new secret six have arrived: Catman, Black Alice, Big Shot, Porcelain, Strix, The Ventriloquist.

Secret Six #1 offers:

  • Strong colour choices that establish mood
  • Deep characters with strong personalities
  • Well constructed themes of identity and deception

Colour establishes mood and identity for each character. Catman causes orange colours to wash through his actions scenes. Black Alice returns in a powerful, violent moment. The Ventriloquist sets a gloomy mood with blue colours

Colour choices set distinct moods in the comic. Red and purple colours washing over “Rusty Red’s” Bar in New Mexico create excitement. Thomas Blake – Catman – has a distinct orange colour palette. Orange floods out into the panels around him. He’s quickly established as a character who draws attention to himself.

Later, the enigmatic “goth girl” Black Alice brings back the exciting purple colours seen earlier in the comic. She casts a magic spell, seemingly borrowing the magic of the super magician Zatanna.
A powerful moment in the artwork brings Black Alice into the new DC universe.

The eccentric performer Shauna Belzer – The Ventriloquist – wears blue. Sombre blue colours fill the panels featuring Belzer. This colour sets a gloomy mood.

The Secret Six have large personalities, with their own unique abilities. The comic establishes strong themes of identity, and deception. The characters deceive each other, or assert their identity.

These characters are people with large personalities. They are flawed, but not caricatures. Humor is placed quietly into the dialogue, which serves to make the conversations bounce along and remain fun to read despite the dark and dire setting. Trapped in a claustrophobic box, the Secret Six have moments to answer the questions of a blaring, senseless artificial intelligence. It screams at them “What is the secret?”

Identity and deception themes are brought out by this first issue. The singer at “Rust Red’s” bar is not just a singer, and successfully deceives Catman. The Ventriloquist acts eccentric, but later shows she has an advantage over the Secret Six’s captors. Damon Wells – Big Shot – talks down his abilities in an attempt to hide details about himself. A basic deception. Big Shot has the ability to grow in size and strength. Strix keeps her face covered, and does not speak, which is a more direct and complex deception. By doing this, she conceals her identity.

Black Alice seems to have a disparate identity. She draws her abilities from other magicians. She might not feel that she has an identity of her own as a result. Kani – Porcelain – Seems to be the only character confident in who she is, and what she does. Porcelain openly admits to breaking into a bank using her abilities – she can cause objects to erode, become brittle, and break apart. She is however, mistaken for a man by Catman, which potentially foreshadows that joining the Secret Six could compromise her identity.

Themes of deception and identity are cemented by the arrival of six masks. The person behind the plot of this opening issue has an insight into where the characters are heading.

In addition to the characters actions, the deception themes are cemented when a box opens inside the gloomy bunker where the Secret Six are held captive. The team are presented with six masks:

  • A blue, feathered mask
  • A cat mask
  • A black domino mask
  • A rose coloured face-mask, partially broken
  • A white face mask with a black pattern across its surface
  • An owl mask typically worn by a Court of Owls assassin.

It sends an interesting message. The Secret Six are being asked to take on new identities, and to engage in deception by donning these new masks. The person behind this plan clearly has an insight into each of these characters pasts, and where they are heading.

Secret Six#1 is published by DC Comics ($2.99 USD). Gail Simone (W.) Ken Lashley (P.) Ken Lashley & Drew Geraci (I.) Jason Wright (C.) Carlos M. Mangual (L.) Cover Artwork by Eaglesham and Wright.

Guardians of the Galaxy #21 – Comic Review

Tony Stark recommended that Flash Thompson – a soldier currently wearing the alien Venom symbiote – join the Guardians of the Galaxy. Possibly, Stark believed the alien should be sent back to space where it came from.

Guardians of the Galaxy #21 offers:

  • Good sequences of panels during action and conversation scenes
  • Different designs for the villain Venom
  • Themes of control, and compulsions

Venom’s character design changes several times during this comic, and is suitably alien. At one stage, the symbiote can compare to Big Chill, an alien from Ben Ten.

Art choices for the appearance of Venom in this comic book are suitably for science fiction. This is because the hood and cloak design Venom shows off when stalking Kree on the Planet Spartax looks alien.

It resembles Big Chill from the Cartoon Network animated series Ben Ten. Both Venom in this comic and Big Chill wrap moth-like wings around themselves, which creates a cloak and cowl look.

Later, fight scene between Gamora and Venom showcase good choices of background colour and inking. Lines drastically add to the flow of action, as the pencilling renders Gamora’s acrobatic skills in avoiding the Symbiotes’ flurry of strikes. Venom’s appearance shifts again here, becoming even more like an insect for a moment.

A sequence of panels where Star Lord describes his past, brief relationships shows Kitty Pryde becoming more concerned across a series of panels. Each panel captures her facial expression changing with each second she hears more of Peter Quill’s past “hookups…[and]…meaningless stuff.”

Venom and Flash Thompson conflict over control, while Star Lord and Kitty Pryde’s continue their new, long-distance relationship. Rage and violence dominate Venom’s behaviour, while Drax the Destroyer has quiet, but similarly violent moments.

Flash Thompson moans that he was not in control of the Symbiotic alien Venom. He can control it on Earth, he argues. Alongside this central conflict rests Peter Quill and Kitty Pryde’s new relationship, in which Peter struggles to control his behaviour.

Rage is common for him. Thompson screeches in angry, short outbursts. He violently dispatches with aliens who cross his path, or cannot give him what he wants: a way back to Earth.

Drax the Destroyer does not have more than a few lines in the comic book, but does stage a lengthy, violent battle with an alien beast.

Control appears often in this comic. Venom and Flash Thompson form the centre of this theme since Thompson constantly struggles for control with the alien symbiote . Parallel to their relationship is an altogether different one, between Star Lord and Kitty Pryde. Star Lord makes a point to Pryde that he is controlling his past reactions to high stress and changing.

The comic is largely about control. In Flash Thompson and Venom’s struggle, control between the symbiote and the host is a clear. The conflict represents the struggles with addictions and compulsions. Violence and drinking appear in the comic, with scenes in a bar on the planet Spartax. Placing Venom with the Guardians of the Galaxy – a team know for their disfuctions, as Star Lord states when speaking with Kitty Pryde – highlights struggles with control and compulsions.

Starlord does not wish to fall back into habits he relied on to relieve tension and stress in the past. Instead, he talks to Kitty.

Later, after the confrontation between Gamora and Venom, the Guardians discuss what to do with Thompson and the Symbiote. Star Lord says that like the Guardians, the Symbiote is “broken”.

It’s not completely clear, since calling something dysfunctional broken is not specific, however Star Lord has observed that Thompson’s weaknesses and compulsions are difficult to handle in day-to-day life, just like his own, which he discussed with Kitty Pryde earlier in the comic.

The Guardians believe they can help Thompson regain control by taking him back to Earth, where he has more friends and support, and feels safe.

A space-propaganda message about the dangers of heroes and Terrans from Earth. The message delivers a more chilling call to destroy Earth, rather than simply control or corral humans from spreading out into the wider-galaxy. Whether this conflict expands into a larger plot thread remains to be seen.

Guardians of the Galaxy #21 is published by Marvel comics ($3.99 USD). Brian Michael Bendis (W.) Valerio Schiti (A.) Jason Keith (C.) VC’s Cory Petit (L.) Cover artwork by Schiti and Ponsor.

The Amazing Spider-Man #9 – Comic Review

At the beginning of a large scale story arc, showing off multiple parallel universes, The Amazing Spider-Man #9 offers:

  • Balanced, large scale artwork, that effectively uses comedy, darkness, and light
  • Credible characters from parallel worlds that do not appear as shallow copies of mainstream marvel universe Peter Parker
  • Themes of slavery and silence introduced through the villains.
  • High science fiction: Spider-man as the centre of a character web that spans infinite parallel worlds.

The artwork embraces scale, with several select splash pages. These pages are balanced with comedic moments. Colour and inking is powerful.

In the opening pages of this comic, and once again halfway through, splash pages that capture motion and scale appear. Across the panels, a Spider-man from a distant, parallel reality swings through New York. In another scene, Peter Parker of the mainstream Marvel Universe also swings between buildings alongside new character Silk – Cindy Moon. Colour and ink in theses pages are powerful. Balancing these scenes, the artwork embraces comedy. A spider-man called “Peter Porker” (a human pig) Knocks out a villain’s peon. His punch produces stars, while the lettering reads “Ker Smak!”.

Light and dark are also balanced. A scene where multiple spider heroes from a vast array of parallel universes appear in dazzling bright light arrives moments before a dark, rain drenched graveyard. Here, young Spider-man Miles Morales (Marvel’s Ultimate Universe) visits the grave of his deceased mother. It’s a one of several key moments in the comic’s story that points out how each character has their own unique story. They have people they love, the loved ones they have lost, or the places they live.

Individual characters from several different parallel worlds live their own diverse and deep lives. The comic draws story threads from across Spider-man history to build up the credibility.

The approach brought to characters in this large scale comic book story arc presents each version of Spider-man or Spider-woman as an interesting character. Rather than disposable copies of the mainstream Marvel Universe Peter Parker, these characters have their own lives. Efforts are made to establish them as unique.

To create the sensation of well-rounded lives, the comic pulls together threads from Marvel’s extensive Spider-Man history, both older and recent.

Gwen Stacey, for example, returns as the Spider-Woman of Earth 65.

Another example is the Cosmic Spider-Man. A key moment from Spider-man history: Peter Parker once received, but ultimately gave up, god-like powers from the “Enigma Force”. This version of Spider-Man retained these abilities.

The Inheritors, villains of the comic, show off themes of slavery and silence. References to threads, skeins, and looms also appear throughout the comic, which associates a spider’s ability to spin thread with storytelling.

Through the villains – the arrogant, aristocratic Inheritors – themes of slavery and silence emerge. They have humans enslaved as their pets. They regard Spider-men and Spider-women as food. They tell several characters that they are not allowed to speak in their presence.

Threads, skeins, and looming also appear repeatedly throughout the comic. The phrase “to spin a tale” is relevant here. Spiders spin threads. The idea of a thread as a way to describe linear storytelling ties together spiders with storytelling. An example of this storytelling theme is the god Anansi: a storyteller who takes the form of a spider.

Spider-man appearing at the centre of a web of interwoven but different stories makes sense from this perspective. Peter Parker’s life is tied to each of these diverse characters.

If there is a bigger theme emerging here, the complete story would reveal it. The first issues establishes Peter Parker from the mainstream Marvel Universe as the centre of a vast web that spreads out to encompass infinite parallel universes. It’s a high-science fiction concept.

The Amazing Spider-man #9 is published by Marvel Comics ($4.99 USD). Dan Slott (W.) Olivier Coipel (P.) Justin Ponsor (C.) Chris Eliopoulos (L.) Cover Artwork by Olivier Coipel.