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?

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.

Action Comics #35, Wonder Woman #34, Captain America #25 – Short Comic Review

While I’m on vacation for three weeks, I’ve put together a short round up of comics published this week. I’ll return to full reviews on October 11, 2014.

Action Comics #35

The comic opens with Superman flying through space, and closes with Lois Lane starring directly out at the reader, saying “you don’t understand Superman at all”. The last few pages of the comic are narrated by Lane’s article. While Clark Kent might be disillusioned and depressed following his recent Doomsday infection – not to mention the guilt he is feeling after meeting with Lana Lang back in Smallville – Lane argues that Superman needs Earth and it’s people. Superman might appear to bring monsters and destruction, but he inspires us to be better. In turn, people inspire Superman to be a better, stronger, and faster hero.

It’s an interesting story. Superman is not up on a pedestal. He’s a part of the world, and an important part that keeps everything moving forward. Also worth seeing is a page where the heroes of Metropolis are seen helping the city recover from a recent attack by Brainiac. The young shapeshifter Baka returns. Supergirl saves small family from falling cement. Moreover, a page shows police officers and the Metropolis fire service working to save the city – a tribute to their service.

Wonder Woman #34

There’s some great ideas and insights into what it means to be a god in this issue. Wonder Woman also struggles with a tough question. She wants to be peaceful, however she has been selected as the new god of war, and her family is under attack from the powerful villain known as The First Born.

Hera says that human life, to her, is like watching television. The characters mean little to her, ultimately, and the episodes are relatively short. Zola is not impressed. Eris, god of chaos, laughs at Hera for her detached point of view. Meanwhile Wonder Woman, faces the question: stay true to her peaceful ideas, or use violence, and fight a war against the first born. This is escalated to the brink of no return, where she cannot reason or argue her enemy out of his war with the gods.

Hera makes a decisions. She shows restraint, and something a bit like kindness to Wonder Woman, Zola, Orion, and several other cast members. Hera, Eris, and Wonder Woman also have some of the best wordplay in the comic. There’s some interesting moments in the artwork, when monsters are transformed into crystal statues, and giant, elephant mechs charge into battle.

Captain America #25

The new Captain America arrives in this issue. Jet Black endures drama. Even her brother Ian questions her motives, her rejection of Arnim Zola, and her friendship with Captain America. The pain drawn on her face is powerfully executed when accusations are thrown at her.

Arnim Zola returns to dimension Z in a brilliant flash of white and blue light. Later, Captain America and the avengers enter into another situation of extreme pressure – a dinner party at Avengers Mansion with all of the current Avengers teams (except the Young Avengers and Secret Avengers) and X-factor. These scenes have several back-and-forth comedy moments between characters. Artwork here is highly colourful. Hyperion’s head to body proportion may need adjustment, however.

A full page artwork introduces the new Captain America.

An epilogue reintroduces an old threat – Hydra believe now is the time to start drawing plans against the new Captain America.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #1 – Comic Review

In a new comic with two short stories, Wonder Woman battles against the worst criminals in Gotham City, and Circe, the sorcerer from Greek Myth.

What Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman #1 offers:

  • Varied artwork, with visual effects that support the action in this comic book
  • Insights into what drives Gotham’s rogues gallery
  • Short messages at the end of each action story about truth

Artwork in both the stories featured in this comic is filed with action. Effective luminosity and blur effects build Wonder Woman’s short stories.

The first story seems to take place in a kind of meta DC universe that combines elements of the New 52 artwork, and elements from the old universe, before the new 52 arrived and brought so many changes.

Costumes match the old version of the DC universe. Wonder Woman wears gold once again. Oracle returns, in several striking scenes where she sits inside a bizarre room filled with emerald screens showing scenes from around Gotham city.

The city is experiencing and attack from several of the Batman’s rogues gallery combined. Artwork across this story is filled with action – It’s a showdown between Gotham’s worst criminals and Wonder Woman. Fire features prominently in many of the panels: the villains aim to burn down the city.

Art in the second comic shifts styles completely. Softer lines rather than hard inks change the tone. There’s effective use of blur effects to show Wonder Woman’s speed. Digital luminosity represents magic; Circe arrives in the new 52.

Villains and heroes in this comic have strong voices. Circe appears in the new 52 universe.

Circe is a powerful sorcerer from Greek mythology with the power of transfiguration. Namely, changing people into animals. Wonder Woman must stop her using her powers to cause havoc at the national cathedral in Washington D.C. Circe antagonises Wonder Woman. She’s only around for a few pages, however.

Characters in the first story have strong voices. Oracle returns, and has great dialog. Batman’s rogue gallery act as a unit in this comic, which is unusual. The opening narration from Oracle indicates that these villains chose to work together.

Wonder Woman makes a key decision in both comics that build her character.

She comments about how difficult The Batman must find fighting off the rogues without resorting to deadly force. She uses her lasso, and forces the villains to confront the truth about themselves.

In the Second comic, Wonder Woman banters with Circe about good and bad kings of attention, and about calling Superman for help.

While both stories are short, and centre on action only, Wonder Woman uses her lasso to find deeper truths that drive the villains of this comic.

Both Wonder Woman stories are action stories, without building a theme or value throughout the story. Close to the end of each comic, Wonder Woman makes a decision involving the use of her lasso to point out a key truth. The truth uncovered in these short scenes gives these short Wonder Wonder stories a short message:

In the first story, Wonder Woman’s use of the lasso to uncover the deep truth that drives Gotham’s rogues. The panels point out the deeper fear that each villain faces – by confronting their fear, they are rehabilitated.

In the second, Wonder Woman points out that despite peer pressure, “being true to yourself is never wrong”.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #1 is published by DC Comics ($3.99 USD). Gail Simone and Amanda Deibert (W.) Ethan Van Schiver, Cat Staggs, and Marelo Di Chiara (A.) Brian Miller and John Rauch (C.) Saida Temofonte (L.) Cover Artwork by Ethan Van Schiver and Brian Miller.

Superman #32 – Comic Review

A new creative team takes on the challenge of writing Superman comics at DC entertainment – this new direction contains large artwork with powerful action, and a new character – a man whose story mirrors Superman’s.

Superman #32 offers:

  • Powerful action scenes, and artwork that controls light effectively
  • A new character with a name from Greek Myth
  • A story that shows off the mythic quality of superhero comics, with themes of isolation

Large, splash pages, spread over two smaller pages, shows off powerful action scenes in this new, Superman comic. Light is used effectively throughout the comic book

While the comic begins with the origin of  a new character, a giant opening page introduces Superman. The man of steel knocks down a mechanical, giant gorilla with a right hook. Light changes convey a sense of tension or relaxation: the daily planet office is a cold grey, while Clark’s house is a warm, lighter yellow.

A splash page overflowing with blue electric lights introduces the sheer power of the new character. Ulysses has a name from greek myth, and a backstory that mirrors Superman’s, albeit on much smaller scale. Artwork for Ulysses scenes make excellent use of space. Each panel moves the reader in a circle around the two heroes.

Another interesting contrast is Ulysses costume contrasts Superman’s: Black, white, and grey against red, blue, and yellow. Greyscale to primary colours.

A new male character with powers comparable to the man of steel raises a point about diversity. A  dialog point intended to build character may need attention.

It’s interesting that Ulysses is a male character. Considering DC’s initiatives to add more diversity to their casts, I was expecting a new female character, or a character who shows diversity in some other way. A new female character is mentioned however: a political correspondent name Jackee Winters has started working at the daily planet. Winters and Lane have made friends, and as a black, female character, there’s no questioning the cast has diversity.

There is a dialogue point that had me confused:

“Klerik said he’d find my homeworld and destroy it. I believed it to be gone and that his threats where empty, but … it wasn’t destroyed.”

-Ulysses

So if Klerik threatened to destroy Ulysses’ homeworld, and he thought Klerik’s threats were empty, why did he believe Earth was gone? The exposition confuses a little. Either Ulysses is bewildered, or the sentence needed some more attention to clarify.

The comic establishes a theme of isolation in Superman’s behaviour, and Ulysses origin, and the theme ties these characters together. This issue shows the mythic quality of super hero comics, since myths are constantly retold, and this issue replicates Superman’s story.

Mythology plays a big role in this comic book. The key thing that defines myths are that they are retold. Encapsulated within this Superman comic is a smaller superman comic – Ulysses origin story is Superman‘s story on a smaller scale. Naming the character after a the well known Greek legend only highlights this quality more.

Isolation is a theme that plays out when Ulysses is introduced, and when Perry White a the Daily Planet points out that Clark’s increasing isolation. Ulysses parents, in their brief appearance, point out that their son will be alone in a new world. Later, Clark sits at home, calling Wonder Woman, leaving a message with Alfred for Bruce Wayne, and leafing through photo albums. He switches on his super hearing, and listens to Metropolis, rather than going out into the city, and flying between the sky scrapers.

Ulyesses last comment: He’s not alone anymore.

Popular Culture References:

As mentioned, naming a character Ulysses is a big reference to myths, and not just a popular culture reference: Ulysses, AKA Odysseus, was a Greek king, and main character of Homer’s Odyssey.

Superman #32 is published by DC Comics ($3.99 USD). Geoff Johns (W.) John Romita Jr. (A.) Klaus Janson (I.) Laura Martin (L.) Cover artwork by Romita Jr, Janson, Martin.

Wonder Woman #32 – Comic Review

Wonder Woman #32 proves again that it’s essential reading: A great super hero comic, and a story for anyone interested in mythology.

Emphasising the gods as a family allows Wonder Woman to show loyalty and guardianship toward her supernatural family.

What Wonder Woman#30 offers:

  • The pantheon of gods shown off in this issue have strong character and costume designs
  • Action scenes convey motion across panels
  • A theme of guardianship communicated through Wonder Woman’s selflessness

This comic celebrates a pantheon of Greek Myth in its characters, and the art work that has gone into their designs. Action is several scenes also flows across panels.

The comic celebrates the pantheon of Greek Myth. Each figure in the pantheon had a role, a purpose, and a skill set attributed to them. In this issue, their role as representatives of greater, essential forcers that are facts of living on the earth; Life and Death, the Ocean and the Sky, Chaos and Desire; Messages carried through the air; the moon, the sun, and parenthood. All powerful forces that define us.

Design choices in the artwork for each god are effective. For example: Eros wears a long scarf, and wields gold guns, and Demeter’s hair is closely knotted leaves – a pattern of flowing tree roots spreads across her face.

Then there are the new gods: Wonder Woman herself wears red armour, and ties back her hair in this issue. Her costume features strongly plated armour. The First Born remains zombified. He’s essentially a grisly and bloody corpse, ranting about his power.

Action scenes establish movement across panels. Characters leap through the air, running toward and away from threats.

The First Born begins a coordinated attack on the Gods of Olympus. Wonder Woman continues to champion diversity.

The First Born is the key villain here. A long neglected son of the Zeus and Hera, First Born seeks to destroy his entire family of magical deities. His revenge is the driving force of the story. He is uncomfortable with vulnerability, however, which becomes clear after he encounters Eris, the goddess of chaos.

Wonder Woman still believes in, and embraces diversity. Last issue made that clear. She made a progressive step forward – telling the exclusive Amazon community they must change their long held beliefs, and accept a baby boy onto the island community. Her actions made a strong comment about diversity and change, and were comparable to the real world problem of exclusion and lack of female representation in a misogynist community. Showing deeper vulnerabilities, she asks Hephaestus, the blacksmith of the gods, if she is making the right decisions.

Wonder Woman defends Demeter from harm. She tells the other gods on the run from the First Born to flee, while she faces the enemy. Her selflessness builds a theme of guardianship

Wonder Woman #32 shows Diana as a defender, and a warrior for those who cannot defend themselves. Demeter is the Greek god of harvest and life, and being the sister of Poseidon and Hades, she is a major target of the First Born’s attack on the gods. Demeter is a peaceful character. Wonder Woman steps in to protect her. Not only does she defend Demeter, she tells the other gods to retreat to safety. This selflessness builds a theme of guardianship.

Wonder Woman faces the First Born alone, and in a burning forest. A cliffhanger to close this section of the story.

Wonder Woman #30 is published by DC Comics ($2.99 USD). Brian Azzarello (W.) Cliff Chiang (B.D) Goran Sudzuka (A.) Matthew Wilson (C.) Jared K. Fletcher (L.) Cover Artwork by Cliff Chiang.

Action Comics #32 – Comic Review

In interview with Lois Lane, Superman reveals he made a terrible mistake. Killing the monster Doomsday has left him infected, unwell, and toxic. This decision has cost Superman his health, and his trustworthiness.

Action Comics #32 offers:

  • An insight into Superman‘s capacity as a symbol of hope and optimism after he decides to step over his values, and kill the monster Doomsday
  • artwork that captures isolation, and slowly adds new details to Superman‘s infection across each page, which shows time passing
  • Arrogance themes

Symptoms of the Doomsday infection worsen over time: the comic artwork captures time passing by adding more detail across the panels. Light and shade are used carefully in this comic book’s artwork

The comic opens with a great moment for the artwork. Superman’s pained facial expression. A forest burns down to ash. Superman turns pale. Themes of infection play out across the length of the comic: the art depicts Superman‘s worsening symptoms as the comic moves forward in time.

Superman sitting hunched and alone on a mountain top is a striking image. His read cape is blown askew by the wind. All around him is shadows. It’s one of a few, strategic ways light and shadows are used to show off Superman’s downfall through the artwork. The other moment is his meeting with Steel, Dr. John Henry Irons. Sunlight flows into the panel from the top right as the two shake hands.

Doomsday infected Superman moments after the monster died, once and for all. This has dramatic consequence, which affects how other characters trust Superman.

Superman‘s symptoms started moments after he attacked and killed a key villain, Doomsday. Doomsday stands up as a physical wall to Superman’s seemingly limitless strength. Doomsday pushes a dread into Superman’s ordinarily optimistic outlook, which makes the monster a strong psychological wall also.

This comic tells the story of Superman’s attempt to break down that wall with excessive force. Superman admits he made a mistake killing Doomsday. His arrogant action has caused Superman to become the monster he tried to destroy.

Superman is a trustworthy and optimistic symbol, and his downfall has several character consequences:

  • Lois Lane publicly declares Superman untrustworthy.
  • Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Wonder Woman, and Lana Lang all declare their support for Superman.
  • Sam Lang, now Senator Lang, assembles a small carnival of monster to attack the man of steel. He turns the crisis of a toxic Superman into an opportunity to clear away his past mistakes
  • Steel has a lengthy exchange with Superman, and lets him know that he has a plan to contain the toxic field.
  • Lex Luthor joins in on the Superman support party: He adds his own insights to Steel’s plans. Luthor admits despising Superman. He tries to help regardless.

It’s in these exchanges that Superman’s downfall becomes more clear.

Superman ignores advice, and launches himself into a battle to save John Corben. This raises a question about his capacity to help when he is infected, and brings out a theme of arrogance.

Superman should take his friends advice: seclude himself, and accept their help in containing his toxicity. Instead, he launches himself against Senator Lane’s carnival of monster villains. He’s in no condition to fight. He still tries to save the tortured character Sergeant John Corben. This is arrogance.

The question raised here: where is the line drawn between being helpful, or endangering other people when one is in no condition to help others?

Superman acted arrogantly. Especially when he has claimed in the past to never kill living things. His faulty decision making appears again when he ignores all advice and tries to fight his way back to being a hero. The infection takes hold in the final moments of the issue. The “S” shield Superman wears fractures, and breaks apart. A darker symbol to close the comic.

Action Comics #32 is published by DC Comics ($3.99 USD). Greg Pak (W.) Scott Kolins (A.) Wil Quintana (C.) Carlos M. Mangual (L.) Cover artwork by Aaron Kuder and Wil Quintana.