One of the beautiful things about the Internet is that it gives comics artists, writers, and readers a way to share their work and ideas with the world instantly. Pardon me while I hoist my cane, but I remember when you had to put a little effort into discovering the good stuff. Now it’s all right there at our fingertips, and I am grateful.
The flip side is that if you Google “Jubilee illustration,” even with some filters on, you’re gonna turn up some gnarly fan art. These are the kinds of things that were once confined to diaries and sketchbooks buried under mattresses (or perhaps passed around in locker rooms). It’s a free country, so if you want to draw Starfire in a compromising position with The Spectre, well, that’s your business. But I often search the Net for good art to share with our readers, and it’s beyond depressing to see so many female characters — and they are almost always female — depicted in degrading, even hostile ways. They’re bound and gagged, possessed of porn boobs, or portrayed in the most clinically sexual fashion imaginable — usually while servicing a guy. I’m not talking about illustrations that are merely erotic, because the good fan artists seem to have some affection and respect for the characters they’re drawing. I get it; Emma Frost is sexy. Zatanna is sexy. Still, there is a world of difference between drawing a saucy pinup and/or a moment of adult intimacy and creating/posting something that says, “See? She’s nothing but a scantily clad blow-up doll. Not so high and mighty on her knees, huh?” It shows such a fundamental lack of understanding of a heroic character, but I guess that’s not the point when you’re drawing Sue Storm on the pole.
Masturbatory art (and fanfic for that matter) has always existed, so perhaps I am reading too much into these images. However, I don’t think it is coincidental that some of the most powerful women in comics are often the objects of such degradation. It’s one thing to cheekily comment on a character’s attractiveness, which we do all the time. But when strong heroines like Supergirl or Storm are stripped of all dignity and presented so crudely, it speaks volumes about how the “artist” perceives women in real life. I say “women,” because I have yet to come across a picture of Green Arrow in chains or kneeling at someone’s crotch. And while I think it’s a parent’s responsibility to keep tabs on what their children are doing online, a kid ought to be able to Google a drawing of Wonder Girl without turning up some foolishness that’s going to send them to therapy.
As great as it is to find truly delightful art — and there’s plenty of it out there — taking the occasional detour through the misogynist gutter is a crummy experience. If this lament makes me a prude or a repressed fangirl, I’ll wear the title proudly.