That should have the additional subtitle: “What do you mean you’re not satisfied?!” I wanted to avoid a blog article title looking a good bit like that of an academic paper, though.
Last time, I wrote about Tisha Swornheart, the signature character in the current D&D comic, and how a well-written character is undermined by objectified art. This started an avalanche of thought. Where else could I find some good examples?
My fiance is a huge fan of Privateer Press’ miniatures war game, Warmachine and its counterpart, Hordes. I play every now and then, but I am not a big fan of minis games (they’re one step above ‘card games’ on the list of ‘things I don’t want to waste my money on’). Regardless of my personal feelings on miniature wargaming, the game has a rich, complex setting that I can’t get enough of. Thankfully, the pen and paper RPG version is scheduled to be released at GenCon this year. As you can imagine, I’m pretty excited.
What makes the Iron Kingdoms (the name of the game world/forthcoming RPG) setting markedly different is that it is universally gender egalitarian. Even the evil factions don’t discriminate on the basis of gender! While other games relegate women to ‘elite boobie factions’ or ‘sort of like these other men, but weaker,’ the Iron Kingdoms game world says, through the medium of its flavor, women can be commanders, powerful spellcasters, and dangerous warriors. This includes decent representation of women even in the non-human factions. Unsurprisingly, I know more women who play Warmachine than any other miniature wargame I’m familiar with.
I dug into the books he had laying around, expecting to find some more good examples of badass ladies with goofy art, but what I actually found were badass women, some of which wore silly fantasy outfits, but all of them posed in a strong and capable manner. I began to draw some conclusions as I looked at the art but before I go on about it, I’d like to share some examples.
Privateer Press has a terrible habit of drawing all their women in boob armor and battle heels – while these are big pet peeves of mine, they’re minor offenses overall, so in these cases I’m going to let that slide.
Forward Kommander Sorscha (this is the best image I could drum up, apologies) is the woman on the left, if you didn’t guess. A military leader, an impressive spellcaster, and always illustrated like she knows how to swing around that polearm-hammer thing. Her knees are never turned in. She’s always drawn pointing or shouting orders. I look at this art and think “I want to be a badass psuedo-Russian war-leader!”
Ashlynn D’Elyse – while this particular image is passive, you can clearly see that she’s fully armored, that she’s meant to be good-looking and could probably kick your ass six ways from Sunday. Again, she looks like a character I might want to play, and is definitely someone I empathize with.
Lady Aiyana – while I couldn’t find an image of the great character art in the book, the model itself is scuplted to match the illustration pretty well. Her illustration is actually less busty.I wanted to highlight Lady Aiyana as a spellcaster who wears close-fitting ‘cloth armor’ designed to be visually appealing, but here (and in the drawing) is pulling her hood back. I don’t feel like she’s just there to visually please someone who isn’t me.
Kara Sloan – tall, skinny chicks represent! She has a huge gun. She looks happy to be using it. This image has personal resonance for me, because I so rarely see tall, slender women with broad shoulders in game art. Also, no battle heels.
Victoria Haley drawn here (the watermark doesn’t prevent us from getting a good look at her) casting some kind of spell. She looks dangerous and impressive. While she’s wearing boob armor and her pants are silly (seriously what’s going on here? They’re some kind of armored bell-bottoms) it’s not gratuitious. She’s not contorting herself so that her breasts and rear are on the same axis, or thrusting her hips or chest out for our viewing pleasure.
I’d also like to call out Skarre Ravenmane as an iffy example. Her outfit is pretty absurd: steam powered brassiere, chainmail garters, stilletto fuck-me boots. She’s very much got the ‘evil queen’ vibe going on here. Sexy is in the eye of the beholder, so I’m not going to go off on whether or not this is objectively sexy (I think it is), but rather talk about the threatening way she’s holding her sword and that expression on her face. That isn’t a ‘come hither’ look; that is a “you’re next” look.
From these few samples, I think it’s pretty clear that Privateer Press has chosen to give women equal billing – and it’s working.
In other cases, I think companies produce these excellent female characters, and then pair them with less-than-ideal art, and don’t recognize that there’s a disconnect. I often feel like the response to any outcry is “Well, we gave you a strong female character. Why aren’t you satisfied?!”
Think about all the male characters out there who have good stories paired with a drawing (and then a sculpt, in the case of a miniature) that reflects that they are a character, not an object. Take Aiyana’s partner, Mr. Holt (see above), as an example. His outfit is really rather silly – he kind of looks like a Vash the Stampede cosplayer gone wrong – but he still looks badass because he doesn’t look like an object. He looks like he is going to bust a cap in yo’ ass with those impractical knife-guns. You want to draw a woman in a fanciful outfit? Fine. It’s a fantasy. I want to believe, however, that her special power isn’t the ability to show us her cleavage at every angle, or the ability to run in heels. You think battle corsets are sexy? Fine, again, but at least show us the lady wearing it kicking some ass- not just tits and ass.
In summary: it’s not enough to just write a good story. Art needs to show competency as much as the flavor text does. If you’re a miniatures game, your sculpts should also be in line with your art. Objectification is not necessarily about not wearing unbelievable outfits, it’s about how the character is posed. Show us women with power, with competence, and with agency. If the point of the illustration is only to highlight erotic body parts (crotch, thighs, butt, cleavage) to the exclusion of showing any other kind of action in the image, then there’s a problem. This isn’t an outcry for creative directors to rethink what they’re having drawn, but how.