Thursday, July 19, 2012


Once again, this year's ComicCon brought together the world's most diverse array of pictures of large breasted barbarian women wearing skimpy chain mail halter tops and brandishing broad swords. 

A sampling of the large banners behind the tables in ComicCon's exhibition hall

Because artists at ComicCon come from all over the world, attendees can view a cross section of approaches and philosophies: sometimes the warrior holds the sword in her left hand, sometimes she holds it in her right hand.  One groundbreaking artist was rumored to have depicted a woman holding the sword with both hands.

The long rows of banners created an army to rival the army of emperor Qin Shi Huang. 

The similarity of these images occasionally made it difficult to navigate the hall.  If you were instructed to "turn left at the eight foot banner of the half naked warrior girl," you might quickly find yourself in an endless loop. 

Many of the artists responsible for these images showed considerable technical skill, although it is difficult to predict how they might fare with more diverse subject matter-- for example, a guy.

I'm sure this subject was a sensible choice for marketing purposes, and I give wide latitude to any artist trying to earn an honest living.  However, after fifty years there are only so many refinements that can be made to the prototypes established by Frank Frazetta and a handful of other true creators.  Time for some new prototypes.


Anonymous said...

I never read a critique on the portrayal of women in media this good. This was relaxed and funny without being judgmental.

The rest of the blog is awesome btw.
Always interesting to read your stuff!

MORAN said...

So true. All that talent devoted to nothing but barbarian cleavage.

norm said...

You know, I agree with you 100%, but..."Barbarian Cleavage Con, 2013"
doesn't sound quite as bad as I thought it would when I first typed it....

Anonymous said...

What an inspiring evolution in style and substance from the previous year - hope to be around in 10 years to see what it looks like .

Al McLuckie

Donald Pittenger said...

So it is a convention about convention.

Thanks for articulating what's been bothering me about fantasy art for some time. Nowadays there are even books about how to draw zombies, monsters, aliens and such -- as if it was empirically established what they look like.

Another goat of mine that gets gotten is that some (many?) fantasy artists are really good and it's their work that, to a considerable degree, keeps traditional illustration alive -- yet they remain trapped in a genre ghetto (though it's not necessarily their fault).

kev ferrara said...

I don't think this stuff is based on Frazetta. Except insofar as the entire genre of Fantasy illustration seems to now be considered his fault.

I think all this Boob and Claw crap is actually based on all those crap boob and claw Heavy Metal covers... all that airbrushed photorealistic soft core ... Although the success of Adam Hughes must be kept in mind as well. (And Hughes probably wouldn't have happened without Dave Stevens. And Stevens wouldn't have happened without Frazetta. And we're back to poor 'ol frank again.)

Anyway, if implants and explosions are what illustration has become, it deserves to be a ghettoized.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous-- You are very kind, thanks.

MORAN-- Well, the talent seems to be all over the map, but some of it is indeed very good. It's just hard to tell anything about their range.

norm-- I'd trademark that fast if I were you.

K said...

Interesting post. Of course, it could have been written with out ever going to the con and makes the most trivial point possible. The con's motto is "A Celebration of the Popular Arts". It follows that pin up art of the most common denominator is going to be prominent.

I've been a happy con attendee for 20 years now and I'm a keen observer of the local flora and fauna. Not seeing you in action I have to judge based only on your write up here, but I'd say you were of the "Frazetta Quoter" species of con goer. These are the folks with elevated nose and knit brow commenting loudly to their entourages (so that those around can be illuminated by their artistic wisdom) such gems as ". . . too many Frazetta quotes" or "the brushwork is substandard." when critically examining the available artwork.

Not that it really matters at the con, because when large hairy men are dressing up in "My Little Pony" costumes the occasional Frazetta quoter is just another wacky character the rich pageant that is the con.

David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie-- It's frightening to imagine what kind of refinements ten more years of variation on this theme might produce.

Donald Pittenger-- Yes, a convention of conventions (although there were also a lot of other things going on at ComicCon). These artists obviously decided that this is the best way to attract buyers. I can't say that they are wrong.

Kev Ferrara-- It seems to me that Frazetta first breathed life into this character. Sure, there were a few predecessors such as Sheena, and Robert E. Howard was writing about such characters before Frazetta came along. But I think Frazetta's iconic character (with her long flowing mane and her impossibly thin waist, dressed in tiny animal pelts) was an original theme that resonated with the public. Other artists have been making a living doing variations on that theme for 50 years. I view the Heavy Metal covers as one branch from that same evolutionary tree. With artists such as Stevens or Hughes (who also had large banners at ComicCon) there were of course other influences mixed in, such as Neal Adams (who was at ComicCon with his own large banners of beautiful women).

David Apatoff said...

K-- If you look in my archive at my coverage of ComicCon from past years, or stick around for the balance of my coverage of ComicCon this year, you may change your opinion. I too love "the rich pageant that is the con" and go every year, but that doesn't keep me from making a few zoological observations.

neil said...

Fantastic post; although shorter than your usual posts the humour more than makes up for it.

As someone else said definately the best write up on women in comics and the fantasy genre I've seen, so keep it up !

Cyril van der Haegen said...

They had that at Pompeii, so you know, it's not going to change anytime soon :)

Anna Bron said...

why stop with just the big boobed half naked ladies wielding swords? I personally am bored to death not just by these stereotypes but by most content in comics.... like superheroes, which is big boobed ladies in spandex.

people, if each boob is bigger than your head, you will NOT be fighting evil in a spandex suit or thong bikini. you will most likely get breast reduction surgery, or wear some sort of body armour to keep things in place. Big boobs get in your way of fighting. But of course, the men who draw most of these comics have no idea.

Will said...

Great post David. I really appreciate the fact that your not afraid to be opinionated. It is an inspiration.
Personally I don't mind barbarian cleavage, I just wish it was done better than it often is. But in order to truly do things better one must question why they are doing it. Things either become more personal and specific then or they stop being done altogether. Just some quick thoughts.

David Apatoff said...

Neill-- Tnanks very much. I'm definitely trying to be more succinct (although it may not show).

Cyril van der Haegen-- I think the Pompeiians, like the Greeks and the Romans, prided themselves in not being "barbarians." But of course, their definition of "civilization" did not exclude the kinds of murals to which you refer.

Anna Bron-- Thanks for providing a much needed perspective!

Will-- Thanks!

kev ferrara said...

I didn't look close enough at the costumes. I thought they were female knights, but I see they're mostly less formal warrior women and/or witchy. So I agree with your assessment of Frazetta's influence. (Although, not in terms of artistic skill, of course..)

Anonymous said...

Many gotta get dragons or creatures in there too...It has bothered me for some time now how so much of this looks the same and by some very talented people that I would have figured knew better or had moved on. I really don't know what's the attraction in the barbarian woman or man thing? I gave up trying to figure it out. There's so much that one can do with art and it seems like a waste when super talents go in this direction. There's no doubt that many are very talented artists, but why do they do this stuff over and over again? It's like they are stuck in this pattern or structure of how to create or compose an image. It has to have fire, wild landscape, powerful sky, prominent muscular figure/half or all nude and some follow each others color palette because it works or is familiar. It really boggles the mind.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Yes, everyone describes Frazetta as "influential" but popular culture of his era is so thoroughly documented that one can actually trace and quantify the ripple effect from the paradigms he created. The ripples go out from Thunda and those first Tarzan covers, to the Conan covers and the Warren magazines. Whether out of venality or idol worship, an army of artists made a living with variations on his paradigms. It's one thing when these artists are spread out around the country, but when you see so many of them in adjacent booths at ComicCon, the cumulative effect is pretty comical.

Anonymous-- of course you're right, I left out the dragons. In fact, there was a whole subcategory of dragon lovers at ComicCon, with dragon sculptures, dragon crystals, etc.-- many of the pictures didn't even have any barbarian warriors in them!

christine said...

Adding the pictures to your blog is really a nice touch. Now the readers can imagine what you are talking about.