Judging a Book By Its Cover

Rick Moody, author of literay book The Ice Storm, had some advance copies go out for his new book, The Diviner. The cover was a “garishly illustrated blaze-orange cover depicting a shirtless, Conan the Barbarian-type warrior standing atop a mountain peak, a shield in one hand and a forked branch lofted, spearlike, in the other.”

Sounds great, right? Well, yea, if you’re marketing to a different audience. And the audience he wanted wasn’t going for it.

“I saw a lot of people, particularly women, just turn away from the cover,” said Michael Pietsch, the publisher. Before long, “I realized we were making a mistake,” he continued, adding, “We loved it and the author loved it, too, but it was not communicating the information we wanted about the book.”

I was reminded of the perpetual chatter about why women aren’t more involved in gaming and comic-book reading. It’s often because, well, women aren’t marketed to.

Now, in this instance, a Conan-like cover would have been great as far as marketing to *me*, but last night I was reading through another comic book (I’ve been interested in getting more involved with reading comics, since they tend to have some really neat ideas and visuals), when I started getting kinda turned off by it, and wondered why.

It was an interesting story with organic tech, bugs, things exploding, a strong female character and etc, all of which I really like. So what was the issue?

The female character had boobs nearly as big as her head, fell for the dorky guy for no apparent reason, and the other two female characters in the story answered to a dead guy who directed all of their movements.

But really, it was the boobs thing.

I mean, nobody has boobs that big and a waist that small unless the boobs are fake. Boobs are made up of fat, which is why fat women often have bigger boobs. I lose a cup size when I drop weight. That’s how it is. OK, yea, everybody in comic books is stylized, and I accept this, and I appreciate that comic books have beautiful, impossible people in them (well, mostly beautiful women, though the men’s forms are exaggerated to some degree as well, I wouldn’t call most of them beautiful).

But OK, so, it’s a comic, there’s big boobs. What’s the big deal?

I guess what kept gnawing at me is that I felt the female characters weren’t there so much to be cool and heroic and advance the plot as they were there to have their boobs looked at. Watching the two evil powerful women turn out to be getting orders from a guy, and watching the one “good” woman cuddle up with the male freak for no apparent reason just bugged me. It became abundantly clear early on that the author and illustrater weren’t talking to me at all. They were talking to adolescent boys who they hoped were really fascinated by big boobs.

I mean, how many lesbians are fascinated so much by big boobs that they buy comic books for the sheer titillation at seeing something so “monstrous”? (please, feel free to disagree with me here)

I sometimes feel that women in a lot of comic books are just rolled up into bed with the rest of the “monsters” in the cast. This isn’t always the case, and I know there’s good stuff out there, but in general, I just don’t see this stuff talking to me.

It’s something the gamers at Utopian Hell bitch about as well: games that just don’t talk to women at all, that just don’t include them. It’s why you’ll see more women players with stuff like the Myst and Riven games (which I love) and less on the ones where we aren’t treated like people but just like some of the other monsters. I can certainly run around as a guy, but if every female I run into during game play is a fiesty vixen who tries to seduce me or a dumb blond, I’d still get pretty insulted, and bored. Bored is probably the best way to describe it. It’s like, “Can’t you come up with some interesting characters? Do they all have to respond the same way? You’ve got an entire fantasy world to work with, and you’re using a bunch of gender stereotypes the whole way through? What gives?”

Don’t get me wrong: men act as monsters too in the games, but I’d like some of the women to be real people as opposed to monstrous Others. I want to be a Cool, Kick-ass Chick. And, being a woman, I recognize that monstrous boobs would really get in the way of being really active and kickass, particularly if you were trying to do it on a tiny frame. And really, what’s the tactical advantage of boobs? You can’t take them off and hit anybody with them (now there’s a gaming idea!). You can put armor on them and jut them at somebody, but if you get that close, they’ll gut you. And not every villain you run into is gonna be straight, interested in your boobs, or so incredibly stupid as to be “charmed” by your “feminine wiles.” Or, they shouldn’t be.

Again: how boring.

It is, in fact, possible to write up female characters with sensible boobs, for goodness sake. It happens. They can even show some skin and still be sensible people (even if they’re named after flowers).

I’d like to play cool characters, not characatures of people who have the same genitals I do.

As with any story, I want to read about people. I want to be able to identify with them, and I want to take them seriously. We live in a culture that infantalizes women with boobs as big as their heads and small waists because it’s something that doesn’t happen naturally, and we associate those sorts of body-transformations with women who aren’t taken seriously, women who seek to play the part of object.

There’s a duel fault there: the stereotype we carry for women who choose to get implants, and the stereotyping we perpetuate in the entertainment we create.

Who wants to be to dumb, bitchy monstrous woman who always gets hacked up in the end by the guy who gives her orders?

That’s not fantasy. That’s not escape. That’s not entertainment.

It’s too much like watching CNN.

Show me some alternatives. Let me be taken seriously. Let me be cool and smart and strong, and maybe it’ll help me realize I can be cool and smart and strong in real life, too.

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