Much like many other areas of culture, monthly direct-market comic books are an industry, a scene, which is largely hostile to women even now, a place where harm is produced and reproduced, and objections are seen as shrill lies told for cheap thrills. I know it’s dull, but let’s talk about Frank Cho.

Frank Cho has been making a fool of himself drawing and re-drawing scenes “after Manara” for the last … however long it’s been since Manara’s Spider-Woman lifted her anus to the skies. (Two years.) Frank thinks it’s funny to inspire “outrage,” which is his word for people expressing their dismay at the codification of women as eye food. Eye oysters, perhaps, as these images are intended as aphrodisiac. The use of lines and ink wash to suggest “here is a sexual spur” by the illustrative shaping of a woman doing a pose—it’s always pose she would have to choose to take, not a natural one, in these things—that emphasises a place where a lot of men make a lot of noise about wanting to put their penises as a matter of masculine validation and crowing pride. To wit: between the bum cheeks. Her ass. It’s an image that says “Wheyey … ANAL.”

Comic book covers are perfectly able to communicate that femaleness is concurrent with status as a receptacle for masculinity, and it’s not rare that they do. Idealised images of women are used to define what it is to be a man, a man of fathering age, i.e. a virile man, which masculinity uses to mean powerful and aspirational, by said illustrated women being “fuckable.” Of course, fuckability, in illustration, often (and in this case) contains the imagined quality of consent, because men (largely) do not want to be definable as rapists. This is why so often marketing professionals, which includes commercial artists and cartoonists, will say “she’s empowered!” and “she’s just enjoying her sexuality!” What they mean is, “I wanted to draw someone I wanted to fuck, who I could fuck if she were real, so I drew someone who wouldn’t say no to me.” The lines and colour are used to suggest and arrange a facsimile of “consenting normative female.”

But if one relies upon the creation of an image codified as ones imagined consenting partner, then their imaginary consent is a facet of one’s own desire, and therefore, when separated from oneself, false. Consent is not role-play. Consent is not sexy—dissent is not sexy. The expression of either may be eroticised, but the intention to fuck you or not fuck you—these are both simply, necessarily facts. They have to come from the person you are wanting to hump—the consent of a partner cannot come from you. In pure imagination, one may imagine as many willing partners as one can. In the manifestation of a drawing, one is no longer in one’s own mind. One no longer holds the ability to project consent, absolutely, upon the subject of the image.

[pullquote]One no longer holds the ability to project consent, absolutely, upon the subject of the image.[/pullquote]In this case, one cannot imagine that a drawing of a woman must register to all viewers as “a real person consenting to perform sexualised positioning for an audience of the entire anonymous world.” One must allow that swathes of one’s audience may think: “If this represents woman, and I am woman, then there is an assumptive sameness between me and her.” That one’s art may result in many viewers thinking, what the fuck? Do we still have to deal with this basic aggression? With this assumption of post-pubescent, pre-menopausal women’s desire to look like a flat, carefully directed image, which Joe Average would want to spurt on, all the time? One must allow that the continual deification of fuckable (and there’s bigotry in this library of symbolism—plenty) up4it babes place-holding for women, for the concept of a woman, feels like a bare, dirty foot on the linoleum of our souls. And we only had linoleum laid because the comfortable, rich-pile carpets we began with had been faded by exposure and matted with filth from those others, before, who assumed right of way.


Marvel Comics has allowed Frank Cho to draw and draw and draw Spider-Gwen in this anus-up pose, and in the backgrounds of other images in which other characters take the floor. And to take money from it. He has drawn her shouting “OUTRAGE!” and being shot in the head, because Frank is bored of hearing about outrage even as he draws pictures to incite it. Frank’s not smart, but perhaps he’s cunning, because I feel obliged by respect for teen girls, like the one I used to be, to say his stupid name and discuss his stupid imagery. Frank Cho has chosen to use this character, because she is a teenager, who appeals to teenagers. Is that why, Frank? To make sure teenagers know that people like you will draw them with their assholes in the air, just for existing? Or did you choose to use her for another reason? Well, the one I describe is an outcome anyway. Perhaps you see why I suggest you learn to listen. Men like you have burnt my sympathy for your ignorance quite, quite away.

Udon have employed Frank Cho to draw iconic Street Fighter character Cammy (herself treated poorly by image-tweakers and marketing dicks for years and years and years) in the Manara Asshole Pose on one of their official Street Fighter books. In the words of Matt Moylan, Director of Publishing, they did it because it would get them “great press,” and because they do not understand that “sex positive” doesn’t mean “it’s good to use sexual machinations that make girls suffer humiliations, bodily dissociation and internal twisting, because building commerce without mercy is the reason for this life.” In the words of Jim Zub, writer of said book, they shouldn’t have done it, and I agree. They did it because they’re weak, and not very good at thinking, or because they don’t care much about pain. They don’t believe testimony of the harm images do. I hate them, which is fine, because I probably won’t ever meet them. It’s not a hate that matters to me, but it’s a hate that’s real. I hate them.

I’ve lost count of how many women around me have said they don’t care about Frank Cho anymore, even as he spurts out new, old-style disrespect and damage. Even though he’s just been contracted to produce a year’s worth of variant covers for Wonder Woman comics. For Wonder Woman comics. Do you know why the women around me are losing contact with their initial reactions? Because, with the complicity of direct market comics, Cho is using repetition of his vicious little motifs to become invisible, on purpose. He is carving out a sticky little niche like rain carves rock, in which he will produce actively harmful, dulling jibes, and feel safe and smug and victorious. Eventually nobody with a voice will say anything about it any more, and so when a lone somebody does pipe up, out of their own need to question why this happens to bodies like theirs, he can point to this sodden silence and say, “Hey, what’s the problem? No-one else minds.”

The problem is Frank Cho, and Udon, and Marvel, and yes—Manara. The problem is sexism in direct-market comics publishing. The problem is the use of image, code, branding, sexual bombardment, to make women and afab-people feel unmoored, and to make men feel like men.