Those RiRi Williams Variant Covers are Why Comics Will Never Grow Up

Those RiRi Williams Variant Covers are Why Comics Will Never Grow Up

Society's prevailing view of the comic book industry is of manbabies who have never seen a woman. There. I said it. To be fair there are certainly plenty of creators and critics (like WWAC, natch) that do not fit that mold, but let's be real. Straight white men are both the target audience and the

Society’s prevailing view of the comic book industry is of manbabies who have never seen a woman. There. I said it.

To be fair there are certainly plenty of creators and critics (like WWAC, natch) that do not fit that mold, but let’s be real. Straight white men are both the target audience and the holders of the keys to the kingdom in comics. There’s the occasional  Nicola Scott, Kevin Wada, and others, but they are by far and away the exception to the rule of straight white men drawing comics for straight white men (and there are many, many more straight white men than there are Scotts and Wadas). Ironically, sometimes (a lot of times) it seems like these straight white male artists have never even seen a real-life woman, never mind talked to one and taken the time to understand her point of view. If they did they might have to reveal that yes, they are the very kind of comic creators that make people pull faces about (I’m making a lot of those faces this morning). Instead creators prefer to mock critics and dismiss their concerns. Hey guys? Didn’t your art teacher ever tell you that you’re supposed to learn from constructive criticism? “But you’re always so angry.” Maybe we’re angry because you didn’t listen to us the first, second, or 255th time.

Invincible Iron Man #1 Midtown Comics variant covers by J. Scott Campbell

Invincible Iron Man #1 Midtown Comics variant covers by J. Scott Campbell

And what we’re saying right now is this: Those Midtown Comics Invincible Iron Man #1 variant covers by J. Scott Campbell are irresponsible and ignorant at worse, and trash at best. This is not bodyshaming. If anything, we’re shaming the artist, not the character, for his artistic choice to sexualize an underage female character. These covers condone the same thinking that led to Donald Trump walking in on Miss Teen USA contestants while they’re changing (some of them as young as Riri Williams herself, by the way), a world where the sexualization and the predation of young girls, particularly the sexualization of young black girls, is the norm. I don’t care if it’s your personal style or brand. When you draw a 15-year-old girl in skin-tight armor (how is that supposed to work, by the way; even by comic book science, you’re stretching that suspension of belief far too thin) you have more internalized issues than style. And it’s not just Campbell. Midtown Comics deserves scrutiny as well for even considering Campbell — who’s known mainly for his cheesecake work — to draw a cover of an under-age female character. Retailer and artist, both are symptomatic of the comic book industry’s refusal to view and portray the majority of female characters as human beings with more substance than how they sexy they look and how sexually attractive you and your straight white male audience find them.

Invincible Iron Man #1 cover by Stefano Caselli (top); Invincible Iron Man #1 STEAM variant cover by mike McKone

Invincible Iron Man #1 cover by Stefano Caselli (left); Invincible Iron Man #1 STEAM variant cover by Mike McKone (right)

In a joint decision between Marvel and Midtown Comics, the J. Scott Campbell variant cover featuring Riri Williams in a croptop has been pulled. Tee Vixen Franklin, who started the #TeensThatLookLikeTeens Twitter hashtag, was notified of the cancellation by Shawn Pryor, creator of Cash and Carrie and originally found out about the variant covers through Twitter user Steph_I_Will. The second variant cover featuring Williams in an Iron Man-style suit is still on sale.

I expect Campbell won’t read this, and even if he did, he wouldn’t care. But I and other critics do because here’s the secret: critics like comics. We want them to be better. We don’t want comics to stay stuck in an infantile and demeaning view of women and girls. We want them to grow and mature. It’s just too bad the industry doesn’t.

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Stephanie Tran
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