Welcome to Cover Girl. Each month, we gather a team of WWAC contributors to analyze a new and notable comic book cover featuring one or more women. This month, Lisa, Claire, Kayleigh, Amanda, Laura, and Louis discuss Erica Henderson’s variant cover of Red Sonja #25.
What is your initial reaction to this as a piece of comics art?
Louis Skye: Why is he smelling her leg? That’s the first thing I noticed, and it’s weirding me out. I love the shadows though, beautifully done. You can clearly see the direction of the light source, and it makes them look all warm and comfy. Still don’t get the leg-smelling.
Kayleigh Hearn: I love this cover. If I knew every issue of Red Sonja looked liked this, I’d be buying Red Sonja comics! It’s a great, subversive piece of pulp art.
Claire Napier: I also love this cover. It’s warm. It’s got a great impression of texture without being visually dense. It’s got considered lingerie design. It’s subversive without being unloving. And the colours are lovely. And her hair looks great. Super comfy. Initially, I was disappointed that the guy’s torso doesn’t feature much highlighting, but on extended consideration (I’ve been looking at this cover often) I rather like how the extra shadow of his chest hair creates a sense of depth and welcome. He’s not the protagonist of this image, but the way his presence is de-emphasised also serves to emphasise his actual function (to be touchable for her).
Laura Stump: I love this cover. Just flat-out love it. How many times have we seen scantily-clad women fawning at the feet of powerful men? Seeing it in reverse is, as Kayleigh said, subversive, and delightfully so. For me, it called to mind the ‘77 Star Wars poster where Leia is displayed at Luke’s knee while he stands, shirt open to reveal rippling abs, lightsaber raised to the stars, then flipped the script on it.
Amanda Hardebeck: This is how Red Sonja should always look, sitting in a seat of power with a man at her feet. Her proportions look more believable than some other renditions I’ve seen, and the bright colors make me intrigued to read it.
Lisa Fernandes: I love the role reversal going on with him leg clinging Red Sonja, but her face. Y’all what is happening with her expression?
What do you think the artist is trying to achieve?
Louis: Warriors tired after battle. But, though they look exhausted, I get the sense that they are victorious, so they’re relaxing, because they know they don’t have to fight again for a little while.
Kayleigh: Erica Henderson is going for a role-reversal of classic Frank Frazetta sword and sorcery art, but with a scantily-clad dude clinging to the triumphant, sword-carrying Sonja. A lot of artists have parodied that kind of fantasy art (just Googling that linked image led me to parodies featuring Xena, Link, and, sigh, Pepe), but what makes this cover stand out is how Henderson draws Red Sonja. She is not the typical fantasy babe, with a vampy pose and come-hither stare. She’s looking contemptuously at the viewer. Her boots are sliding down her legs, and she’s slouching in her throne, showing that she, yes, has a totally natural little belly roll. Everything about her suggests power rather than sexual availability, though power is sexy too. This is also a great display of Henderson’s range as an artist, especially if you only know her for her cute, peppy work on The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
Everything about her suggests power rather than sexual availability, though power is sexy too.
Claire: As Kayleigh says, this image has a super interesting command of sexual narrative. That guy definitely would bone down with Sonja; he’s appreciating her with his eyes closed while she can’t even see him. He’s not trying to impress her. He’s just that into her. She’s sexually desirable (which is a “message” that dominates her image history), but there’s no impression of sexual “availability,” which is to say… not that Sonja doesn’t fuck, not that she doesn’t have access to her sexuality, but that she either would or wouldn’t choose to connect hers with yours. She/the image projects a sense of choice. Your desire has no ability to compel her. I have rarely felt this impression from a pin-up or a cover.
Amanda: Agree with Kayleigh and Claire’s interpretation. I definitely think this is a big statement on what fantasy art should be and where it should be headed.
Laura: Henderson is establishing who’s the boss in this scenario, and it’s not him. Sonja is in charge. She knows it, he knows it, and she wants to make sure the viewer knows it. But at the same time, she doesn’t care whether the viewer likes the fact that she’s in charge (of the situation, of her sexuality, of her world). Your like or dislike is irrelevant to reality.
Lisa: A role reversal of the typical fantasy art leg cling tropes.
What is Sonja is thinking about right now?
Louis: Red Sonja looks like she just wants to stretch out, but the dude with her is totally cramping her style. She’s also looking directly at us, the readers. I feel like she’s either asking us to quit judging her for living her best life, or that she’s falling asleep and has to stay up for some reason. Someone get this woman a bed.
Kayleigh: She looks sated, whether from battle or sex, but maybe they’re one and the same for Red Sonja here. I love her cold, hard stare; if her gaze isn’t penetrating enough, then, well, that sword there can finish the job.
Amanda: Conan, hold my beer.
Claire: I don’t know, and I like that I don’t know. Her thoughts are hers. I appreciate it.
Laura: I’m not sure, exactly, but it’s clear she doesn’t care whether I know or whether I approve or disapprove of this scenario.
Lisa: She’s slowly entering into a coma, clearly.