Character design is something of an arcane art, and being entirely self-taught in the concept, I fell into a very subtle trap. I read this blog post from Rachael Rippon the other day, and it made me think back to my own experiences with this trope and how it affected the development of Suzi.
I’ve talked about my motivations for creating Suzi Quazar,and now that I have the first issue completed, I want to look back at Suzi and how she has grown from concept to current state.
When I first created her, she was really just a digital doodle, so to speak. I was playing around with the idea of a retro sci-fi theme for my personal blog, and I wanted a cutesy character to use as a kind of mascot. The character was never designed to have a name, I just wanted a sexy, stylized space girl. Easy enough. I more or less stumbled across the character by accident, but once I did, I knew I wanted to do more with her than just being a mascot. The name came to me quickly, and I put together this quick character card. Now, I am certainly not ashamed of this work at all. But I can see where my concept of a female hero was skewed. Growing up I read a lot of fantasy comics, so the chain mail bikini was deeply ingrained into me as acceptable attire for any heroine.
Time for change
About midway thru Issue 1, I was looking at Suzi and wondering what tweaks I could make.
I mean, I had a story reason for her to not have pants on* (which I never really mentioned in the issue, go figure)
This was about the same time that the god awful Catwoman #0 cover came out. My wife, Lewaine, works with other indie comic artists, helping them with the business side of art, getting a strong website going, SEO and everything else an artist needs to get ahead of the game.
I talked with her about that cover, and we looked at other takes on “strong female characters”; some very funny like Kate Beaton’s Strong Female Characters, others not so much. It was about that point that I realized that Suzi was in the S.F.C. zone and I needed to do something about it.
I think I had been so focused on developing her character that I had completely overlooked how much of the bombshell babe she was. I was going for a kind of “every woman” character, the girl next door. A woman that could be true to herself, but isn’t a superhero. She has flaws, she fails, but she keeps trying, always looking for the options in a given situation.
Suzi was never going to be able to beat the “big bad guy” down physically; she’s not Wonder Woman, or Trinity from the Matrix.
She has more in common with Ripley from Aliens. The problem was she also had a porn star body. And while I am sure there are some amazing women with wonderful figures out there, that’s not what I was after. That’s when I sat down with the wife and we talked about a redesign.
I had my pop culture goggles on.
The character on the left is one of the first Suzi images I created.
Pretty girl, great body. I was kind of amazed that I had totally overlooked her appearance. I had been so focused on her backstory and mental strength that I guess it kept me from looking at the character objectively. On the right, we have the redesign. Still a pretty girl, but with a shape that is a bit more realistic. I am still working on her, but this is pretty close to the final form. Like I said earlier, I am not ashamed of the early version of Suzi. I do a lot of art with the female form, from photography to drawing and more. But that’s not how I want this sci-fi heroine to be portrayed. Once my eyes were opened to the Strong Female Character trope, I couldn’t just ignore it anymore. One of the things I really like about social media is being able to meet gamer and comic fans from around the world and share my art with them, and there some very wonderful women in that group. The last thing I want is my work to contribute to an environment that perpetuates these negative stereotypes.
I want to create stories that my children and their children will be able to read and enjoy, with characters that are remembered for their actions, not their curves. Now sure, sex appeal in marketing isn’t going anywhere. We will be surrounded by sex 24/7. But just because thats what “the industry” does, doesn’t mean I have to. I would like to think that as independent artists, we all have the freedom to look past traditional gender roles and designs and create our own unique and memorable characters. And don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with the sexy, but when that is the foundation for your project, you won’t have a solid base to build on. I like to compare the sexy to cupcakes. Cupcakes are great now and again, but I wouldn’t want to try to live on them, you know? Just recognizing situations like this is a good start. I want my geek girls to be able to have just as many heroes as I do. If you wouldn’t put Superman in a thong, then think before you put your “Uber Boober Heroine” in one. Your daughters will thank you one day.
*She was getting out of her work gear when her boss sent her back onboard the ship to retrieve a tool she had left behind. She just threw on her boots and ran back. It was the night shift, so no one was around, which is why she didn’t think anything about not having pants on. There, you got the inside scoop now!