In my last post about sexuality and the Hawkeye Initiative, I mentioned female character’s sexuality in-context and out-of-context. This out-of-context sexuality is no longer between the character and another character, or even the character and herself. It is between the character and you, the viewer. It lacks relevancy to the plot, and, at worst, distracts from the plot advancement.
Take a look at this image
This is exactly what I mean when I talk about breaking the fourth wall with fanservice.
Yes, her body is overly large, with disproportionate legs and a torso that could never swivel that way. But it doesn’t end there. Why is she posed the way she is? And what does this say about the reader-character relationship?
The two men are clearly oggling her. There’s no doubt about that. But let’s put this in perspective- literally. What are they looking at? Well, from where they’re sitting, not much.
Her butt is pointed away from both of them. Her skirt is pointed downward. Neither of the are seeing an upskirt shot. Her breasts are also pointed directly away from them, facing us. And they certainly can’t see her face. So unless both of those guys are immensely turned on by a giant rack of side-rib, they’re actually not looking at much more than a backpack.
All of those things, face, boobs, butt, legs, they’re facing us. The viewer.
People who are not heterosexual males turned on by this sort of thing often state that these pictures make them uncomfortable. They certainly make me uncomfortable. When her assets are so firmly pointed directly towards me, we have broken the third-person perspective of the comic. We have gone from third-person to second-person.
The reader is now involuntarily involved in the story, because the character is now flirting with them. For some readers, this surely feels empowering. the sexy female character recognises your presence and now has a relationship with you. (and a sexual one at that! Deadpool may turn to the “camera” and snark sarcastically, but this is reader-character interaction of a whole other sort)
For other readers, though, this is uncomfortable. Like that creep who hits on you at the bus stop, this sudden relationship is unwanted. As a reader, I would much rather see a character I am attached to have a sexual relationship with another character in the world, in context, than to pose pin-up style for me.
Now we can finally go back to the whole “WHY GOD WHY?” of the spine-snapping poses designed to always show us both boobs and butt at the same time. It’s not just Escher-style girls for the sake of drawing messed up anatomy. It has a purpose. The purpose is to bring the viewer into a more second-person style readership, and in doing so, we break down the fourth wall.
As a reader and fan of comic books, I reject this idea of second-person style fanservice. I believe that it is a poor form of storytelling and does more harm to the plot and to the characters than good. I am in no way against characters expressing their sexuality in comics, but I do not want a creepy, voyeuristic perspective where I am an active participant being forced to have “the male gaze”. I want characters to interact with each other, not with me.
I know I posted this in my other post, but I feel the need to put it here as well. this is an example of sexuality in comics done right.
This link is NSFW. It contains four detailed panels of hot elven lovemaking. You have been warned.
Quick summary: Bearclaw and Joyleaf have been um, “elf married” together for some 500-ish years. They hunt together. They live together. They have been in love with each other forever and a day. They are not strictly monogamous, as elves are somewhat polyamorous, but they do have primary spouses, and so are considered a couple.
In the second panel, we have what could be considered a boobs + butt pose. But the characters are invested in each other. They’re facing each other. They’re not posing for the reader, or aware that there is a “camera” on them. There is no voyeuristic quality to these images. What is displayed is the characters’ love and passion for each other. That, in my opinion, is what seperates plot-relevant sexuality from wall-breaking fanservice.
Good portrayal of sexuality should further the story. This particular act of sex is what concieves their son, who goes on to become the main character of the story. (This comic is a prequel) It’s also special because elves are infertile, so while sex means very little to them, concieving a child means a lot.
And we as a reader are seeing sexuality from their eyes. They live long lives. They make sweet elf nookie in the woods. All good. They don’t do what they do for us, the reader. They do it because they’re elves and that’s what elves do. That’s sexuality in context.