Saturday, December 08, 2007

Servicing The Fans

In comics fandom there is a concept that is often referred to as “fan service.”
It’s a term that is rather broad and vague, but in general it refers to instances in which some element is added to a story solely for the purposes of pleasing a certain segment of the readership. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to do something to keep the people who are paying your bills happy, many people find it objectionable when the fan service is tacked on or gratuitous or detracts from the actual story.
Given that comic fandom is largely composed of males, a lot of fan service comes in the form of gratuitous depictions of women in skintight and skimpy outfits, or in suggestive poses, with said women usually having physiques that are so ridiculously out of touch with how real women – even Playboy models – actually look that they border on parody.
Fan service in the art doesn’t really bother me that much, and more often than not I’m more amused than aroused by it. I’m more likely to object to fan service in the writing, particularly if said service involves having a character do or say something that is outside the range of his or her normal behavior and serves no purpose other than to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
Even so, it’s fan service art that I want to talk about here, and the reason I want to talk about it is this image from the first page of a recent issue of Countdown to Final Crisis:



Clearly there’s no narrative reason that we need to be treated to an upskirt shot of Mary Marvel immediately upon opening the comic. It’s utterly gratuitous and obviously is nothing other than pure fan service.
That, however, is not my complaint. I honestly have no problem with cheesecake for cheesecake’s sake. I might find it silly and juvenile in many instances, but I’m certainly not offended by it.
No, my problem with this bit of fan service is simply that it’s not very good. If you’re going to throw in some cheesecake, do so with an artist who’s actually good at drawing cheesecake.
This would have been a perfect opportunity to let an artist like Ed Benes shine, especially since it’s a shot that’s so clearly in line with Benes' particular predilections when it comes to presenting the female form.
Benes likes to work from a very specific perspective, which was always apparent when he was the artist on Birds of Prey, in which fans were regularly serviced by scenes similar to this one:



Of course, for the full Benes’ effect, the “camera” would be tilted up slightly, and Dinah’s thighs would likely be framing our view of Babs.
I’m not complaining, of course, and I do actually like Benes’ work, but pointing out this particular foible gave me an excuse to produce my own gratuitous shot of Black Canary’s ass.
(And for the record, as an artist, Ed Benes is vastly superior to me. Also, my dialogue for the scene is a very poor imitation of the kind of crisp, well-characterized exchanges that went on between Dinah and Babs when Gail Simone was writing the book. I also never knew that Benes was from Brazil before seeing his Wikipedia entry. It explains so much. And fan service is not limited to comics. It pops up all over the place.)

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