Good Girl Art is a particular category (not quite genre) of comics, characterized by an emphasis on depictions of attractive women. Good Girl Art is usually associated with certain artists who are well-known for their attractive, sexualized renderings of the female form. The examples included here:

— Matt Baker, Phantom Lady

— Frank Cho, Liberty Meadows

— Bruce Timm, Big Barda

— Adam Hughes, Catwoman

are typical of the form. Many more examples of Good Girl Art can be found in Ron Goulart’s book, appropriately titled Good Girl Art.

On the one hand, all of the instances of Good Girl Art included here (and most instances of Good Girl Art more generally) are clearly impressive drawings, judged in terms of skill, draftsmanship, layout, linework, et cetera. In addition, they are (to some of us, at least) immensely enjoyable, immensely beautiful, immensely, uh, immensely, umm… oops, sorry about that! I lost my train of thought staring at Big Barda. Anyway, the point is this: Good Girl Art, in a certain sense and to a certain portion of the population, is just darn nice! In fact, I chose the artists above specifically because I own ‘pin-up’ art books by two of these three artists (Cho and Timm), and my wife has a signed print of Hughes’ Catwoman hanging in her office.

One the other hand, however, it can be easily, and rather compellingly, argued that these overly sexualized images of women – more often than not involving little, no, or malfunctioning clothing, as in some of the examples here – are demeaning. Good Girl Art typically involves provocative poses, and it involves the objectification of the female body almost by definition. It is no accident that Good Girl Art is also known in some circles as ‘headlight comics’. In short, there is an obvious argument to be made that Good Girl Art is sexist, and likewise that an uncritical approval of this kind of art based solely on its aesthetic appeal (its appeal to a large percentage of the population, at least) is equally sexist.

Of course, there are standard responses, some of which contain at least a kernel of truth. Depictions of women in comics are typically more positive than depictions of women in other popular culture media (women in refrigerators notwithstanding). Whatever else might be going on, these characters are usually depicted as powerful, independent, and enjoying a healthy body image. And Good Girl Art is certainly far less offensive than the excesses found in the so-called ‘Bad Girl Art’ of the 1990s (epitomized by Rob Liefeld, click the small image below for the spine-shattering ‘Bad’ness).  Nevertheless, it is not clear how far this sort of argument can be taken.

The story may also be even more complicated in the case of Matt Baker. While he is one of the paradigm instances of Good Girl Art artist, he is also one of the first African-American artists working in comic books (possibly the very first!). If we condemn Good Girl Art as sexist, then how are we to reconcile Baker’s immensely important role in the history of the comic art form with the content of his comics?

So, how should we feel about Good Girl Art?

About roytcook

Roy T Cook is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. He works in the philosophy of logic, the philosophy of mathematics, and the aesthetics of comics. He is the co-editor (with Aaron Meskin) of The Art of Comics: A Philosophical Approach (Wiley-Blackwell 2012)

4 responses »

  1. Um, where is that woman’s stomach in the Liefeld image? Does she even have an abdomen? Eck.

    I’m not very familiar with this category, Roy (except for the Matt Baker piece). But I noticed that you’ve referred to them as “art” rather than as a kind of narrative style, although there seem be particular narrative qualities ascribed to the images of these women. Are images like these meant only to be “seen” and not “read” as part of a larger context? That might make the question even more complicated.

    With regards to Baker, it seems like most people who know a bit about comics history know that the comics industry — while seen as only a half-step removed from pornography anyway — was also known as one of the few places that would employ minorities and women. I think the work itself can be rightfully critiqued and discussed without downplaying Baker’s pioneering role.

  2. roytcook says:

    I agree with you totally about Baker. My concluding comment was mainly to encourage discussion (by encouraging dissent).

    I also think that the ‘art’ versus ‘narrative’ issue might be critical here. In most of these, the art is from the cover of a narrative comic book (or collection of strips), and the art inside is often of the same sort, but interwoven into a narrative, implying that the images are to be ‘read’ (in the appropriate, possibly metaphorical sense of ‘read’) instead of merely ‘seen’ (i.e., possibly ‘ogled’). The Bruce Timm image, however, if I am remembering correctly, is a pin-up from a collection of his pin-ups and other non-narrative art (often based on comics, as is the Big Barda piece). So there may well be important distinctions between the work of Good Girl artists when they are drawing narrative comics and when they are drawing similarly garbed, posed, and proportioned women in pin-up work.

  3. Amy Gorman says:

    An argument against a lot of hypersexualized female depictions it’s that they’re objectified. The sexualized woman is too often a prisoner or a victim (see the video game Batman: Arkham City for some some of the most blatant issues with this). From the examples you show and my tiny bit of googling, it looks like Good Girl Art is more likely to show sexualized women as dangerous, powerful and even fun. Would you say that’s an important part of the Good Girl persona? If so, I think people should feel good about it. Sex, attraction, and eroticism are major parts of human experience, there ought to be a niche for sexy lady art, and portraying women as sexual agents within it is key.

  4. One thing that we can say about *some* “Good Girl Art” is that it isn’t about girls or women at all. It’s an idealized representation based in fantasy.

    The images you’ve included are very telling in this regard. When I read this post, I very quickly thought of the role of gender performativity and drag. RuPaul is often quoted as saying the following: “I do not impersonate females! How many women do you know who wear seven-inch heels, four-foot wigs, and skintight dresses?” How many women perform their gender and their sexuality in a Marilyn Monroe-style all-white dress? How many women dress up in a leather cat suit to perform their gender and their sexuality?

    Well, some do. Of course they do. Just like some men dress up in leather loin cloths and wield a sword (Conan the Barbarian, anyone?).

    I think Amy’s comment is right on: Sex, attraction, and eroticism are major parts of human experience. And, as RuPaul might say….we’re all born naked. Everything else is just drag.

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