Superheroes and Beyond

How-to hack Christopher Hart has decided to jump on the superhero bandwagon with this book, subtitled “How to Draw the Leading and Supporting Characters of Today’s Comics”. This might lead someone not paying attention — say, someone seeking a gift for the younger, superhero-comic-loving kid in their life — to conclude that you’ll learn how to draw existing superhero characters, ones you recognize.

Superheroes and Beyond cover
Superheroes and Beyond
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You’d be wrong, although the publicity isn’t shy about riding those coattails, trying to tie this book to “the blockbuster success of comics-inspired movies, like the Spiderman [sic], Batman, and Iron Man series”. Like the promotional material, the images in this book are all labeled as stereotypes, including:

  • Savage Starship Commander
  • Sci-Fi Alien Queen
  • Classic Crime-Fighting Superhero
  • Crime-Fighter Gal
  • Mecha Bad Guy
  • Evil Warrior Queen
  • Vampire Chick
  • Big Buddy

They’re even trying to make the reader feel super-powered by buying the book. From the introduction:

You can draw the way you’ve always wanted to…. [T]his will give you the edge you need…. [This book] will help you to crush the competition…. There’s a must-know chapter on drawing the sexy gals (the action heroines) of comics–because, as any comic book editor will tell you, beautiful girls are what sell comics…. The power of the universe is in your hands.

Note that (erroneous) bit about the “sexy gals”? That’s far from the only “only for the guys” statement of sexism in the book. Throughout, the guys are emphasized as “tough”, while the women are only seen as eye candy. “What she lacks in brute strength, the female crime-fighter makes up for in guile and feistiness,” Hart tells us. “Often, she’s jealous of the superhero’s fame and accomplishments.” Or, this, from the chapter on drawing the basic head:

“And worry lines? She doesn’t have ‘em. Angular cheekbones? Only if she’s a supervillain…. The eyeliner treatment is always emphasized to an extreme and gives her glamour.”

Men’s eyes are piercing, women are sultry and “come hither”. I got tired of reading adjectives like “delicate”, “soft and supple”, “exotic”, and “seductive and alluring” when it came to drawing women. I thought this was an art book, not a romance novel. Did you know that a woman’s profile in repose in a superhero comic should “look like she’s almost blowing a kiss”? A guy with only that one thing on his mind should NOT be writing how-to art books for teens — one might get the wrong impression about what he’s trying to teach the young.

Then there’s the actual art, which can be poor. The sexy “gal with a gun” labeled “Natural-Born Killer” doesn’t seem to have any knees or ankles, although her legs are bare. Her grasp on her semi-automatic rifle is insubstantial and her sway-back looks painful. The Warrior Queen has a head smaller than her buttocks and a torso that twists so you can see both breasts and her butt at the same time. (Which means she’s either a yoga master or her spine is a Slinky.)

I couldn’t even force myself through the chapter on “Drawing Sexy Gals”. This collection of stereotypes reads like it fell through a time warp from a couple of decades ago. I’ve picked on the sexist elements because that’s a particular pet peeve, but the treatment of the material throughout is distinctly unflattering to the superhero genre, full of cliches. (The publisher provided a review copy, and gracious, I wish they hadn’t.)


7 Responses to “Superheroes and Beyond”

  1. Michelle Smith Says:

    Wow, this sounds like a freakin’ disaster. I actually liked Hart’s Manga Artist Workbook, but now that I think about it, there really wasn’t very much text in there. More just visual examples and lots of space to practice them.

  2. Johanna Says:

    I’m about to praise that, because I liked the different format, but this superhero book tries to cover too much superficially.

  3. Thom Says:

    I’ve looked through Hart’s books before and been less than impressed with the art. Really, his book makes those Wizard How to Draw books look better every day…

  4. Avalon's Willow Says:

    You picked on the sexism, I’m guessing it’s blatant and you mention there are other problems.

    But quick question; any of those superhero examples non-white? Or are all the cliches about strong white men fighting crime, while white women look exotic and sexy as potential prizes?

  5. Tommy Raiko Says:

    “How-to hack Christopher Hart has decided to jump on the superhero bandwagon with this book…”

    In fairness, Hart seems to have written superhero-themed how-to-draw books for quite some time. His HOW TO DRAW COMIC BOOK HEROES AND VILLAINS was written more than a decade ago, after all, and he’s periodically done other books directed toward superheroic or mainstream comics themes.

    It’s just that he’s written many, many, many more mining the how-to potential of manga/anime…

  6. Johanna Says:

    Willow: There are several women who might be Asian (based on their eyes and slight skin shading), and one image of a black male hero. Most images are of white people.

  7. Tommy Raiko Says:

    Also, no matter how much criticism Hart’s instruction books engender, I still don’t think any of his art instruction is quite as bad as this eHow video that’s been making the rounds on the internet:

    http://adistantsoil.com/2009/11/10/worst-art-instruction-ever-do-not-draw-like-this-no-bad-wrong/

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