Female comic book artists

Ah, that rarity of rarities: the female superhero comic book artist. There have been a handful in the last few years, most recently Amanda Conner, who drew the Terra miniseries and is now drawing the ongoing Power Girl series.

I find myself again asking a question that I’ve discussed with my local comic shop guy: what is it about female comic artists’ work that so often makes it instantly recognizable as being drawn by a woman?

Maybe it’s just me, but as soon as I laid eyes on the cover of Terra #1, my brain said, “Hey, a female artist!” Thing is, I don’t know how I know that. Conner’s art in both Terra and Power Girl is just as “cheesecake” as anything your typical modern male comic book artist produces.

That leaves me thinking it’s some intangible factor that I’m picking up on. It’s not just Conner’s work — I’ve had the same reaction to a couple other artists in recent years (whose names I can’t recall offhand) upon first glance at a comic’s cover art, and been proved correct when I’ve checked the credits and seen that yes, it was drawn by a woman.

Any theories as to what I’m picking up on? My guess is a combination of facial expressions and body language - a female artist just does a better job of varying facial expressions to suit the emotions of the characters, and tends to use more realistic poses, for female characters in particular. But I’m just guessing.

I’ve noticed this with Pia Guerra. I think it might because even her guys kinda look like girls. Then again, Fables looks like it’s drawn by a girl and it’s not. It might just be confirmation bias.

Trina Robbins addressed this once; she said someone told her that she “draws like a girl.” She reasoned that Dale Messick drew like a girl and Jack Kirby drew like a boy, and was pretty much okay with the description.

Marie Severin and Ramona Fradon draw female characters who pretty much hold their own instead of being static arm candy (Consider Marie Severin’s usual depiction of Mary Jane Watson to Todd McFarlane’s. Todd draws lingerie, but Marie makes Mary Jane seem fun). Guys draw pin-ups; girls draw characters!

I always thought Richard E. Howell drew a bit like a girl. Whatever happened to him?

I’ve definitely noticed this trend as well and I like Connor’s work. I’m really enjoying Power Girl right now.

When I first saw her work it reminded me of Terry and Rachel Dodson who I also really like. They’re a husband and wife team, he’s the penciller and she’s the inker/colorist, and they tend to work together quite often. They had runs on Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn which were both really impressive.

One thing that these artists have in common is, (what looks to my admittedly untrained eye), a very solid grasp of anatomy, even with the cheesecake element, which is sorely lacking in many artists that go the pin up route.

Also, your observation about facial expressions is spot on in my experience. Compare to someone like Frank Cho who’s art has a lot of superficial similarities. Good anatomy with a high cheesecake quotient but the expressions on his women tend to be interchangeable which strips them of their individual personalities.

Now that you say that, I see what you mean. His style is somehow in a triangle between Trina Robbins, Colleen Doran, & Jack Kirby.