Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Clothes Make the Character: Powerful Icons

*Tunes of the Day: Trouble by Pink*

I talk about Power Girl and character icons while using as many words for bewbs as possible.

Power Girl...

She’s a strong, funny, independent Kryptonian. She’s strived for most of her life to be seen as an individual, has an attitude and a mean left hook that She-Hulk would gawk at, and has gone almost as many continuity headaches as Ms. Marvel. She’s a big sisterly type to Wonder Woman’s motherly type. And owns the most famous knockers of the DCU!

Why is this important? Well, because today we’re talking about Character Icons, the basic symbols we represent characters by, whether it's core symbols, the symbols that make up whole characters, and the symbols that are a bit more personal to the reader: Cinderella and her glass slippers. Wonder Woman has her golden eagle/”WW” symbol. And despite not knowing that much about Power Girl before this article, it’s obvious that Power Girl's biggest and most well known symbol is... uh... um...

Sigh. Okay. I’ll just come out and say it.

Power Girl's symbol are her tits. Her bubblies. Her lovely lumps. Her-WOW, I am having WAY too much fun with this.

Aaaand here is were I put the disclaimer: This article is NOT really about feminism or sexism. It’s not about whether artists and writers that work with Power Girl are or are not perverts looking for fan-service. This isn’t even about whether or not Power Girl SHOULD have a boob window, though that'll probably come up anyway. Or whether or not she’s a good character. No argument. She’s kickass. This article at it’s core is about Character Icons. I already have enough characters to use to talk about feminism.

So, for those that don’t know Power Girl past her anatomy, here's a quick backstory. (Please note that I went through a “crash course” for PG’s history. So let me know if I got something wrong)


Power Girl is actually a Super Girl from another universe known as Earth-2. She was brought to our world due to events that I won’t get into here since it.... keeps getting rewritten and convoluted. Seeing that there was already a Super Girl in our universe, Kara did what any girl going through an identity crisis does---she got a hair cut. Actually, she completely redid her identity, becoming Karen Starr, aka, Power Girl.

Okay, so maybe she hasn't ALWAYS had the cleavage

From even her first appearance, she has strived to be seen as her own person, unassociated with Superman, even refusing to wear a mock up of his symbol with the letter “P” on it . Instead, going for just a large cleavage dip, which have since evolved into the boob window we all know her by today. Since then, she’s been a member of the Justice Society (in both universes), has gone through multiple costume changes, and backstory rewrites, and has become the strong independent woman that fans know today. Her costume has been the route of her controversy, not helped by how many artists and writers have used it for blatant fan-service over the years.

Enter Jimmy Palmiotti, who obviously realized that there was no way to get past the boob jokes, and decided to roll with it, creating a comedy/action comic, with constant subtle and not-so-subtle boob jokes, situations where PG is either butt naked or forced into tiny outfits, and became one of the more popular and well known titties---uh, I mean, titles of DC for some time, because it’s, well, freakin’ hilarious.

And then the New 52 happened.

*Exhales* Okay... I’m good.

So, yes, like so many others, PG has been “rebooted”. If you want a mini review on it, look to the credits. But as usual, it was the costume(s) that brought out the controversy. Especially when it lacked one very important element.

the one that started the rage

the one they went with

Where is teh cleavage?!

But in all seriousness (I think we’ve already jumped the shark there), everyone HAAATED the costume. The color, the hair, even the icon. The second one is miles ahead of the first, but there were still complaints about the, uh, lack of exposure. And all of us were trying to say WHY we missed it without sounding like perverts. It created more of a backlash then Wonder Woman in pants!

But all of this has brought up just HOW prevalent a symbol Power Girl's coconuts are. The cleavage has been there since almost the beginning and has survived other incarnations of PG, including her version in the animated series (who is nothing like her original counterpart). It is, unfortunately, her core symbol.

All of which could have been avoided, or at least not focused on nearly as much, if Power Girl was given a proper symbol to begin with.

What’s that, you say? Of course there is much more to Power Girl, and far more symbols associated with her.

All characters are made of symbols. They need multiple symbols and traits to become unique. On the surface, we can see more glimpses into PG’s personality simply by the way she stands, and the expressions she makes. I can’t imagine PG without a bold stance, a confident, laid back smirk, or sneering pursed lips (you can thank Amanda Conner for that). When actually reading the comics, you can see much more to her. I’ve already listed some at the beginning of this article, but she’s also comfortable with her body, loves her family, loves cats, and has a snow globe collection.

I’d make another joke, but the comics beat me to it.

But it is the core symbol that we best know them by. Ask anyone about Power Girl that doesn’t actually read her comic and 9/10 they will respond “The one with the boobs?”

Core symbols are what the majority best knows them by. It’s how we can recognize a character from others and helps give them a unique appearance. Even Clark Kent’s glasses are a symbol of Superman’s bumbling alter ego.

Let’s step a way from PG for the moment to look at another large breasted heroine: Orihime from Bleach.

...I swear, the cup sizes in this article just keeps getting bigger and bigger

Whether you like the show or not, Orihime is a completely different take on character symbols and an example that you don’t need an icon printed on your chest. Her personality, like Power Girl and other successful characters, comes out in her body posture. But her main symbols are far more subtle. She is represented symbolically as a princess due to her name, “hime”, meaning “princess” in japanese. But her main symbol is the flower barrettes in her hair. No matter her outfit, she is always wearing them. When reading the comic, you learn that they were a gift from her late brother, and later on become the source of her own powers. These are her core symbols.

But she also has little ones that require you to get to know her better through reading the comics. Her long hair is a symbol of her friendship with her best friend, has a very random imagination, and eats weird foods but never gains weight, and, uh, a certain meme.

If you want a good exercise to hone your Icon making skills, I suggest the “Four Icon Challenge”

Take a movie, tv show, well known character, franchise, etc. Then draw only FOUR simplified icons to represent it. ONLY FOUR (five if you count the border)

I chose Wizard of Oz:

Yes I know it’s an easy example! But now, show the icons to friends and family, without telling them what they represent. Do they get it?

Keep in mind, this doesn’t always work. My first choice was Pulp Fiction, a movie so entertainingly complex, it is seemingly IMPOSSIBLE to represent the entire move as a whole in four icons. Well, for me anyway. If someone can do it, yay! But every time I showed the four icons to someone, every. Single. Person. Had a completely different opinion as to was considered “rememberable” and “iconic” in the movie. One person even suggested Jules’ wallet, which, I honestly don’t even remember. Core icons seem to be known by the majority, while other icons might me more personal to the reader.

For PG, I personally see a regality to her original costume. White suit with a short red cape and gold thread connecting them. It’s a good contrast to her more “bruiser” personality and fighting style. She’d probably fit in pretty well as a knight in a fantasy RPG. But not everyone might feel that way.

Getting back on topic--My point is that the boob window is not the problem. It’s actually a unique design that you don't see that often in heroines. And despite the backlash and controversy it has created for poor PG, it’s okay if one of a character symbols is her chest as long as it’s used wisely. For Power Girl, it became a running gag, and that’s okay. (though a lot of problems could have been avoided if DC had just put out a mandate to it’s artists saying that PG’s window CANNOT be bigger then her head)

But she’s not a porno character and there is so much more to her character then that. When you start representing a character purely by a physical feature, when there is more to them then that, then you’ve crossed the line.

My. Point.

So what symbol should she represented with?.

I... honestly don’t know. I don't know enough about Power Girl or Kryptonians to really make her her one symbol. But her final costume in the new 52 is a good start. Unlike the standard letter p, it’s much more stylized. When I first saw it, I thought is was something much more technological. It’s certainly a start.

Okay, so now it’s time for what I've been building up to: My redesign for Power Girl's costume:

Hey, look! Titties! Yes, I kept the boob window. Not because Power Girl must ALWAY have one, but because I wanted to see how it would look with an icon. In my final version I made it a bit smaller and triangular shape, so an icon could fit easily in the corner, creating balance. The icon is similar to the design DC finally went with, but a little more curved. For the gloves and legs, I worked in some Kryptonian designs, to work it into the New 52, and thigh highs to add a bit of cover (and color) to her legs. (Hey, if PG can fight with a boob window larger then her head, thigh-highs are not gonna be a problem). And obviously from the color design, my love of the original costume is showing.

So that’s if for now. I hope this helped out a few people. If anyone wants to see the preliminary sketches for PG, check out my portfolio site ArtSlug. I’ll be posting a link later on this week.

Man, after all the boob jokes I've had to put up with during research ("put up with." Right.), I need something to sober myself up. Hmm... What’s coming up on the calendar... uh huuuuh...

Alright, then! Next time... We go north!

Tegan Dumpleton aka SlugLady28


Okay, so here is my mini review of the New PG and Huntress comic: World's Finest. Currently, there are only two issues out

My verdict: Meh.

I’m not interested in the story, I’m not all that interested in the characters. It looks like they’ve tried to show that PG as relatively the same person... except when she isn’t. And by that, I mean that they’ve stuffed about 5 years of continuity into two issues over a series of short flashbacks. Karen seems about the same person. Maybe a bit angrier then usual (following the path of so many other rebooted 52 characters). It’s actually huntress I'm mad about. I know that the “daughter of Batman and Catwoman” idea has been toyed around a bit, but I personally liked Helena more when she didn’t have a family connection to Batman. She’s her own super hero who just happens to be tied more to Batman adventures.

Also, there are a lot of things I just want to nick pick about the story. That’s not a good sign.

Special thanks to my brother, for helping me come up with words for “boobs” (sorry I couldn't fit them all in. My site has a rating on it. ) and a certain frined, for beating my head with PG and Kryptonian knowledge. And to everyone who chipped in in with the character design stuff!

Seeya next time!

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