Why Frank Cho’s Work is Feminist

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You may have noticed that there’s something of an ongoing brouhaha surrounding the work of comic book artist and writer Frank Cho. It seems every time he does something involving a woman these days, someone screams. It’s fashionable to label Frank a misogynist over some parody covers, but I know the guy, both personally and professionally, and the dude can be in a room full of naked women and keep his eyes on their faces unless there’s a punchline to be had.

I know this because I’ve actually been in a room with Frank involving multiple naked women. He was a guest on Ed and Red’s Night Party. We had him draw Dean, the pig character from Liberty Meadows, on a topless woman’s back. It was meta, get it? It’s also really damned hard to create art on a surface at isn’t flat, or even uniform.

Another funny, spur of the moment thing happened on that show. For the episode, I cosplayed Brandy from Liberty Meadows, and we got a “Beltsville” t-shirt screen printed from a place down the street. Unfortunately, said shirt was proportioned for a woman who was a B-cup, and when I put it on, the screen printed letters tore, leaving white marks wherever the shirt’s weave had caused a faultline. It looked like crap, so we turned it into content. We had Frank fill in the white parts of the letters with sharpie, because he was a “professional”.

This, it turned out, left black sharpie marks on the white bra I was wearing underneath the shirt, because the marker bled. Frank, being Frank, turned those spots into eyeballs, so that I could look back at guys staring at my chest.

That’s the Frank Cho I know: funny, clever, appreciative of other people’s work, and very much aware that women who look a certain way get treated like we don’t have faces.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to provide another side to the whole “Frank Cho is a misogynist” thing that isn’t just more angry shouting, but I just keep coming back to personal memories involving Frank and his work. I still remember the first time I saw a Liberty Meadows book, in Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles. I bought it because I’m a sucker for cartoon animals, but also because it was the story of a busty woman who had no idea how attractive she was, and the short nerdy vet who harboured a secret love for her.

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Brandy was like no other woman in comics I’d ever encountered. She wasn’t a superhero. She was goofy and klutzy. She was insecure about her weight. And she was in on the various zany jokes instead of being the typical killer of fun. Liberty Meadows was a combination of all the great parts of the Sunday funnies page without the horrible elements – the constant digs at Cathy in various Liberty Meadows strips showed that I wasn’t alone in my annoyance at that level of female neurosis.

Liberty Meadows was elegant, silly, smart, and fun. It was a comic strip that allowed its female lead to be beautiful, flawed, slapstick, smart and fun all at the same time, and that was something I desperately needed as a woman trying to find my place in television comedy. Throughout my career, I have run into various brick walls because most media properties don’t allow women to be all these things at once. In fact, it’s usually a paradigm of “Smart, glamorous, or funny. Pick two.” Call it the “Big Bang Triangle” if you will. Penny is funny and and object of desire, but she’s a waitress when everyone else is a scientist. Amy, on the other hand, is funny and smart, but dressed deliberately dumpy. Bernadette, similarly, has an affected voice and thick glasses so that she’s not TOO pretty, or TOO smart, because she plays up the funny. The media considers it unfeminine if a woman is TOO MUCH.

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Frank Cho doesn’t sacrifice a woman’s beauty or sexuality for intelligence or the ability to take part in comedy, and I love him for that. His parody covers are continuing his tradition in this regard, and people who claim they’re misogynist are just flat out wrong. If anything, they’re poking fun at how freaked out our society gets over boobs. Try living with a gigantic pair: you realize how absurd it is the first time you get smacked in the face with your own breast. Yes. This has happened to me more than once.

Feminism isn’t about protecting women from the big bad world or putting us on an unnatural pedestal.  Feminism is about equality between men and women.  So essentially, if Deadpool is allowed to do it, some female character should have license to do it too.

Men are allowed to be naked, loud and obscene for the sake of comedy. Look at South Park, Family Guy, and Seth Rogan’s stuff. Frank Cho is one of the few creators out there who dares to let women be the star in that kind of comedy, instead of the disapproving wife/mom or the object of sexual conquest. Frank draws women who laugh at themselves, and the ridiculousness of the current nerd paradigm, without making these women seem like the kind of women the world laughs at too. He gives us license to laugh at ourselves in a world that conspires to tear down our self esteem.

And if that isn’t progressive; if that isn’t FEMINIST; I don’t know what is.

(PS: if this article does well enough, I’ll tell the behind the scenes story of where those pics of Frank signing my butt came from.)

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8 thoughts on “Why Frank Cho’s Work is Feminist”

  1. Ugh, the one thing I hate about sitcoms is the bitchy wife (sorry, not putting it as nice as you.) The only show I can think of that didn’t do it was My Name Is Earl, but even then the character in question still fit into what you said. She was pretty and funny, but dumb as a box of rock (then again ALL the characters were except the black guy who would show these moments of insane genius or depth––which was on purpose. And sorry again, I can’t remember their names. It’s been a while.)

    It’s why I don’t watch sitcoms. It was demeaning that that was the only way they figured they could portray a woman. Although, I’m sure not all shows are like that, but I gave up TV service so they’re unknown to me.

    I’m totally checking out Frank Chos work now because I want to see his characters.

    1. If you’re finding it that hard to think of sitcoms who avoid the trope you should try getting into British comedies. http://www.listal.com/list/britains-best-sitcom

      I think you have to go down to number 12 before you ever see the bitchy wife, and Hyacinth exaggerates the trope to the point of utter hilarious lunacy.

      (Though “Smart, glamorous, or funny. Pick two.” – nobody in British sitcoms is glamorous. But you get some smart funny women. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DIy-C4cQ-M)

  2. Frank Cho is my hero. Been saying that ever since he first started his Manara mock illustrations. Well, he was already one for me for being a great artist, but his ability to poke fun at the modern and myopic social world at large made him even more so.

    I’m greatly relieved to see not only someone else say it, but from an actual friend of his call him a feminist, someone who understands that feminism is the advocacy of equal treatment, not the censorship of female sexuality or protecting the women from the “big bad world,” as you put it.

    Thank you.

  3. I like Frank Cho’s art work period. I know he draws a lot of women but I just like a person’s art for the sake of their skill the same as I admire Bernie Wrightson for his dark choice of subject matter. I don’t really care what is drawn as long as it is something I like. There are way too many people that can be nit-picked about their choice of expression. One that comes to mind is H.R. Geiger. Fantastic visionary when it comes to art expression but very dark and strange subject matter. I think it comes down to choice and I’m glad there is so much to choose from. I just joined this page and I have seen your other work on tv and listened to your podcasts and like your approach to what comes to my mind as good old common sense. Cheers!

  4. Much of what calls itself feminism today is more rooted in neo-libertarianism than equality. It’s all about doing what you want as much as possible and what you don’t as little. Hence, slutwalks and Amy Schumer are fine, as it’s all about women doing things for themselves, but let a comic artist come along and make something that might give sexual pleasure to a guy or make the women the joke of men, and a cardinal sin has been made because being used in any way by someone else means it isn’t all about you and what you want.

    And while I could speculate for a long time on how few healthy relationships these people must have (as few sane people would want o be around someone that demanding and uncompromising for too long) as per the topic of Frank Cho and comics / games / etc like his, it’s an overly perfectionist attitude harmful to enjoyment. I’ve liked Dejah Thoris’s books over the last few years, and she’s been a strong character throughout, but she only wears pasties so all the good stuff doesn’t exist. Zenoscope’s Grim Fairy Tails line has a strong focus on female characters leading the charge and in stories not focused on their relationships to a male character (two of the main ones are that rare creature in nerd media: Mothers) but are only known for cheesecake variant covers that aren’t representative of the content of the books.

    It’s a shame as I think there’s a lot out there people would enjoy if they weren’t so focused on things gotten wrong, but the “all about me” culture wants perfection, and things run against it are just cause for scorn.

  5. My wife (the Womens Studies major) has occasionally said that — for her — Feminism means women being free to do and be whatever they want, without somebody else butting in and telling them they’re doing it wrong. Including other women.

    Which is sorta where I think things have gone off the rails over the past few years. Too many women — okay, let’s be honest, we’re talking about girls who are half the age of Camille Paglia — who’ve not only made it their business to tell other women, “You’re doing it wrong,” but also to tell men (and boys) that we’re all doing it wrong, too. Especially those of us who have a hand in the entertainment world.

    I admire anyone who can resist the remonstrations of the self-assigned Fun Police, and keep a smile on his face. I doubly admire anyone who can do this, and be a terrific artist (music, visual art, prose, you name it) to boot.

    Go, Frank. Go.

    Also, Liana, thank you for having the chutzpah to stick up for Frank. You will undoubtedly be getting a traffic ticket from the Humor Patrol, telling you that you’re a willing participant in your own oppression, and you just don’t know it.

    Keep a smile on your face too, and don’t let the fuggheads get you down.

    1. Holy smokes!! I am soo very glad you contributed to this Brad. The current outrage on all that is “fun” is completely off the charts. I completely support Cho in his vehement refusal to bow before the outrage warriors that all so much practice the very things they decry about regarding media. From the Joker variant cover of Batgirl, ( I find it deliciously ironic that that artist is now the artist for that comic), to the whole bruhaha regarding Tracers pose in a game that depicts characters shooting others in the head etc etc.

      I weep for nerd culture because the Valejo’s, Frazetta’s, the Robert E. Howards, Burroughs, and Moorcocks will never be allowed to contribute to the medium because of all the outrage arseholes who do not care for the medium unless it fits their political/sociological worldview.

      Thank you Liana and Brad for saying your views.

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