Chicks On Anime
The Artist Alley (Part 2)

by B. Dong, S. Pocock, Aug 11th 2009

About the contributors:

Bamboo is the managing editor for ANN, and writes the column Shelf Life.
Sara is an animator who's also released her own independent short film.

During Anime Expo, Sara and I had the great opportunity to talk art and comics with Lanny Liu and Ziang Her, two artists who have previously been featured on ANN's column, The Gallery, which is written by Evan Miller, who also sat in with us. Our two-part conversation, the first half which was posted a few weeks ago, discusses some of the challenges of being an artist in these times, and also the journey towards being published.


Bamboo: Do you feel as female artists, you find yourself shoe-horned into certain genres? Like, more romance, more shoujo, more boys love—that kind of thing?
Lanny I don't think so. Although it comes down to what your style is. Some people have a more masculine style and can handle the more boyish action stories. With Queenie Chan, she did In Odd We Trust, and that's not a typical romance with sparkles and flowers. However, Artist Alleys at conventions are very female-dominated.
Ziang I know that for western comic books, the industry is male-dominated. I know people in the industry have had a fall-out with Joe Quesada over at Marvel. Pretty much if he wants something, he expects his artists and writers to do it. Even though they have contracts, he'll say, “I don't want side projects, I don't want crossovers or storylines.” It's what he wants, and they lose a lot of good artists that way. But that's in regards to his position, and wanting certain art styles.
Bamboo: I went to a lecture by Roland Kelts and he was talking about the difference between manga and American comic books. He had showed a slide of what you would typically see in an American comic book. You have Superman, who is very chiseled and masculine. He's a super masculine entity, bulging with muscles, and leaking testosterone from every pore. On the other hand, when you look at some of the more popular manga, even the ones aimed at boys, you don't have that same rock-hard look.
Lanny They're all very soft.
Bamboo: Right. The characters are very round compared to, say, Superman, who has muscles you didn't even know existed. Even with that, you could almost explain why there is such a gender disparity between the American comics industry and the Japanese industry—as well as artists in America who were influenced by manga.
Lanny Yeah, and a lot of the themes in the “superhero” genre carry a limited appeal for women.
Bamboo: Right. I mean, you don't really see that many females, unless they have a specific aesthetic. I mean, you don't see a lot of females just sitting there sculpting out a man's abs.
Sara: And another thing is that the best artists can vary their style anyway. You have to be very versatile. Unless you have that versatility and you can draw anything, it's a lot harder to be shoehorned into doing something you don't want to do.
Evan It's interesting to note that in Japan too, a lot of the fan comic conventions you go too are also overwhelmingly female. The reasoning is different, though. Of course in Japan, a lot of the male fans are more reclusive, but in Japan most of the conventions are female attended. It's kind of like a social networking thing where artists get together and share their stuff.
Bamboo: I've never read statistics, but I've always heard that compared to the manga industry in Japan, or at least doujinshi artists, the majority of the actual animators in Japan are male right?
Sara: That's the same thing here in America. The big animators, the high level senior artists, art directors, they're all male. And I think that's just a trend that the industry in general has and it's not just art. It's the global economy, you know. And I think the entertainment industry kind of has a reputation of being a boys club. Like when you think back to the birth of film, it was male-dominated as well.

I know I've mentioned this before in previous anime columns, but in the Disney studios, when Walt was alive, women were not allowed to draw; they were only allowed to paint. His logic was, “Oh, they put on make-up so they are good at painting.” They were allowed to put the blush on Snow White's cheeks, but they were not allowed to actually make the drawings. I think there is a whole older generation that still has that mentality. And I think that's why it's only recently beginning to change.

Bamboo: But it seems like there is a disparity between having a high number of female manga artists and dojinshi artists versus male animators, even though the jobs are not that wildly different.
Sara: Animation is a more studio environment. Again, it's like a club and you have to be approved to get in. For publishing, the big publishers have that club mentality. That's why US comics are still so male dominated. But with fan comics and dojinshi, all you need to do that is yourself and your own talent, so I feel there aren't the same barriers maybe.
Lanny It's possible. The more we talk about it, the more I wonder if there is something in us that makes us want to do this more than guys, on a social level. When you are talking about artist alleys at fan conventions in Japan, it's like a social gathering. Women typically enjoying socializing more than men anyway, so the men don't have a lot to do with it.
Ziang That's true, and I think that social environment can influence the work. I guess that would explain why the audience for each genre is so different. With American comics, it's mostly males just because that ideal of the super, almost perfect guy who's a hero… that's what guys would like themselves to be, whereas women see their ideal guy as the softer, kinder type. They guys in manga have softer, more feminine lines. Women might think those characters are more sensitive and more in tune to their thoughts and urges. It's got a more romantic feel to it, so I guess those images cater to different audiences.

While many women may be more drawn to that kind of character for the most part, not everybody has the same interests, of course. but you know. There's a difference in representation because of how people are raised, too. If people ask you to draw what little girls draw, you might get a drawing of flowers or something along those lines. Whereas guys like to draw guns, cars, and more masculine things - stuff like that. And that's why I feel there's a male predominance in the industry with technical designs and other stuff; I think it starts at a young age and kind of effects how things turns out. Personally, I'd love to get into character design for video games, but it's a huge challenge just because it is such a male dominated field.

Sara: Oh yeah, I can tell you, the video game industry definitely has strictly defined gender roles; you're right about that. I was at E3 this year and it was a sausage fest in there.
Ziang If you look at the women in video games, for the most part, they are voluptuous and curvy and drop dead gorgeous. I think the AI character in Resident Evil 5, in the very first scene, was the first woman whom I thought was attractive to me as a person - as a female gamer. Usually, those characters aren't designed with females in mind; they are aimed at a male fanbase. Although there are avid female fans out there.
Sara: I think out of all of the different realms of entertainment, and I don't know how it is in the rest of the world, but in the United States, out of film, animation, comics, and video games, video games is the one that still has the most traditional gender roles still built into it. It objectifies women the most. It has the lowest percentage of women in the fanbase and even less who are working in the actual industry.
Ziang: Yeah. It's like there is this big giant glass wall or door that few women cross, but even then you can't tell that it is the work of a female artist. It's so hard to break into that industry - that's where I originally wanted to go, and that's why a lot of my stuff when I first started out was more geared towards designing characters with background stories, concept art, and other stuff like that. However, I knew that to even try to break in the field, I would have to make my style different, or find a different style of art that caters to what companies are looking for and develop it from there. I know there are a few people who do that in Artists Alley because they believe that the only way to gain popularity is to copy someone's style or mimic a popular series. When I see that it saddens me a little bit because, if you have the skills, why are you trying to emulate someone else? You can take that and move beyond that, and I think when artists do that they can be successful in other ways.
Evan I'm hoping that one of the good off-shoots of the popularity of Japanese games like Final Fantasy among a female fanbase is that it inspires people to break the glass ceiling in the video game industry. I think it will happen sometime soon. People want to get into character design because of these titles, and while it's going to take a while for things to really change, I'm optimistic that in time it will level the playing field. It hasn't changed everything, but at least the seeds of change have been planted.
Sara: Right. I think video game design right now is very homogenous in its aesthetic. It's all about bright shiny weapons, and either a super ripped guy or a really sultry, sexy, scantily clad woman.
Lanny In a bikini.
Bamboo: Of course.
Sara: But shooting people or demons or decapitating people with a giant axe.

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