How do you make a successful female superhero?

As a person with absolutely zero artistic talent, I have to admire someone that can at least doodle. Honestly, I can’t even draw a stick figure. So I feel a little hypocritical when I say that I prefer the more realistic artists in comic books over the ultra stylized types. I’m definitely more Mark Bagley and John Romita Jr. than Eric Canete. So I was very happy to see the art of Armando Huerta, who creates images with photo realistic quality.

The guy is obviously a sci-fi, comic book nerd as his creations focus on women such as Catwoman, G.I. Joe’s Baroness, Harley Quinn, Princess Leia, and the Black Cat. I admit that I bought one of his drawings, but I noticed something his art that didn’t surprise me, but kind of bothered me. Huerta is a self described erotic artist and obviously the majority of his creations feature women in the nude, often in provocative poses. Those pictures are often the one’s that were sold out, while the few pictures with fully clothed women sold few copies.

I don’t consider myself to be a prude, but it made me wonder who would put those explicit pictures on their wall. Maybe I’m just too old. I’m in my mid thirties and not a college guy anymore, but I think even at that age I wouldn’t have bought the nude drawings. Looking at the ratio of sold clothed women to sold unclothed women, I was in the minority.

It made me wonder how a comic company could sell a title based on a female character. There are a multitude of female characters that could have their own ongoing series, but the few of them that do get their own titles last for the marathon that male characters have. Long running characters like Spider-Woman get the occasional series, only to be cancelled around a dozen issues. That surprises me, as Jessica Drew has always been drawn as a curvaceous woman but with intelligence and strength of character. She should have the traits to entice younger male readers as well as women and stuffy older male readers. Catwoman is another female that has had some decent success as a sex symbol and a respected character. Recently Selina was revealed by her authors that she is bisexual. How much of this is an attempt to increase the number of LGBT characters in DC’s stock and how much is to entice readers’ remains to be seen.

There have been several new female characters in the comic book world recently that don’t pander to sexual stimulation, such as Spider-Girl, Spider-Gwen, and Silk. (How much of this is due to a conscious effort at Marvel to not sink to the lowest common denominator is unknown.) Spider-Girl existed in one title or another almost continuously from 1998 to 2010, making her the longest lasting female character to do so in Marvel history. There were numerous attempts to cancel the series but fan backlash again and again extended the series lifespan. May “Mayday” Parker wasn’t a teenager with the body of a Playboy model; she was actually very petite by comic book standards. Also missing were the odd angles the character was drawn at, giving the reader a glimpse of cartoon anatomy.

While Spider-Gwen and Silk are very new characters and thus hard to tell how their series will proceed, they have so far followed in Spider-Girl’s footsteps. All of them are drawn as attractive women, but without the gratuitous sexuality. Most likely the characters will have short running series like most of the other female character titles, judging on history. So if you are an Editor in Chief of a comic company, how do you market female characters? There is a clear preference for sexualized women, yet female based comics are poor sellers. Is the fault in the depiction of women, or in the fact that they are women to begin with?