Can Rape Be Depicted In Comic-Books

Can Rape Be Depicted In Comic-Books?

So, I check out what’s going on at this site, and pretty much the first thing I see is an article about Princess Leia’s breasts.

Actually, rewind. Princess Leia is – whisper it – made up. A fictional character. The breasts in question belong to actress and writer Carrie Fisher. And I’m not sure we have a right to talk about Carrie’s body like that. In fact, I’m pretty sure we don’t.

At this point, I can sense a few readers have already dismissed me as a politically correct killjoy, a male feminist out to spoil the innocent fun of a mostly male audience. Well, stick with me. At least for this article.

I’m bewildered to think that a male writer would put such a piece together assuming there’d be much interest from women readers. And you need to think about that stuff. We all do. They matter.

I saw a friend yesterday, who became a mother a year ago. We spent a lovely afternoon together, wandering around town and coo-ing over her gorgeous baby. My friend is a steampunk with a goth background, and she is into bellydancing. Knowing her fascination with Victoriana, I lent her a copy of one or other of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s comic series League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. She couldn’t get beyond a certain page, where a rape is depicted: I think the scene where Hyde kills The Invisible Man by rape.

Think for a second. Would that scene have been done were it a female character being raped? Say, Hyde again, this time raping a surrogate for Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four? I very much doubt it, and not just for the possibility of letters from Marvel lawyers. Rape is a monstrous act, and it doesn’t get less so because it’s committed against a man. Why would Alan Moore want to depict the rape of a fictional man? And why does rape – of women – feature so frequently in the work of this writer, a titan in the field?

At least Moore has the wit to know that rape is an issue of concern, and probably couldn’t be accused of sexism more generally. From Hell is as humane a telling of the Whitechapel murders you’ll find…but again, at the heart of it, women being eviscerated. Mark Millar hasn’t got anything like Moore’s smarts, and uses rape as an indicator of just how much of a badass someone is in Wanted, Nemesis, Kick Ass, The Authority and Old Man Logan.

Can rape be depicted in popular entertainment? Sure, why not? It’s a subject that’s been handled with appropriate sensitivity in soap operas even, let alone quality crime dramas. One of the problems you’re up against in comics – other than writers not thinking stuff through – is that they’re drawn. And a lot of the artists drawing them don’t draw realistic women, but are devotees of ‘good girl art’, with some big name artists found to swipe the poses they show from porn. Now, there’s no reason for every female character in a Marvel comic to look like she’s fresh from a shift in an abattoir, but – please –  a greater range of body types depicted wouldn’t be a bad thing. Same for men. There are artists like Howard Chaykin who can depict characters of different ages and sizes with sensuality in a non-stereotypical way, and it’d be good to see more of that.

There are other implications. In any scene that has a fandom, people who ‘make it’ professionally can experience the kind of adulation that people who work in other jobs don’t. And that can make interacting with ‘fans’ a weird experience, especially when many aspire to work in the same field. Which is how we get to a situation where a comics writer like Brian Wood has been called out for being sexually inappropriate with women, once at a festival and once in a work situation.

Tell a guy he’s all that, put him to work on a comic where a ‘strong’ woman is partly about how much butt her costume shows, let him loose at a convention where there are women and men who want to work in the business, and are willing to discuss their portfolios over a beer…I’m wondering how long it is before there’s another story like Brian Wood’s. Which is enough to give us all pause for thought, starting with stuff like Princess Leia’s boobies.

The above artwork is by: Brett Parson


Adrian Reynolds

Scriptwriter and coach, supporting creators to develop and profit from their own work. It all started when my first film treatment won me a meeting with Tim Bevan, producer of Four Weddings & A Funeral. Which opened the doors to work with production companies and filmmakers, and scripting episodes of Doctors for the BBC. Coming out soon is Making Sparks, a supernatural thriller serial featuring Merveille Lukeba of Skins - about to launch as an app. Then there's Dragon Run Saga, a fantasy adventure audio serial again in app form. White Lily, a short sf film about love, memory, and comets shot in January 2014: there are plans for a feature. On the way is the sf comic Dadtown, and two collaborations with an Emmy-nominated American filmmaker, also sf. As part of the Storia-Creative team, I'm developing new concepts for realisation across media. Over at, I offer support to writers and filmmakers.

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