Gender and the Representation of Men and Women in Comic Books and Graphic Novels

The world of comic books and graphic novels is unbelievably large. So much time and effort has gone into crafting thousands of complicated storylines, characters, and fictional universes over the years and they have a massive following of dedicated fans. However, as compelling and popular as they are, it’s hard to ignore the fact that comics and graphic novels often have a serious problem with objectifying both their male and female characters.

Naturally, when you search for comic book characters, the first images to come up are of the big names: Superman, Batman, Catwoman, Wonder Woman, in fact any character from the two leading comic book companies Marvel and DC. Immediately after searching this you are lost in a sea of muscles and skimpy outfits. The men are drawn with abs that guys in the real world can only ever dream of having and the women are drawn with proportions that are physically impossible.

In theory, you can understand why they are drawn this way. They’re from the world of superheroes, they’re meant to represent the most skilled, physically fit, perfectly sculpted beings; they’re super-humans.  However the extent that their ‘features’ are exaggerated makes you question whether they’re drawn for this, or to please the readers. Focusing on the females in comic books for a moment, you only have to look at the front covers to see that not only are their outfits often revealing but they are usually drawn in positions specifically designed to show off their assets.

It’s a strange situation, because a lot of the female characters in comic books are actually quite empowering, their actions and thoughts would make them good role models for any young girls, and yet they’re still regularly depicted as sexual objects, despite the fact that the number of females and males that read comics are almost even. I cannot jump to any conclusions without proof, but seeing images like these does make me slightly uncomfortable, because I can only imagine the artist sitting there drawing them, almost as if they’re drawing them like that for their own pleasure. There are certainly a couple of comic book writers/artists that are known for over-sexualising  their images, for example Frank Miller who is notorious for his sexist undertones in his comics. This article shows some of his worrying portrayal of women in his comics.  


The image above has been drawn by Mark Millar, a talented graphic novel artist. Unlike the previous images, this isn’t as in-your-face. It’s less colourful and extravagant, and the people are drawn more true to real life. Yet still you can see that this picture sets out roles for the man and woman. He is taller, with a stronger stance and looking down on her. She is dressed in pink and wearing very little, somehow managing to look innocent and suggestive at the same time.

It seems to be with graphic novels and comic books that there are certain classic gender stereotypes that the artists don’t break. The men are supposed to be the strong, powerful ones and are often drawn in stances that suggest dominance. The females are at least allowed to be strong in character and have interesting plots almost on par with the male characters, yet still they are belittled in the end by being sexualised and essentially drawn for eye candy. It’s a fairly old fashioned way of viewing gender, having such set out ideas of how men and women should be, but it’s one that’s visible in all comics.



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