She-Design/He-Design: Joe Phillips’ White Queen and Starfire!

Note: Some fans can’t get past the inherent sexiness that some superhero characters put on, and the trend of gender-swapping in superhero design really forces people take a second look at costume design. Artist Joe Phillips recently did a host of Marvel & DC superheroine costumes as if worn by males, and really innovated here in terms of making the costumes work on men.  – Chris A.

 

50 comments on “She-Design/He-Design: Joe Phillips’ White Queen and Starfire!
  1. The Ambiguously Gay Duo have nothing on these guys. I’m OK with women in comics being overly sexy because the bulk of the readers are young men … I don’t need to spell it out any further, right? My wife used to point out how unrealistic the women are in comics – until I asked her about the fictional male character she enjoys most – Christian “50 Shades of” Gray. She describes him as a 27 year old romantic, brilliant billionaire whose better looking than Brad Pitt, is in perfect physical shape and who practices S&M stuff – but only with his one true love. How is Wonder Woman’s chest anymore unrealistic than that?

  2. I mean, I know these are supposed to make a more political point, but that male version of Emma is just off-the-charts hawt. Hooray for male objectification!

  3. I love the awkwardly uncomfortable pose the White Queen has – the pecs and pelvis are thrust ever so slightly out.

    I’m pretty sure that Starfire design is already used by a Masters of the Universe character…

  4. Truth be told, I never went in for the whole “female comic book costumes are sexist” thing. “Sexy”, yes. “Sexist”, no. Yes, they feature plunging necklines, “boob windows”, and bare legs. But you know what else does? Women’s fashion. Superhero costumes take that to an unrealistic degree, but that’s what they’re based off of. Evening gowns, swimwear, workout clothing, etc.

    Men in comics tend to wear full body suits because that reflects male fashion. But the men are already wearing skintight outfits over rock hard bodies with their underwear on the outside. They have been idealized already. So every time someone tries to make a point by swapping costumes to show how “ridiculous” they’d look on men, I have to agree – yes, they look kinda ridiculous. Because that’s not who it was made for.

    That being said, looking at the rest of this artist’s portfolio, I don’t think he’s making a gender statement. Based on the rest of his portfolio, he’s rocking the model/porn star look on all comic book characters, whether clothed or unclothed.

  5. …So much…rationalization in the…comments… Must…type…like…Shatner speaking…

    Srsly though.

    1.) Clearly a large enough percentage of comic readers are no longer straight white men. Women, people of color, and people who are not (gasp) heterosexual are reading, or else we wouldn’t be having discussions over the often negative portrayals of women and minority characters.

    2.) Women’s fashion vs. men’s fashion. I can’t even… Where in real life, outside of a zentai convention, do you see men wearing skintight Spandex costumes? For that matter, where outside of a strip club do you see WOMEN wearing the outfits they are often portrayed wearing in comics? Female comic characters are often portrayed as sex fantasies for the presumed straight male audience, whereas the male characters are POWER fantasies. They are not equal portrayals. I thought this point had been so widely disseminated by now I didn’t need to remind people.

    Also, many female comic characters are supposed to be warriors or fighters of some kind. They shouldn’t be wearing skimpy outfits or high heels because those are really impractical to fight in. I could buy Emma Frost’s silly outfit because she’s traditionally a psychic, and being a vamp is part of her personality. However, the problem arises when almost EVERY comic character dresses like Emma Frost, regardless of her personality and abilities. It cheapens them as characters, and Emma herself no longer stands out because she’s just another pair of tits in a sea of half-bare boobies.

    3.) Because crap like Twilight and the 50 Shades of Gray spinoff exist, it makes it totally okay to design silly costumes for female characters? Not buying it.

    http://www.shortpacked.com/2011/comic/book-13/04-remedial-adulthood/math/

    Seems appropriate to remind people of this. :P

    Okay, srs bsns aside, these drawings are cute and amusing. I’d like to see some more gender-bending or cross-dressing. Reminds me of that crossplay group that was at ComicCon two years ago. :3

  6. The male “White King” actually holds up as a design I could believe in a legitimate comic; I would totally believe that design if it came up in a comic book unassociated with X-men/White Queen and was just a new villain design.

    “Starfire” I just don’t believe and clearly is just a gender-swapped costume. If I had to say why it would probably be the thigh-highs. Thigh-highs are part of women’s lingerie and is inherently feminine. Whereas all “White King” is doing is wearing pants and showing off his chest, “Starfire” is actually wearing something associated with women’s clothes.

    Not that men can’t dress feminine if they wanted to. But if they did it’d be a deliberate statement.

  7. Erin hit the nail on the head, and it’s absurd that we even still need to have this argument. Female characters are by and large gratuitously sexualized (and thusly dehumanized) in comics. There’s just no two ways about it. Let’s stop pretending like there’s anything to even debate about.

  8. Men are objectified just as much as women are, just not always in the same medium. Sure women are just sex objects in comics and video games and aren’t making any progress any time soon, but men are experiencing the same plight and unrealistic expectations of body image and sexuality, too. Again, this whole statement lacks any punch with me beyond the great art.

  9. I don’t think there’s anything political about this, guys. Joe Phillips is a gay illustrator, and much like straight illustrators like drawing women wearing very little and looking sexy – ex. Frank Cho – he likes drawing men.

  10. DRM: Thigh-highs are part of women’s lingerie and is inherently feminine. Whereas all “White King” is doing is wearing pants and showing off his chest, “Starfire” is actually wearing something associated with women’s clothes.

    What about the opera gloves? those are pretty damn feminine, if you ask me. other than that, yeah, he’s just a bloke with a penchant for white who’s really, really proud of his abs.

  11. Guys, it’s not just how skimpy the costumes are and it’s not just how developed the muscles are. It’s also body language and choice of viewing angles.

    If you put Supergirl in baggy pants and old sweater, but reserve all your ass shots for her, it’s still problematic.

    If you put Superman in booty shorts, but never show him flexing, stretching, or arching, it’s not equal play.

  12. Erin is right.
    Anyone trying to convince the world that there’s not an inherently sexist bent to most comic portrayals of superheroines is kidding themselves. And to that end, when I was taking a look at Mr. Phillips’ work on his site, I was genuinely struck by many of the very beefcake-y pinup style portraits. And I thought, “oh, this must be what it’s like when women read any other comics, all the time.”

    Not to say Joe Phillips is out to make a point with his (great) art, but he certainly does shine light on an issue that clearly– judging by many of these comments– still needs a good hard look by the industry and the fans.

    And the argument of “Well comics are aimed at guys so– so what?” is– A) Bogus, B) Incredibly lowbrow, and most importantly C) Cowardly.

    So, because men aren’t being objectified, we shouldn’t care? That’s cheap thinking. And trotting out a few half-assed examples of men ( real or fictional) being objectified/idealized vs. approximately 11 kerbillion examples the other direction, then suggesting it’s all even– utter nonsense. That’s how children think.

    If sales plummet because they put pants on Wonder Woman, or stopped drawing Power Girl like a streetwalker, then we’ve cemented every negative stereotype of comic fans and deserve what we get.

    Sermon ended.

  13. Felix Vasquez Jr.: Men are objectified just as much as women are, just not always in the same medium. Sure women are just sex objects in comics and video games and aren’t making any progress any time soon, but men are experiencing the same plight and unrealistic expectations of body image and sexuality, too. Again, this whole statement lacks any punch with me beyond the great art.

    Did you just say that men experience the same plight as women? Seriously? Haha. Good lord.

    These comments are starting to make my eye twitch so I’m just going to leave this alone. Learn to think critically and have empathy dudes.

  14. Yeah, what Erin said. Especially this: “Female comic characters are often portrayed as sex fantasies for the presumed straight male audience, whereas the male characters are POWER fantasies. They are not equal portrayals.” While men are objectified and over-idealized in a lot of pop culture, it’s a very different kind of idealization than what is done with women.

    I’ve loved Joe Phillips’ art for a long time. In addition to stuff like this, he does a lot of gay themed (and some lesbian-themed!) art using superhero imagery. He’s a fantastic artist, hands down. If you like beautiful men, you’ll want to look into all his work, and he’s quite prolific.

    I can’t speak for him, but would imagine this is more an effort to show off sexy men rather than make the political point, just because I haven’t seen a lot of that from him in the past. What’s interesting about this thread is that it’s turned into a discussion on objectification rather than a discussion about the design. What really makes me happy about this thread is that there’s not a single bigot in here spouting off anti-gay hate speech. So thank you for that above all else.

  15. Fred: What about the opera gloves? those are pretty damn feminine, if you ask me. other than that, yeah, he’s just a bloke with a penchant for white who’s really, really proud of his abs.

    Men wear long gloves all the time. They’re usually work related though, like surgeons, scientists, miners, etc. Usually whenever there’s a situation where someone is dealing with hazardous materials. It’s actually oddly masculine if you think about it that way.

  16. Blah blah blah sexism blah blah politics blah whatever… Let’s assume the costumes stand on their on merits, eh?

    As for the White King’s outfit, I appreciate that the cape (ugh! a cape!!!) over a shirtless torso is held in place by the X straps. I keeps me from worrying about choking around his neck. I’m OK with the gloves as a personality detail and balancing element, but I don’t think the costume really needs them. Perhaps shorter would work better, below the elbow?

    I’ll give Starfire a free pass this time, since he comes from an alien culture with alien physiology. Otherwise I’d wonder about the overwhelming amount of bare skin for this superhero warrior. Thank gawd he’s not a female with breasts compounding the problem!

  17. Where in real life, outside of a zentai convention, do you see men wearing skintight Spandex costumes?

    Olympic Sports

  18. I think Erin and the others have said everything that needed to be said, so I’m just going to focus on the designs. To be honest some of these gender flips genuinely work! The White King aside, both the Phoenix and Crow (male Raven) work amazingly well!

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  20. Honestly, I don’t really see how this ” forces people take a second look at costume design.” I already knew that Emma Frost and Starfire’s costumes were over-the-top fetish gear when they were wearing them. Putting them on men doesn’t really add any emphasis to it (although the drawing themselves are damn good).

    All of the political correct flag planting aside, pretty much all superheroes–male and female– are naked with body paint. That’s just the nature of the beast. For me, it’s only an issue when the objectification value of the outfit completely overrides the common sense value.

  21. Here’s what bugs me about the sexism in much of the world of comic. I’m a dude who’d probably read a few Marvel/DC comic books if they weren’t. Catwoman is a really cool character. Probably one of the few major characters who does what John Mortimer (creator of Rumpole) calls ODC – Ordinary Decent Crime. She just breaks in and steals stuff.

    However, all the books I see are just posing and pinup shots. No thanks, pass. In other comics, it’s stripper outfits and women in refrigerators. As a result, I don’t read Marvel or DC books. I read webcomics, Archie, and Usagi Yojimbo. What they have in common is that the women in the comics are fully developed and have every bit the agency of of all the men. Inazuma, Tomoe, and Chizu all can fight Usagi to a standstill, and do so in reasonable clothes, without rubber spines or odd contortions to their combat styles. Most of the women of Archie (and the men) are quite attractive, and in swimwear when appropriate. However, they are realistically-sexy rather than designed simply for the titillation of adolescent boys. There’s sometimes sly pinup stylings, but that’s not the sole focus of the characters.

    And I’m not saying every comic book title has to change. But they really ought to change some (I drool at the concept of a Terry Moore Catwoman quarterly). I mean, I bet there are a lot more women as a percentage of total fans of the recent Batman movies than the percentage of total fans of Batman comics. That isn’t because they don’t like superheroes, or they don’t like comic books in general, but because of these comics in particular. I stand with them.

  22. wait, so when reading comics people genuinely stop and think: ‘this outfit is wholly inappropriate’? really?
    ‘wow I can’t believe they killed professor x….BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHY IS EMMA FROST STILL HALF-NAKED!?! AND WHY IS ICEMAN WEARING ONLY PANTS?! NO-ONE DRESSES LIKE THIS IN REAL LIFE!’

  23. Yes Tom , project rooftop is all about that…
    Some of us find plausibility in design as important as story hooks. In a good comic, the design will add to the story, and the story will add to the design.

    That said, i find really poor arguments bashing flashy, unpractical costumes. ”You don’t see normal people wearing tights”, but they’re not normal people, if lady gaga can wear that shit and she is just a human pop star, imagine people with god-like powers…

  24. Given that this is Project Rooftop, the focus is more on the costume than the other visual aspects of a comic book — poses, panel framing, etc. But I would kill to see these designs combined with Escher Girl-style poses — not those specifically, perhaps, since they distort the body in specifically female ways, but equally improbable poses for men.

    Concerning the costumes themselves, I have to speak up in favor of the thigh-highs and the opera gloves. They serve a very particular purpose, apart from the gendered connotations: covering unnecessary parts of the body draws attention to the parts that aren’t covered. Starfire in particular: take away the gloves and the boots and sure, he’d still look a bit weird, because then he’s running around in a Speedo and some kind of backpack harness. But put the gloves and boots on, and all that bare skin suddenly becomes much more obvious, and obviously sexualized. Now he isn’t half-naked for any pretend-sensible reason, like hot weather or physical activity; he’s half-naked so you can ogle him. It makes a very big difference.

  25. Forgot to add:

    Tom — Not in exactly that way, no, but it does get in the way of the story. If the costuming and framing and posing of a comic book is constantly inviting me to admire the T&A of every female character, that means the art and costume design are drawing attention away from the story, instead of contributing to it. As people have said here before, it’s fine for Emma Frost to dress like a hooker; that’s the kind of person she is. But when every female character is wearing a thong and thigh-high boots and has gravity-defying sphereboobs, the distinctions between Emma Frost and everybody else get seriously blurred. And when a female character in pain or defeat is dressed and posed in a fashion that sexualizes her, the comic doesn’t invite me to experience her suffering; it invites me to be titillated by it.

    Bad costuming is bad storytelling, in addition to being offensive to a growing portion of the readership. And yes, that does indeed kick me out of a story.

  26. @ Tom: It’s the overall attitude through most Marvel/DC books. It starts with the writing: characterisation and storylines. Then moves into the basic elements of design (costume and body type) – that’s this site. It finishes with outlandish posturing and perspectives (Escher Girls).

  27. Not to pick on Tom, but yeah, I’m a costume designer, so when I see ridiculous stuff on men or women, it totally takes me out of the story. I don’t mind skimpy costumes, but totally impractical costumes make me crazy. The absolute worst examples are Liefeld’s Cable (Oh, god, for so many reasons) and Frank Quitely’s Beast (he apparently has no idea how fabric works when a body bends; if your underwear waistband has ever folded over, you now know how completely stupid that costume was!). Emma and Starfire, as examples have usually not bothered me because neither are physical fighters and Emma’s sexuality is a weapon, while Starfire comes from a culture with no sexual inhibitions. But I’ve always had a problem with Wonder Woman (why the hell would she wear stars and stripes, much less a bustier and panties?!) and crap like Star Sapphire or Madeleine Pryor. But yeah, honestly I get very frustrated with impractical costumes. (The gender/sexuality issues are a whole other story, too.)

  28. DRM: The male “White King” actually holds up as a design I could believe in a legitimate comic; I would totally believe that design if it came up in a comic book unassociated with X-men/White Queen and was just a new villain design.
    “Starfire” I just don’t believe and clearly is just a gender-swapped costume. If I had to say why it would probably be the thigh-highs. Thigh-highs are part of women’s lingerie and is inherently feminine. Whereas all “White King” is doing is wearing pants and showing off his chest, “Starfire” is actually wearing something associated with women’s clothes.
    Not that men can’t dress feminine if they wanted to. But if they did it’d be a deliberate statement.

    Thigh high boots are not inherently female; I have seen them on pirates and Ren men LONG before the streetwalker look of women took over fashion. Tyvm.

  29. Fair points all round! I can certainly relate to getting bugged or annoyed with certain character’s costumes but on a personal level I’ve never been distanced from a story as a result.

  30. I agree that White King works for some reason. Everything that needs to be said about the casual sexism of comic characters has been said. Does anyone else see a certain Sean Connery movie in Starfire?

  31. SO SEXIST..wait
    The White King is just Martian Manhunter’s costume and Starfire is just Marvel’s Hercules…
    So how are comics sexist again?

  32. All I gotta say is: Where can I get me one of those outfits for my boyfriend? I don’t find it feminizing at all. I find these (especially the White King) totally sexy and I would love it if my boyfriend would wear this outfit to bed. I think he might enjoy it too. He’s always wanted more diverse lingerie for men. I’m not sure why a lot of comments are defaulting these guys to gay. I think straight couples would enjoy this too.

  33. I have a problem with Male!Starfire’s face. I think he should be softer. Like lean instead of buff; I mean Tamarean’s have superstrength after all.

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  35. Who cares about the why, just enjoy these sexxxy sexxxy men!

    If only there were more of these . . . not all comic book readers are straight men, y’know!

  36. Sexist? Sexist would imply that the character is shown as second class. In point of fact, comics have been and continue to be among the vanguard of showing minorities to be equals. Males and females can be shown as sexy IN ADDITION TO (NOT INSTEAD OF) intelligent, charismatic, powerful, etc.

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