Bad Girl Art

Bad girl art is a superheroines art form genre coined after the analogy of ‘good girl art’ (‘girl art’ that is ‘good’) which also includes strong female characters in comic books. Bad girls are typically tough and violent superheroines.

While the ‘good’ in ‘good girl art’ refers to the art itself, the ‘bad’ in ‘bad girl art’ refers to the girls: anti-heroine characters, often portrayed as cruel, mercenary, or demonic, although it may also be intended to reflect on the crude mannerisms and exaggerated anatomy of the drawing style associated with those characters. While Good Girl Art was common in the 1940s and 1950s, Bad Girl Art arose in the comic book market of the 1980s and 1990s. During the heyday of the style, some 50 titles within the subgenre were being published, with ‘Lady Death’ as the best selling title.

The bad girl characters are female embodiments of the ‘grim and gritty’ mood of comic books in from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Bad girl art uses the flamboyant and anatomically exaggerated style of art associated with Chaos! Comics and Image Comics.

It is possible that the original comic Bad Girl – before the term was coined – was Vampirella, whose comics started in the 1970s. When Frank Miller created Elektra, and gave her a complex relationship with the title hero Daredevil that went beyond the realm of mere villainy, he also influenced the comic bad girl stereotype. Some popular early examples of the Bad Girl trend include Brian Pulido’s ‘Lady Death’ and his ‘Chaos!’ line of comics. These books featured all typical characteristics including full figured women, mystical backgrounds and exuberant art.

Bad Girls, unlike Good Girls, were seldom found in the role of a damsel in distress. Indeed, the Bad Girls are ‘typically as powerful, violent, skilled, smart, and self-assured’ as any male superhero. Instead, Bad Girls were often motivated by background stories in which they had been the victims of abuse or domestic violence; others had their loved ones murdered by the villains. Their basic motive was revenge against their abuser and against those who had abused others in a similar way. These themes of revenge made the character’s moral code ambiguous, and often made it hard to characterize the character as either a heroine or a villainess leading ‘Bad Girl’ to become the female equivalent of ‘anti-hero.’

Magic, mythology and occult themes were also frequently found in their background stories. Typical backstories for Bad Girls depicted them as demon hunters, fallen or rogue angels, vampires or wielders of a supernaturally bestowed weapon or power. Often, more effort was spent in creating the character’s complex backstory than in the ongoing story, resulting in a decline in quality after a title’s debut. What these characters shared above all was being cast in the role of dominatrix. Their weapons and demeanor marked them as threatening, even as the style of their drawing marked them as emphatically female. Their allure and their dangerousness go hand in hand, both being essential parts of the sexual fantasy these characters are meant to embody.

Image Comics was founded by a group of artists, most of whom had previously worked for Marvel Comics, and as a result the first Image comic books were created by artists rather than writers. At the beginning, the comic books published by Image had a reputation for flashy art, with frequent splash pages, complicated page layouts and character designs, and highly stylized and posed figures. This coincided with a liberalizing of the U.S. Comics Code Authority standards in 1989.

As such, the Image visual style and the ‘bad girl’ character coincided in time, and the Image heroines were violent, scantily clad, and frequently appeared in cheesecake poses. Male characters were equally stylized in the Image house style — heros drawn by founding artists such as Mark Silvestri, Rob Liefeld, and Erik Larsen had ‘refrigerator torsos, elephantine limbs, and tiny pinheads’— but female characters were also depicted in a highly sexualized manner. The depictions of the bad girls of bad girl art showed them ‘(p)erpetually bending over, arching their backs, and heaving their anti-gravity breasts into readers’ faces’; these images ‘defied all laws of physics.’

Some of the more extreme manifestations of the phenomenon showed women with big hair; extremely long legs, often longer than the upper body; breasts bigger than their head; in anatomically improbable or impossible poses; and thighs wider than their waists. Both the male and female stylizations of the period could be seen as common reflections of the ‘superhero genre’s preoccupation with ideal bodies.’ Bad Girl characters were frequently drawn with torn or tattered clothing or spattered with blood. They also frequently wield a large gun or sword, and wear skulls or mystic symbols in their clothing.

Bad Girl comics had their heyday in 1990s. During the peak of the period of the style’s popularity, Mike Deodato drew ‘Wonder Woman,’ a classic Good Girl, in a style that owed much to the visual style of the Bad Girl books; Trina Robbins called Deodato’s Wonder Woman a ‘barely clothed hypersexual pinup.’ Jim Balent’s Catwoman was also revisioned in this style. The books and style remained as popular as ever until manga and anime grew becoming the new industry-wide trend, causing the old trend of bad girls and anti-heroes to be seen as dated and no longer fashionable.

In recent years, bad girl art has resurfaces as ‘T&A’ (‘Tits and Ass’) titles; the revitalization began when Top Cow, a studio notorious for its T&A stylings, attached Ron Marz and non-T&A artists Mike Choi to its main bad girl book ‘Witchblade’ with positive critical and commercial results. Many former Bad Girl characters are being written in a new character driven style. Dynamite Entertainment began to publish ‘Red Sonja’ focusing on character and using T&A poses only in joke. Tales of Wonder, which now owns the majority of the Chaos! Comics’s characters, put out new ‘Purgatori’ comics following this new trend. Meanwhile, Bad Girl-queen Lady Death, while remaining true to her roots, has an alternate all-ages version coming out as Medieval Lady Death and even in the classic version it has been toned down a bit. Also notable is the original Bad Girl, Vampirella. While she still keeps the costume, writer Mike Carey and artist Mike Lily put little to no focus on it as they attempt to rework her into an introspective character.

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