Swallowing Its Own Tail: On Spider-Gwen Artwork
by Antonio Nelson Ruiz
There’s this on-and-off “thing” between myself, Back Issue Ben and the Cube’s Grand Poobah where they post the latest Spider-Gwen artwork and cosplay and I point out how it’s wrongwrongWRONG! While it’s mostly just joking around and stuff, I still do find myself genuinely annoyed by what I feel is a widespread inability to capture the character’s spirit. This sorta thing is usually something I’m fairly loose and carefree about, too!
You’ve all seen the artwork, some done by the industry’s modern-day greats, all beautifully rendered and slick and ooh and ahh. It’s not even the masked pieces that bother me, to be honest. The unmasked artwork, though? Like nails across a chalkboard. It’s frickin’ 616 Gwen Stacy cosplaying as Spider-Gwen! Like, almost every single time! “Too pretty!” I’ll exclaim in frustration. The hair’s wrong. The face is wrong. Most artists seem to get the suit right, though, so there’s that to be thankful for. I just can’t seem to get past the face and hair. It’s not the Gwen Stacy of Earth-65 created by Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, and Rico Renzi, goshdarnit.
Few days ago, Back Issue Ben showed me a work-in-progress Spider-Gwen piece by Mark Brooks. His art’s gloriously glossy and his women look strong and powerful like superheroes should. He’s done a guitar-wielding Mohawk Storm that just shouts Rock Goddess to the high heavens. But his Spider-Gwen was off. It wasn’t bad; it was just off. Like maybe artists had heard of Spider-Gwen, but just never bothered to crack her comic open and instead were using artwork found on the internet for reference, which is a problem that just ends up swallowing its own tail.
Perhaps I simply have a different take on this new Gwen Stacy. Maybe I’m the problem. I’m not, but I thought I’d at least entertain the notion for the sake of some brief humility. Nah, I’m right. Gwen’s a modern gal from New York – Queens, to be exact. She’s a drummer in a rock band called the Mary Janes. She’s kinda grungy around the edges, but not too much. She gets “mask hair”, a little tangled and frizzled and maybe even a little sweaty ‘cause masks will do that to ya sometimes. She’s not glamorous; she’s not beautiful – at least not in the traditional sense that spawned the original Gwen Stacy. She’s not plain, either. There’s a sweet spot somewhere in the middle where style and grit meet and that’s the neighborhood Gwen Stacy lives in. She may make a face, but she’s willing to get her hands dirty.
Folks don’t care. We want our heroes, and especially our heroines, to be beautiful and unattainable and to look awesome as cosplay. I see it as an ongoing problem in the industry that I probably don’t have the vocabulary to properly tackle, rant-wise. A recent feud between artists over Spider-Gwen kinda highlights what I’m talking about, that we’re conditioned to accept sexualization without batting an eyelash, even jonesing for it, even if it doesn’t fit the character in question.
I suppose you could blame the skin-tight costume, but then you’d be swallowing your own tail.