To celebrate Merida of the Pixar film Brave “officially” joining the Disney Princess line, Disney released some new illustrations of her. In the new illustrations, Merida is even thinner than her already-thin movie version (as Alyssa put it, “what appears to be rib-removal surgery”); her dress has been redesigned into an off-the-shoulder number; she has much thicker eyelashes (and in general, her face seems much more stereotypically feminine); her hair has been changed from out-of-control curls to waves; and her attitude is much, well, flirtier.
I’m not sure that Disney’s Merida makeover represents a conscious strategy on their part. At the, er, official coronation ceremony at Disneyworld, Merida’s appearance seemed modeled on the movie version, not on the new illustrations. (See this photo, for instance – note the covered shoulders, and curly wig.) Nor did Disney seem to shy away from Merida’s tomboy aspects – she made her entrance on horseback, and finished the ceremony by posing with her bow and arrow.
But because it (probably) wasn’t conscious doesn’t mean that it’s not bad. It suggests that Disney subconsciously and reflexively turns their female characters into the same dull and predictable flirty, glittery pin-ups without any thought even being required. (Ever notice how impossible it is to find any Mulan merchandise showing her dressed up for war?)
Put another way, for the folks in Disney marketing, the path of least resistance appears to be a very sexist path.
Except that this time, they’ve encountered a lot of resistance. A petition started by girl-power website A Mighty Girl has gathered 130,000 signers (and counting). The petition says:
One really unusual thing about this is that Merida’s creator, “Brave” writer and co-director Brenda Chapman has gone public with her unhappiness about the makeover, calling it “a blatantly sexist marketing move based on money.”
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Although I agree with Alyssa, it’s important to note that Merida’s body type, as seen in the movie, represents only the smallest of small departures from the Disney standard. Don’t get me wrong – I love the movie Brave, and I love the work Pixar did to present Merida as someone who delights in the things her body can do, rather than the way she looks.
But the range between Merida’s body and face type, and that of the typical Disney princess, is pretty darn small. The top of my wish list for Disney princesses – even higher than my wish for a Jewish princess, already! – is that Disney, or Pixar, add a fat character to the princess line.
Seriously, Disney, I’m Trying to Take a Little Break Here– MUST YOU? Peggy Orenstein points out that Merida’s makeover is actually part of what seems to be an ongoing project to make all the Disney princess characters more vapid than their movie versions.
If you’ve met me at a comic book convention, you may have noticed the little herd of toy pigs decorating my table. I bought those when I was drawing the first Hereville book, to help me draw the pig character! I took hundreds of photos of those plastic pigs, from every angle and height, and used them as reference while drawing the comic.
You can see a pattern on the pig in the photo above. This was contributed by one of the two small girls I live with, at some point when I wasn’t in the room to stop them. :-p
I didn’t use the models during book 2, since the pig only appeared in one panel. But I still have the little herd of pigs, and when they’re not appearing at cons they stand in my drawing area, near a Peppermint Patty figure.
When kids read my rather depressing and angst-ridden short comic “How To Make A Man Out Of Tin Foil,” they pretty much all react the same way: They make little tin foil people, just as my character Joel did in the comic! Which I think is kind of awesome.
This photo is of my wonderful niece Jemma Andersen. And here are her tin foil superheroes:
So I decided that for once, I wouldn’t spend the whole con at my table, instead wandering around and looking at other folks comics and even attending panels now and then. It was neat. The best line I can recall from any panel is Dylan Meconis, in her spotlight panel, suggesting that “the Hero’s Journey” is the french fries of story structure.
Here I am at my table, in a photo taken by Joshin Yamada:
Yes, that is one of my favorite shirts. My one regret about this photo is that it doesn’t show my new sneakers, which are bright bright red.
(Edited to add: And actually, I wish I had put my left hand on my chin, so my pose would more closely echo the post of the character on the cover of “How To Make A Man Out Of Tin Foil.” Oh, well, next time.)
More Joshin pictures from Stumptown: Jake Richmond (colorist of Hereville, creator of Modest Medusa, looking as if he’s doing algebra in his head), Becky Hawkins (rockin’ the lace), Ben Hsu (giving the ever-reliable thumbs up. You can’t go wrong giving a thumbs up!), Jaymz Bernard (sporting a t-shirt that matches her arm tattoo), Diana Nock (I don’t have a snarky comment for Diana), and Taran Manley Lee (flanked by Taran’s frequent sidekicks Jenn Lee and Kip Manley).
I was sharing my table with Becky and with Diane Riffe, who was their with her very first mini-comic, an adorable all-ages tribute to Diane’s dog Luna. Alas, Diane didn’t happen to be there when Joshin came by, so as far as I know she escaped unphotographed.
First, This Is Not Jewish wrote, about “Hereville”:
Then B’rakha replied:
And finally, 3gee – perhaps trying to counterbalance B’rakha’s all-caps by dispensing with caps altogether – wrote:
I’m not a “goy” by standard American definitions – I’m not observant, but I am Jewish – but whatever, it’s still a great compliment!
I got this email last week (posted with permission, of course):
Needless to say, I said yes (I always say yes to Skype visits for schools that don’t have funding for author visits). The visit is scheduled to take place tomorrow; I’m really looking forward to it. And I’m looking forward to posting Sara’s Hereville lesson plans sometime in the future.
After Emerald City Comic-Con, I received this email from Kelley, who bought both Hereville and How To Make A Man Out Of Tin Foil from me at ECCC. This is the kind of email that really makes a cartoonist’s day, and Kelley gave me permission to post it online.
Thanks, Kelley! I really loved getting this email.
“Tin Foil” was created for an upcoming anthology of feminist short comics (called “The Big Feminist But”). I wanted to do a feminist story about boyhood – about the expectations that boys will be suitably masculine, and some of the ways that boys who can’t live up to that are punished and damaged. It’s a story that’s special to me, and I’m really glad it touched you and your husband.
I really do want to play more with the themes of “Tin Foil” someday, but I’m not sure when I’ll have the time. Certainly not until after the third Hereville graphic novel.
I’ll be at Emerald City Comic Con this weekend, sharing a table with autobio cartoonist Becky Hawkins and her shoulder angel. We’ll be at table R-06 in Artist’s Alley; if you’re in Seattle, please come and say hi.
[Updated: Time is 11:30am, not 11am. I'll update the post with a link to the archive once I've got it.]
Me and cartoonist Jenn Manley Lee will be interviewed on KBOO at 11:30am pacific time today. We’ll be talking about our respective comics (Jenn is best-known for her amazing science fiction comic Dicebox). You can listen live at KBOO’s website.
Jenn is a longtime pal of mine as well as a great cartoonist, so I expect this interview to be fun.
Thanks to S.W. Conser of the show Words and Pictures for making this happen!
(My niece got a copy of my new book for Christmas, and emailed me saying that she enjoyed the book and asking me if I’ll sign it. I don’t think Jemma will mind if I share the email I sent back to her.)
I’m so glad you liked my new book. I would be thrilled to sign your books when I visit Ithaca (which I’ll be doing in just five months). Also, I’ll be visiting Ithaca twice this year – once in May, once in August – so you’ll be seeing twice as much of me as usual.
Actually the oddest thing happened to me last night. I was up late drawing, as I often am, and snacking on some cookies and milk, and I heard a strange noise, a sort of muffled scrapery sound, coming from our living room. I walked into the living room, thinking that there were thieves, blackguards, thugs, pirates, grumpikins, or capitalists sneaking into my house to do — what horrible thing would they do? Watch my netflix? Track mud all over my nice clean floors? Read my comics and keep their places by folding the corner of the page, what is WRONG with those people USE A BOOKMARK FOR PETE’S SAKE THOSE BOOKS ARE PRECIOUS!
Ahem. My point is, who can say what horrible thing they would do? — but there was no one there. I shrugged and said “only a breeze and nothing more” and resolved to worry nevermore.
But then I heard the noise again – it was coming from the chimney! I snuck close to the fireplace and peered in when suddenly a pair of big black boots – containing feet, I have no doubt of it, none whatsoever! – dropped down into the fireplace! I was peering in so closely that the boots clipped my nose, which fell off into the fireplace ashes. The feet were soon followed by legs and a big belly and shoulders and a bearded hatted and squinty head as the invader crept into my home. I realized that this was a lowlife of some sort come to rob me of my precious collection of fat action figures, so grabbed up a fireplace poker and swung at the thug’s beard for all I was worth!
But the vagrant must have had kung foo training, because he blocked my blow handily, laughing evilly – “hooo hoo hoo!” As you can imagine, I was terrified. The last thing I remember is his huge red fist flying at my face like a runaway train!
When I woke up, he was gone. After retrieving my fortunately undamaged nose from the ashes and sticking it back in place with some chewing gum I found on the bottom of a chair, I staggered back into my study and sat down at my drawing board again. Then I noticed that my milk and cookies were gone! GONE! I wept bitter, bitter tears, let me tell you.
Anyway, that was my last night. It was wonderful to hear from you, and have a Merry Christmas.
Love, Uncle Barry
P.S. After carefully examining all the evidence, I have deduced that my attacker was Superman.