The Naomi Problem
I feel like I need to address the more provocative aspects of the strip, namely Naomi’s design and evolution. Over the years she’s gone from being a statement against sexualization and cheesecake in comics and art to literally embodying it.
One of the big problems with comics as an industry is its attitude towards women and the way they’re portrayed. There has been a ton written on this by smarter people, so I’ll just sum up that it continues to be a problem even as more women join the industry as creators and publishers have started to realize that girls like comics, too.
Obviously, I grew up devouring comics. All comics, like, any I could get my hands on. I remember often staying up all night at my friend Noah’s house reading his gigantic collection in 5th and 6th grade. Before that, my dad would bring me back issues of whatever was cheap from the local comic shop. When I had money, I blew it on new monthly comics.
I never really thought much about the way people were portrayed. Men were super muscular, women very shapely. Everyone wore very tight costumes and you could see everything. Except, as I grew older, I started to notice, you could see a little more on the female characters, couldn’t you?
So this normalized a problematic art culture to not just me, to a whole lot of little nerds. Still, I thought by college I was self-aware enough to make fun of it in a strip when the comic was running in my school paper. It was a lazy joke about Naomi having to take her top off to keep people reading. And that joke, the laziest, easiest, lamest joke, maybe wasn’t such a joke after all. That strip got more comments and attention than I had ever gotten before. And most of the comments were about Naomi! A (let’s face it, amateurishly drawn) cartoon goth girl who’d never been much of a main character before.
The fact is, when I started embracing it, I got so many more likes, and faves, and comments on my drawings, that I just ran with it. Who wouldn’t be intoxicated by suddenly having something you drew noticed and praised? I was putting my heart into this and no one noticed it or cared; whatever worked, right? So my art, particularly with this character, just got more and more exaggerated.
To be honest, I always felt a little weird about it; I’d like to think I’m pretty in-tune to problems like the deeply-rooted sexism and misogyny in American culture. I really worked hard and still do to try to write Naomi as an interesting, actual character, not just a thoughtless, exploitive stereotype. I realize people may see this as a having cake and eating it, too situation, though, and that’s a totally fair assessment.
I think her provocative nature and dress do make sense in the context of her sneering attitude and self-destructive tendencies. At this point, it’s so deeply ingrained in the character that it would seem disingenuous to me to just completely change it.
For good or bad, Naomi has become the face of the strip. She’s my favorite character to write, and my favorite to draw, and I hope that she’s as appealing to a wide group of readers as she is to me as the creator behind her. But the world has changed a lot (in this case for the better) and I’ve become a lot more aware of problematic content or themes and I increasingly worry that it’s a thin line I’m toeing.
What was important to me 15 years ago (attention and validation of my art for any reason, from anyone) is not what I find important now. I also have more vectors and more means to get my art out there. Social media today is far more sophisticated and friendly to content creators, although let’s be real, exploitive and eyebrow raising content will always capture attention, and art that I put out still gets more likes, faves, and comments if it has some cheesecake to it. A drawing of Naomi in a tank top will get more likes than a drawing of Curt every time.
But truly, I never want the strip to be hostile to women or harmful to the world at large, I’d love to hear any constructive thoughts on this. I’ll always engage in thoughtful dialogue that’s not just a shitty half-sentence or attempt at a troll. I really do feel like I maybe need some guidance on this and it’s not an easy subject for me to broach because of the way I WANT to see myself (woke AF) and the critical light it’s opening my art up to.