Seanan McGuire (seanan_mcguire) wrote,
Seanan McGuire

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Clothes and covers, and why sometimes, characters choose.

I love Emma Frost.

I love her characterization, I love that she's never actually changed herself for the sake of the men in her life, I love that she will melt your brain out your ears if you annoy her, and I love that she is completely upfront about how much work it is to look the way she does. Plastic surgery, dieting, push-up bras, and hair dye: check. Painful shoes, fabric tape, and baby powder to avoid chafing: check. Emma is all about appearances, and she never pretends that it's easy.

I also love that she has flat-out said, several times, that she dresses the way she does for the effect it gets. This is a female comic book character who, possibly uniquely in the comic book world, is actually working the male gaze. She wants to be underestimated by opponents. She wants to be taken for a slutty slutty slut slut who can't possibly have earned a damn thing. And when people treat her badly because they don't like what she wears, she calls them on it.

Now, Emma is not always appropriate. Not going to pretend she is. But she's always Emma. Even on the occasions when she's fully clothed. She's a character who makes choices, and sometimes those choices require telekinesis to stay on.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the cover for Midnight Blue-Light Special, and why I love it so much, and why it's not a better portrayal of Verity. It's just a different one.

Verity Price is a professional ballroom dancer specializing in Latin styles of dance. This means she spends a lot of time wearing outfits that are, as her grandmother puts it, "more rumor than reality." I spent a lot of time hanging out with real ballroom dancers, figuring out how many knives you could conceal under a costume made entirely of fringe (the answer: a surprising number). She can fight in high heels because she can samba in high heels, and once you've done the one, the other comes naturally. This is who she is, as a character and as a person. It's just that she also fights monsters sometimes.

Verity also works as a waitress at a strip club, because something's got to pay for all those bullets. She's wearing her work clothes on the cover to book #1, because it made more sense to put her on the roof in work clothes than in a ballroom costume, and because for Verity, that moment was totally in-character and reasonable. She was, in short, dressed on the cover like she was dressed in the book.

Some people didn't like the cover; that's okay. Nothing is universally liked, not even ice cream and kittens. But some people also got mad on my behalf, because Verity had been "sexualized." And really, she hadn't been. She was presented accurately, as she appeared in the book. It was an accurate portrayal.

Jump forward to the cover for Midnight Blue-Light Special, which I love. Verity is dressed for her other job: monster-hunting. Sensible shoes, sensible trousers, sports bra under the shirt, and look! She's brought a friend! Sarah Zellaby, telepathic mathematician, who is wearing about eight layers of clothing and looks profoundly uncomfortable being even that exposed! Sarah is as de-sexualized on this cover as Verity was sexual on the previous, and again, it's because I asked for it; it's because that's what Sarah is like. She doesn't want you looking at her. She doesn't want to "show a little skin." Bless DAW and my cover artist, Aly Fell, but when I said "Sarah can't be sexy," they didn't try to make her. She's beautiful. She's supposed to be. She's also modest and shy.

Now here's the thing: both Veritys are correct. Both of them look like her. The next time she shows up on a book cover (for volume five, Professional Gore-eography), I'm going to be lobbying for a ballroom dance costume, and she'll probably be accompanied by her heavily-tattooed, cut-off-wearing grandmother (add a giant snake and we'll be able to play urban fantasy cliche bingo with that cover alone). And it will be accurate to the text. And if Sarah ever appears on a cover in a bikini, it'll be because it's somehow accurate to the text (although I can't imagine how).

Making characters like Toby or Sarah dress like Verity is not cool. Making Alice dress like Verity wouldn't be cool, either; she often wears skimpy clothes, but it's for reasons other than "I want to be hot so you'll tip me better." At the same time, assuming that any character who does dress like Verity is somehow being inaccurately represented doesn't seem quite fair to me.

Sometimes a girl just wants to get her Emma Frost on.
Tags: art, contemplation
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