Censorship and the Female Artist

San Diego hosts the infamous Comic-Con International every year in July, and from its modest roots as a gathering for comic book enthusiasts, Comic-Con has grown into an entertainment and pop culture behemoth. Featuring not only vendors and artists showcasing and selling their wares, star-studded screenings and panels, SDCC presents four days of workshops and panels on a myriad of topics that spur serious discussion and open dialogue. One such panel, organized by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, was “Censorship and the Female Artist.”

The program guide described the panel: “Attacks on women’s speech are on the rise in the current cultural climate in realms including politics and pop culture. This panel examines how censorship affects women artists, in realms including library challenges, community dialogue, and the larger cultural conversation.”

This open and frank discussion, moderated by Artist Manager AdaPia d’Errico, featured author Anina Bennett, pop surrealism and manga artist Camilla d’Errico, and legendary pinup artist Olivia de Berardinis as they discussed their various experiences portraying the female body in visual arts and the comic book industry.

The discussion took on an interesting life, veering away from censorship and focusing more on the unique hardships each woman had faced in their varied experiences. Anina Bennett discussed at length the “bad girl” phase in comics and how she and her husband fought to separate themselves from it by employing a form of “self censorship,” for example by changing one of their character’s appearance to better represent a strong female. Bennett then went on to discuss mainstream comics and the over sexualization of female superheroes, pointing out that while some strides have been made, the journey to equal representation of the sexes in comics is far from over.

Camilla d’Errico brought her own journey into focus, noting that during her entry into the comics world a decade ago, there were not many women artists or creators actually contributing to the representation of women in the comic book field. She astutely discussed that while there are many talented male artists in the field, they may not bring the emotional depth to the female subject that an actual woman could. Camilla then discussed the differences in American culture — and its fear of sexuality — in comparison to other more accepting cultures of the world such as Japan and France, pointing out the shocking trend for Americans to embrace violence, but shirk nudity.

Olivia de Berardinis, an inspiration and legend in her field, discussed her continual disappointment over her art being labeled pornography. She bravely admitted her enjoyment of pornography but was quick to point out the distinction between that field and her own. She stated that the sexualization of the female body had led her work to be placed in the back rooms and hidden areas of bookstores, much to her confusion. As the discussion continued, she echoed some of d’Errico’s thoughts about male artists portraying the female form by stating, “I own the subject matter; [men] rent it”.

The three women concluded their conversation with questions from an interested and passionate audience. The panel was cited in a NY Times article about the gravitas within Comic-Con International. The size of the gathering and the intelligence shown by the audience members would not have been possible even ten years ago, showing that strides in the equal representation of women have been made, and more are coming every day. The depth and variety of topics discussed, related to not only censorship, but included the representation of the female form and cultural differences and current retail and media trends with regards to women, art and content. The event is a strong indicator that this may well be the first of many more discussions.

AdaPia d’Errico is a Brand Strategist specializing in creative brand development, brand extension, licensing, and transmedia for artists, creators and companies in Pop Culture driven industries like art, illustration, design, publishing, media and entertainment.