Dear Aaron Diaz,
Over the past few days we’ve already exchanged some words about this. I reblogged Mary’s comic lampooning your comic (and others like it), expressing my approval of its message. I also subtweeted your work fairly obviously. We are friendly acquaintances and my behavior was inappropriate and rude. I apologized to you via email for being passive-aggressive and thoughtless, and you graciously accepted my apology. I admit: what I did was hurtful, and the wrong way to go about it. With that in mind, I want to try to address the problems I have with your work in a direct, honest, and hopefully respectful way. No passive-aggression, no rudeness, no vague-tweeting.
Aaron, I have a real problem with the way you write and draw female characters. It is sexually objectifying and sexist.
I do not have a problem with artists writing and drawing objectified female characters. I do have a problem with characters I consider sexist, but ultimately it’s something I can ignore. There’s a place for everything, and an artist has the right to create whatever they want to create, for whatever ends they choose. What I have a problem with is that your comic is not presented as a science fiction comic with a dash of sexy thrills, but rather as a feminist narrative in support of powerful independent women. You’ve made it clear on many occasions that you don’t consider your work to be objectifying or sexist. I have a problem with cheesecake-style art being presented as something feminist, empowering, enlightened- something made “for women”, when it’s clearly made for men.
You’re allowed to make art with male gaze. But please call a spade a spade.
I think you are a nice person who does good things. I think you’re a good artist and a good writer. But I consider writing and drawing women to be one of your weaknesses, and it’s hard to imagine that you don’t know that. If you do, I haven’t heard you say so.
I know Mary’s comic stung. I’m not going to deny there was meanness there, although I saw it more as humorously exaggerated satire than a personal attack. I understand that it sucks to see your work roasted in such a way. But the criticism it made of your work resonated with a lot of people. They can’t all be idiots, crazy people, or “SJWs”, or people with a personal grudge against you. To paraphrase a saying, “If lots of people are telling you it’s raining, get an umbrella.” Aaron, many people have this problem with your work. The problem exists. And since you seem to be very much invested in feminism and positive, non-sexualized portrayals of women in media, you need to take a long hard look at your own output. You need to get an umbrella.
I don’t think I’ve seen a single page of Dresden Codak that doesn’t feature a woman posed in a male-gazey way, with loving focus on her ass or cleavage, or wearing a sexual costume, or in some situation that puts her in a compromising position (like the most recent page in which Kimiko’s clothing is burned off of her body, which has happened at least twice in the series’ run.) I have a very hard time believing that these details are accidental. Not to mention the pinups you posted a few days ago. Instead of saying something like, “Here’s some sexy drawings of Kimiko I did” you said they were about “agency” and “celebration of the female form”. It’s hard not to see language like that as dishonest and sort of insulting.
The following images are a few examples of what I’m referring to. I tried to only find examples from the current arc in the comic, or from merchandise you currently sell. I understand that there is a larger context to these images, but the fact that you continually write situations in which these presentations of women would be contextually appropriate is part of the problem. For the sake of fairness, there is ONE female character in Dresden Codak who is not presented sexually, but to me, that doesn’t do much to make up for the rest of it, especially since she is the only female character with a speaking role in the history of the comic who is not presented this way.
Aaron, you can do whatever you want with your own comic. However, if you really do care about female characters in media, or care to know why so many people seem to be angry with you about it, I would do one of two things. If you don’t want your comic to present its female characters in a borderline-erotic light, then stop doing that. If you don’t mind that, then by all means continue, but please just admit that you like drawing t&a and that it’s not particularly empowering, or feminist, or a celebration of personal agency. As a woman, I resent being told that men’s eye candy is actually meant to uplift me and that I should celebrate it.
I’m not trying to attack you or slander you. I’m certainly not doing this to stir up drama. I think you are a good person. And I think that you make a good comic. It’s obvious that a lot of people really love it and support it, and will continue to love and support it no matter what. There’s a lot you are doing right. But your work is not perfect, and I want to talk about it directly, honestly, and respectfully.
Thank you for listening.