Having it All

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 11 January 2012

Recently I came across a story about a decently well-known illustrator finding a comic cover depicting a woman breastfeeding offensive and calling it "adult content." Here's the cover:

Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona StaplesSaga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

The person goes on a bit of a long rant about the cover, some of it due to his belief that the comic is for all ages although a simple Google search shows that it's rated mature. Easy mistake, sure, but it didn't explain this paragraph.

It seems that in today’s desperate-for-sales comic book market, nothing is sacred. In the midst of world-saving adventures, today’s modern heroine breast feeds her child with zero modesty. Talk about work-life balance! It hearkens back to those Enjoli fragrance TV ads of the ’70s — I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never, never let you forget you’re a man…” I’m just so impressed with this I-can-have-it-all super heroine. I had to wonder, did La Leche League (or as my wife took to calling them after she delivered our son, ”The Breast Milk Mafia”) pay big-time sponsorship money for this cover? What a wholesome, family-friendly image!

I'm surprised that he came away from the picture assuming this was a tale of a woman who had it all: baby, significant other, and she's a hero. I mean, he didn't come across the picture without any context. From the USA Today article about Brian Vaughan that he referenced:

Admittedly a "big Star Wars nerd," Vaughan has channeled his inner George Lucas to create a sci-fi/fantasy epic. It follows two soldiers — a ram-horned man named Marko and a winged female warrior named Alana — from different sides of an intergalactic war who fall in love and decide to have a baby.

That's when the real adventure begins, as the new family is pursued by everyone in the universe, Vaughan says. "You'll get a nice mixture of some bounty hunters, monsters and all sorts of lovely threats."

So it's about a new family, pursued by everyone in the universe. So much so, from the cover, that they can't even find a moment's respite to feed their baby without having their weapons in hand or at least in easy reach. And the sneak peek offered through the USA Today article shows that this is exactly what is going on. In that section, Alana is breastfeeding her baby when the coalition forces arrive to arrest her for "abandoning her post and aiding the enemy." Given that background, I find it a bit strange that he decided that the depiction of breast feeding was gratuitous.

And if having it all is so bad, where is his anger at the father? Where's the anger when Superman gets to save the city and Lois Lane? Why is there a glass ceiling for mothers that even heroines can't break through?

I also am at a loss as to where he came up with "zero modesty." Very little of the woman's breast is shown. Her jacket covers the other breast completely and her midriff isn't showing so there's a good chance she has a shirt or part of a dress covering most of her upper half.

So, the question at this point might be what in the world this might have to do with gaming. Well, in my opinion, a few things:

  • The person who made this comment has illustrated for a number of companies including Wizards of the Coast. While a person's private opinions shouldn't keep them from working, it does make me wonder if they seep into his work, limiting how far a female character in the work can go, especially since he is willing to attack another artist on this matter.
  • I've heard this sort of latent dismissal of women from other people in the community (and to be honest, in society in general). When combined with the assumption that the mother chose to put her child in harms way, it frustrates me. The assumption that a mother can't decide what's best for her own child points to an underlying belief that women can't reason for themselves. It's wrong and it really needs to stop. I hope we get to the point where the first thought when viewing a picture like this one is "Wow, what is going on such that that family can't even have a calm moment to feed their child" rather than "How could a mother allow her child to be in such a dangerous situation?"
  • Too often, even in the world of science fiction and fantasy, what is possible or allowable is different for a woman compared to a man. Even in a world we make up, we have to somehow limit ourselves due to gender. Fathers can be anyone, do just about anything, but a mother is a mother and has just one aspect to her. That's not equality.
  • This is also what happens when the female perspective is deemed inappropriate and removed from society. Something as natural as a woman feeding her child becomes a trigger for an attack against mothers (and women) who dare to defy society's expectations and limits on their potential. True equality will mean that some men (and women) will have to deal with things that make them uncomfortable, just like I often have to deal with things in current society that make me uncomfortable. The only way to combat this is to get more women (and men) into the public discourse and to give equal consideration and time to their outlooks and points of view.

As for me, I'm looking forward to reading a story about a couple where the child is part of their life experience, where we get to deal with the ramifications of having a child unlike in the mystical pregnancy, where real issues many mothers (and fathers) deal with are explored and potentially even celebrated in a world that might expand our imagination of what is possible. But most of all, in the aftermath of the DC relaunch, it's nice to see a story line where the woman owns her own sexuality, where her body is not something being exploited. I hope it catches on.

By the way, another awesome sneak peek can be found here.


As someone with a kid who was/is breastfed by my awesome wife, I have but these words for those who think that breastfeeding in public (of any sort) is offensive.

You're a tool.

That is all.

Breastfeeding is a challenge for many. It seems some people can't separate sexuality/lust from the female breast. It has to be a gateway to sin if shown.

I tend to think that what we actually need is more frequent depictions of breasts in a situation that isn't sexual. Breastfeeding is one of those. It has to do with nurturing, with caring, with family. The more we can associate breastfeeding with that, the better we will be.

There is also a corporate angle here, in that in the past companies that sold formula have taken great lengths to cast breastfeeding as both inferior for the child and shameful. There are examples of outright manipulation/fabrication of "scientific data" and of manipulation through the media. In some countries breastfeeding went from the default mode to barely practiced in a very short time, with a severe impact on malnutrition.

This is a pretty serious issue and it deserves attention and correction when it comes up. I sat in at National Airport in DC to protest when a female Delta flight attendant threw a mom passenger off the plane for breastfeeding her child. Delta later apologized, gave the flight attendant a reprimand, and funded various education campaigns.

Hah, looks like the "decently well-known illustrator" deleted the post from his blog.

Assuming you're talking about Dave Dorman, this is the same guy who created this Catwoman picture: http://davedorman.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/screen-shot-2011-10-29-at-...

It's a really good piece but it's not family friendly at all. So he took an iconic comic book figure in Catwoman, and remember that comic books are aimed at kids as well as adults, and sexualized her. And then he has the gall to complain that a picture of a woman breastfeeding a baby, the EPITOME of family, and claims it's not a "wholesome, family-friendly image"? He's an idiot.

What can be said? Anyone who is offended by the sight of a breastfeeding woman is a moron who need to seek therapy. Fast.

Okay, whoa, you can't control your hang-ups or what offends you.
Some people get squirmy at any signs of inamacy, be it kissing or other forms of PDA. Being able to publicly breast feed is still new in some areas, and some people aren't comfortable with it yet. Silly? Yes. But most hang-ups are. From what the above says, he just wrote about it on his blog, which is a pretty personal place. He's not protesting the issue or vocally calling for a boycott. Something didn't sit right with him so he ratted off a blog, possibly the very visible image of breast feeding on what he (wrongly) percieved as a kid's comic.

This isn't limited to him or comics:
The above references a baby magazine that featured a LOT more skin in a recent cover and 25% of polled readers found it offensive. The vast majority likely had breasts of ther own.

There is the element of planned controversy here. The cover of the first issue of the comic, which has been included in related promotional material features breast feeding. Given this had to be planned by the artist/writer and drawn over a couple days it's not like the baby just happened to be breast feeding. It was likely a purposeful illustration design to grab some attention, and it's working.

The first issue is about the birth of a child to a couple who are being hunted by most of the known universe. So yeah, breast feeding and other issues of birth are going to play pretty heavily in the first comic. That's all. That's why it is there. To say it's just an attention getting ploy cheapens it and further illustrates the issues we face by not having women creating more of this content. What's normal, everyday life for them gets left out of things like comics.

Personally, I like the cover. I don't think it would work without the breast feeding as it establishes such a contrast: motherhood and new life, with weapons and danger. She's not just holding the baby, she's clearly the mother. But she also has a gun, and seems ready to use it. It sets the tone and context without saying a word. Excellent stuff.

But I also get why people get upset. Breast feeding makes people uncomfortable, and especially men. Breasts are so hyper sexualised so part of us wants to be aroused but we can't because of the context, because a baby is involved. There are a lot of conflicting emotions as mores at work, and it's only been in the last couple generations that public breast feeding has become common. Two generations ago they couldn't even say "pregnant" on television.

Comics are still predominantly read by men, and I can think of few instances of breast feeding in comics at all. Let alone on the cover. It's a ballsy move. And any publicity is good publicity.

Really, I just react badly to someone telling people not to be upset. It upsets me.

it's only been in the last couple generations that public breast feeding has become common

Actually, it's only ben in the last couple of generations when most babies would get anything other than breast milk. Until formula, most children would have been nursed, very often at home. The other children very likely would have seen it since the woman couldn't always just go into another room to feed their babies. The women who worked the fields, often with babies, would have had to nurse their children there. I get that people are uncomfortable, but to be honest, they kind of have to get over it. In the grand history of humanity, their experience is largely the strange one.

And actually, in general, you can control your hang-ups or what offends you. Sure, it might make you feel uncomfortable at first, but you can totally examine why it made you feel a certain way and then determine whether or not it's a feeling you want to keep going forward. It takes work and dedication. There are lots of things that used to make me uncomfortable because they were new and I didn't understand them. But I worked through it.

I really agree with this. A civil society with a diverse population better have its members be able to control their hangups ... or it ceases being a civil or diverse society real quick.

The old rule of "your rights end where my nose begins" which those "offended" by breastfeeding seem to like to invoke, goes both ways. And since the infant in question can't defend their rights, the rest of us really need to step up.

Introspection is hard. It's easy to say "get over it" but everyone has their own baggage; everyone brings their own biases to the conversation.

The author of the original piece got upset.
But he also got upset quietly, in the private comfort of his blog. His weblog. Essentially an online diary, where people should feel safe to say anything. The exact same thing applies to Sarah, who is just as justified to get upset at him and post that on her blog.
Yes, her reason for being upset is a little more justified and his are a little silly (and based on misinformation regarding the audience), but both are entitled to say what the want in their own corner of the Internet.

Who said anything about not expressing an opinion? He did, and we commented on it here. I didn't have to cut him slack because introspection is hard, I chose to. If the illustrator refuses to think about why his comments were hurtful, well, then I do get to start wondering if it's not just his comments that are problematic.

Agreed completely. I'm pretty tired of there even existing any kind of controversy surrounding the act of breastfeeding. That people are somehow bothered by it speaks to a very deeply rooted problem in our society in which reproductive biology is represented as having anything to do with right and wrong. Reason #1,430,012.01 section A2 in the book of "Why I am an atheist".

Disclaimer - I realize not all religious people are this demented, and not all demented people are religious. However, I challenge anyone to submit a theory as to the root of this prudishness that lies outside of religious origin.

There are few things in life more beautiful than a mother feeding her baby

The implication that breastfeeding is in any way a sexualized activity is bad enough, but to complain about a depiction that shows a lot less breast than your run-of-the-mill chainmail bikini or superheroine lingerie is just silly.

Fantastic post. And I hadn't heard of this comic before - sounds interesting, one for me to pick up. You've gotten them another buyer!

Hopefully the silly illustator's comments have only helped sales.

I thought the cover was pretty tasteful ... seen much worse in mainstream comics with no breastfeeding involved. I was a little disturbed about adventuring with a baby* but the comic sneak preview made it make sense as they aren't risking their child voluntarily. Looks like an interesting comic that I might need to pick up (dragon bone door and robots! sign me up).

* One of the people I play RPGs with is always (for years) wanting to have her characters, get pregnant, have babies, and go adventuring all at the same time. Babies are f**king fragile and you don't take them along to battle demons, robots, dragons, and undead! My wife and I lost one of our girls in 2010 and are extremely aware of how fragile (and tough) babies can be. We never liked the behavior before and put our foot down.

You could try reading /Walk to the End of the World/ and other books by Suzy McKee Charnas--she writes about a post-apocalyptic future in which gender is heavily emphasized. One of her characters becomes pregnant, and it's about the furthest thing from mystical you could think of.

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