Wonder Woman Illustrator Nicola Scott Is Not Afraid to Female Gaze Her Male Characters
The Australian actor-turned-illustrator talks women in comics, and why she’s not afraid to get her male characters a bit naked.
It was James Bond’s female boss, M, who described 007 as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” back in the ’90s in GoldenEye, and yet somehow, after 60-plus years, Bond has still remained defiantly masculine for decades—and despite the many capable candidates who happen to be women that are ready to fill his shoes.
In other words, it’s high time they have a shot, though after starring in this summer’s Atomic Blonde, it’s clear Charlize Theron is perfectly positioned to be the first woman to take on the role—which is why the illustrator Nicola Scott chose the actress to star in her expert take—recent gigs include revamping Wonder Woman— on what the new Bond posters would look like if Theron got the gig.
“The classic Bond posters in the Sean Connery realm are just him standing with a gun, and more often than not some naked lady clutching his thigh or something or other,” she said. Scott’s version is quite similar, but with a very simple flip: It stars “Charlize in a really sort of fabulous suit, with a man behind there that’s specifically meant to be a generic bimbo.”
Scott, after all, is also something of an expert when it comes to subjecting her male characters to the same objectifying gaze women have faced in comics for decades—both in the comics themselves, and behind the scenes in the industry, which was definitely lacking in female creators when Scott first set her eyes on it around 2001.
Still, after 15 years of “not taking no for an answer,” Scott finally landed her “all-time dream job” of telling Wonder Woman’s story last year, when she was tapped to reboot the series in time for its 75th anniversary, as well as this year’s release of the film starring Gal Gadot, which has now made nearly $400 million at the box office. Here, Scott talks why she actually turned down the job several times before, how it is for women in the industry nowadays, and why Wonder Woman isn’t the ultra-sexualized American propaganda you may think she is.
How and when did you first get into comics and illustrating?
I didn’t start drawing comics until I was 30, when I’d sort of already had a career in film and TV and theater, and I was looking for a new creative outlet, many of which involved drawing. At the end of the day, though, I was unsatisfied, and had the thought that if I had to draw the same thing all day, every day, I wished I could just draw Wonder Woman, because I always used to scribble her anyway—she was my first ever fictional character that I fell in love with. The thought was more like, Oh, that would be fun. And then I realized, Oh my god, that’s a real job that exists, and a whole industry I hadn’t even really considered—I’m gonna do that. So that’s kind of where I launched myself, and after pursuing it aggressively, I’ve been drawing comics ever since.
How did you launch yourself? Were there other women working in the field at the time?
At the time it was pretty rare. But being Australian kind of helped—it sort of gave me an “other” quality, because I was launching into what is essentially an American industry from Australia. I was smart enough to know I didn’t know anything about the industry, so I just sort of had to submit to the understanding that I was going to have to ask the dumb questions to get to the smart questions, and if people just thought I was the dumb blonde, they would just think that until they saw better. [Laughs.] I started with the guy who worked in the comic books store, because that was my first point of contact. That led me to conventions, which led me to San Diego Comic Con, where I started getting useful, professional answers that really helped me get a real understanding of what I needed to do and how I needed to get there. My first real professional job was drawing Star Wars comics, which was great, because I could say to all my non-geeky friends and family, ‘I’m working on Star Wars, and they would go, Oh, Star Wars!’ After that it was lots and lots of bits and pieces that were getting me toward working at DC Comics, which is where I was for just over 10 years.
How did you end up being the one to tell Wonder Woman’s story?
From the time I started working at DC Comics, everybody who worked at the company knew she was my favorite character and that I had my goal set on her. I had the good fortune of having her pop up in most of the series I was working on, and there were a couple of times when I was actually offered the title, but for sort of broader reasons, I said no. Working on your dream job isn’t just about having your dream character—you’ve got to be working with the right writer, because they’re your primary collaborator, and you’ve got to see eye to eye with them, otherwise it’s not really a great match.
Then, last year, out of nowhere, I was working with a writer called Greg Rucka, and they approached him about bringing Wonder Woman back to her core for her 75th anniversary last year and the movie coming out this year. At that point, Wonder Woman had kind of strayed from who she’s intended to be, with writers either not quite understanding the character fully or who have their own specific agenda, so they came to Greg and myself to ask us to bring her back and reestablish her as the fan base sees her, and get the comics ready for when the film came out, and when there might be a whole bunch of new readers. Greg and I have discussed Wonder Woman in-depth for over a decade, and we’ve talked about doing an origin story for her abstractly, but then all of the sudden last year, it was in front of us, and we had to take all these amorphous ideas and boil them down to the amount of space and time we had to tell the story. And because I know we’re both on the same page, it came very naturally.
What is it about Wonder Woman that’s always attracted you to her?
I first discovered her for myself when I was about four or five, when the TV series started airing here in Australia, and it was just so unusual to me, and so conceptually out the realm that I was used to. There was this gorgeous, glamorous woman in this crazy outfit in taking charge who was throwing bad guys around and lifting up cars, and I was used to fairy tales and children’s books. It was so different that it struck me in the most significant way, and because of that, I’ve kind of judged every favorite female fictional character by her—it was just something I never grew out of.
How would you describe who she really is, given the misconceptions over the years?
I feel like who she is now is quite similar to how she was created originally, and the version I remember from the ‘70s TV show, which was very cheesy and American propaganda and silly and light and fun, but still had her core essence. She’s an ambassador for peace, despite the fact that she’s one of the most highly skilled warriors in all of fiction. I think a lot of creatives over the decades have found it hard to justify those opposing concepts and found it hard to justify because she’s a female character, whereas if I were to break it down for male characters, she’s quite like a Jedi—someone highly skilled and highly trained, but really just trying to keep it calm. She’s capable of badass-ery, but she’s not a badass. For the last 20 or so years, she’s sort of been veering towards a Xena [the Warrior Princess] trope, which is a little more aggressive and heartless, and that’s the complete opposite of who the character of Diana should be. Unlike Superman and Batman, her story is forged by great loss and tragedy. She’s someone who has decided to leave utopia, because she feels like she has something to give, and she needs a purpose, so she’s chosen hero-dom in a way that’s in no way thrust on her or is a mission statement. She just wants to do the right thing for as many people as possible.
Is it still rare to have a woman fronting the action like her?
She’s kind of the first female superhero. There are some really fabulous interesting and complex female characters in the superhero realm now, and it’s a shame that the movies are just now starting to catch up. Marvel is 15 films in, and they still don’t have a female-led one. There’s one due down the pipeline, but she’s still not coming for a few years, so that’s sort of a little indicative of the people driving the ships.
Would you say there are now more women illustrators?
Oh, yeah. When you look at the greater industry, outside of the two major superhero companies, there are a loads of female creators, writers, and artists working, and there always have been. It’s just now the smaller, more independent companies that are outside of superheroes are stronger than I think they’ve ever been—and there are a lot more women working in superheroes now, too.
Do you feel responsible to have a message for the stories you do, and particularly Wonder Woman, who means so much to so many people?
Any time you’re working on these legacy characters that have these long histories, you’re very much a temporary caretaker, and therefore you aim to leave them better of than when you started. As a female creator, every time I’m working on female characters, I’m very conscious of giving as much well rounded insight into the diversity amongst women. There’s been a lot of male writers and a lot of male artists in the history of comics, and because of the rapid turnaround and the continuous need for content, a lot of artists will have shortcuts, like a few typical body types and faces—but they’ll have three different male body types and one female body type. I’ve thought of it as sort of part of my job to give as many female body types as there are possible, to think of different kinds of female body language, to really flesh out the female characters and make them as diverse, if not sometimes more diverse, than the male ones. I will actively female gaze a lot of my male characters, as you can see in the Bond piece. I will often get my guys naked. I will often get them sort of giving an ass shot, rather than the girls. That’s a little bit part of my subtext agenda, and it’s certainly appreciated by my audience.
Related: Why Charlize Theron is the James Bond We Need Now
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