Monday, January 16, 2012

Urban fantasy, MASKS style

This is hilarious. And fascinating.
I’m not a great fan of the “princess” novels of Jim C. Hines, where he reimagines fairytale princesses as action heroes. I’m just not into the princess thing; call it a matter of taste. But I almost suffocated laughing when he recently tried to replicate his main character’s pose on the cover of the first book … and then proceeded to try imitating the poses of other fantasy cover girls to point out how ridiculous they are. He’s in good shape, and he’s a good sport, but it’s just too snicker-worthy for words (more pictures at the link above): 

And then things got really interesting! 

You see, LiveJournal user Ocelott took Hines’ idea a step further, trying to replicate the poses herself (with the advantage of being both female and a former dancer, albeit with a bad knee) and then tried imitating male poses from the covers of well-known fantasy hits like Ariel and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels. And as you’ll see if you read her comments on the photos, she found the female poses uncomfortable and impractical for fighting, while she found the male poses natural, strong, and sensible for the characters being portrayed. Harry Dresden really could use his staff from that position, either to throw fireballs or to crack somebody in the head. But what the hell does Mercy Thompson think she’s doing?

The point of all this, of course, is that female fantasy heroines are posed to look sexy first and strong second, if at all, while men are almost always posed to look just plain strong, and maybe a bit mysterious if they have time. They get more practical clothes, too. These are all points that have been made many, many times, and I at least have accepted them as part of life for as long as I’ve been able to read. Women on book covers look stupid; what else is new? 

But while I was looking at Ocelott’s photos, I got a fairly brilliant idea. 

In Masks, Rae is almost never posed for sex appeal, either on the cover or in my illustrations. This is partly because I’m not drawing to appeal to horny teenage guys; I’m trying to convey plot points and create a sense of drama. Mostly, however, it’s because I’m just not a very good artist! I have to sweat blood over even a two-figure illustration, and it still comes out looking sort of weird to my eyes, so I’m not going to try to throw sex appeal in there if I’ve managed to get the anatomy and physics mostly right. I have enough trouble making sure Rae’s eyes are on the same level—I can’t be bothered to try a swaybacked Wonder Woman pose into the bargain. So even when you see Rae’s butt, it’s because she’s throwing a shin strike at Trevor, not because she’s got such a great butt:

 (Fun fact? Both the figures in this shot used male models. Rae was originally a random guy on a martial-arts blog, and Trevor was my older brother, a martial artist who graciously let me throw a shin strike at his ribs and then take a picture of him blocking it.) 

Yes, you’ve discovered my secret: Rae looks like a real person because I couldn’t afford fake people, and it turns out using real people looks better. (At least, it does when you’re as lousy an artist as I am.) Rae’s pose on the Volume 1 cover looks natural and anatomically possible because I made it the old-fashioned way, by dressing up a real person and taking her picture. If you have that costume, and a patient woman of the right build, and a window for light, you can replicate that shot with very little trouble. 

All of which gave me an idea! 

I liked Ocelott’s gender-bending pictures so much that I decided to see if I could turn out some cool-looking Rae pinups based on her “male” poses. It was also a great chance to show off the new haircut Rae will have in Volume 2 (people who’ve read the end of Volume 1 know why!). Here’s my first attempt, based on a Simon R. Green cover and Ocelott’s resulting photo. I gave Rae a staff because she doesn’t really use swords, but I could easily envision her picking up a stick or a pipe:


Not bad, huh? She looks kind of badass! 

Then I tried the popped-collar shot, which made me smile because it means Rae has borrowed Trevor’s jacket. You can see him in the background there, wondering what on earth is going on. Good fun, this!

 And now I come to the shot that originally inspired this blog entry. I saw this photo on Ocelott’s page and my first thought was, “Damn, Rae has to do that. Even if she doesn’t have the chest for it.” I just loved the set of Ocelott’s head and shoulders, and I wanted to try it with Rae. First I tried it with the staff again:

And then—just for a stretch—I tried it with a coyote. Not Pocket Coyote, mind you—an actual coyote who appears in Chapter 29. He even (spoiler alert!) reappears, giant-sized, in Volume 2, so this is technically canonical. I had to change the position of Rae’s arm because she’s touching fur, not pulling a staff, but it still mostly works, I think.

Real people. Awesome art. Who knew? Oh, that’s right. Me. And you guys. 

Do we rock or what?


  1. Wow! I can't tell you how pleased and flattered I am that you found those pictures to be good for both inspiration and photo stock. They look fantastic. And you're right, Rae is looking pretty badass.

    1. Thank you for the kind words--I'm glad you like the sketches! If you'd like to know more about Rae, feel free to read the serial on my main website, (It's free, and you're allowed to cringe at my attempted illustrations.)

      Thanks again for the inspiration!

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  3. First, the Jim Hines pics were nearly the death of me. Second, I like the last picture, of reaching to hug the furry coyote. --Amber