‘Saga’ Artist Fiona Staples Responds to Dave Dorman Criticism of ‘Breastfeeding Cover’
Celebrated illustrator Dave Dorman took to his blog today to share his displeasure at the first issue cover of forthcoming Image series Saga. Dorman, whose work includes covers for Heavy Metal, Star Wars and Aliens, takes offense at the use of an image of breastfeeding to promote a comic. In a post titled “Why Dave Dorman Finds New Image Comic ‘SAGA’ Offensive,” the artist criticizes what he calls “shock value measures,” and notes, “It seems that in today’s desperate-for-sales comic book market, nothing is sacred.”
The cover by series artist Fiona Staples is a portrait of the family at the center of the story; horned Marko, winged Alana, and their infant daughter. The issue for Dorman is that the child is clearly suckling his mother’s breast. In the comments section for his blog he describes it as “marketing a comic to kids with adult content on the cover.”
ComicsAlliance spoke with artist Fiona Staples about Dorman’s objections, and you can read her response after the cut.
Dorman’s remarks have come under fire both in comments on his own blog, where readers asked, “What is so offensive about breastfeeding?”, and on Twitter, where Beasts of Burden artist Jill Thompson responded, “Breast feeding NOT offensive as Comicbook T&A.”
Reached for comment by ComicsAlliance, artist Fiona Staples found Dorman’s objection perplexing, noting; “I find it a little hard to fathom why anyone would object to a depiction of breastfeeding, even if it were on a kids’ comic, which it isn’t. I have yet to hear a line of reasoning that makes sense to me. That said, anyone who wants to be grossed out by our comic is of course free to do so. I’m just going to fixate on the part where a master painter called me a ‘gifted artist.’”
Dorman insists that he does not find breastfeeding or even boobs offensive, just the use of breastfeeding in a promotional context. As Staples notes, the criticism seems to be based in part on a misunderstanding; that the book is aimed at younger readers. In a piece for USA Today, Saga writer Brian K. Vaughan lamented the lack of books for kids that aren’t reboots or relaunches, which led Dorman to note that the series was not one he could share with his 7-year-old son. However, while Saga is certainly something new, Image describes it as an “original sci-fi/fantasy epic for mature readers.”
Dorman has acknowledged in his blog comments; “If I misunderstood that this comic is targeted at kids, it is my error and I apologize to all I’ve offended with that.” However, a question remains about whether breastfeeding should be considered ‘adult content’ and inappropriate for a comic cover. At the end of his post Dorman mockingly suggests that a future issue could depict the act of conception.
Yet the cover of Saga #1 is clearly not sexual. The amount of skin on display seems modest compared to what comic fans might be used to. Almost no part of the character’s bosom is visible. It wouldn’t take long in a comic shop to find a dozen non-adult comics that more generously expose their female characters. So if it’s not skin that’s controversial, is it the fact that the bosom is “in use?”
Public breastfeeding is a contentious issue that, until now, has had no noticeable overlap with the comic industry. As recently as last month, mothers held a “nurse-in” at 250 Target stores in protest of an employee who asked a mother not to breastfeed in the aisle. A 2006 issue of maternity magazine BabyTalk received complaints for featuring a close-up of a nursing baby on its cover, and a poll of 4,000 readers showed that one in four found the cover “inappropriate.”
The chief objection in the BabyTalk case was the corrupting effects of the sight of a boob on young impressionable minds. This attitude seems grounded in a “think of the children” instinct that links boobs to sex and sex to immorality. Indeed, Facebook routinely takes down pictures of breastfeeding mums because they deem them “obscene.” Regardless of intent or context, boobs are condemned as a scarlet letter.
Children, of course, do not think that breastfeeding is indecent or obscene until they are taught to think it. Even adults who say that the sight of a nursing mother makes them uncomfortable are surely guilty of a learned bias; they are categorizing breastfeeding among all other public exposures of private parts, when in fact it is quite distinct. Breastfeeding is not gratuitous, immoral, sexual or unhygienic. It is protected by the law in most Western countries, while any form of “indecent exposure” is condemned.
In comics, “decency” is rarely the watchword, and it seems especially extraordinary that this cover should stir up controversy when other comics make Hooters look like a nunnery. There is no shortage of adult, sexual and provocative art being used to sell comics. An image of a breastfeeding woman does not seem to qualify. Arguably this is one of the few times a comic cover has ever put a woman’s breast to non-sexual use.
Dave Dorman has announced on Twitter that he will post a follow-up blog post tomorrow to clarify his position.