Friday, 27 March 2015

Deep Sequencing: Southern Bastard Faces

Or a look at the many, realistic looking faces in Southern Bastards Vol. 1,
by Jason Aaron, Jason Latour, and Jared K Fletcher; Image Comics

Southern Bastards, a comic about Crime in a small Southern town, is a great comic. It's visceral and brutal and surprisingly human and utterly believable. It is also a comic that I think does something really, really important with character design that I wish more comics, television shows, and movies would do: it has believable looking people.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Souther Bastards: Vol. 1.

Now I enjoy seeing attractive people do attractive things as much as anyone. Everyone gets drawn into the charisma of pretty people. But the fact of the matter is that really conventionally attractive people are a subset of the population. Take any sufficiently large group of people and you will find pretty people, but also some unattractive looking people. and a lot of people that exist somewhere in between. This becomes even more true when you start looking at people with older age demographics, because age makes people wider, saggier, and less conventionally attractive through time. Basically, a truly representative group of humanity includes people who are good looking, but also people who are less immediately attractive too.

This seems like a fact that is missing from most visual media. You open most comics, particularly mainstream Marvel and DC comics, or turn on the television and you are generally confronted by fictional worlds filled with beautiful, conventionally attractive people. Hordes of pretty people wearing the cutting edges of fashion living in unbelievably expensive and gorgeous apartments living fabulous lives. Modelesque superheroes saving cities of glamorous civilians from alien hordes and sexy young singles just trying to figure it out in front of a legion of gorgeous extras. In fiction-land everyone is young and beautiful, and when they aren't it is a noteworthy story point. Normal looking people need not apply.

The trouble with this, aside from how toxic a message it is, is that it is fundamentally unbelievable. Beautiful fiction-land doesn't look like reality, the demographics don't add up. Attractive people can do anything, be as smart or kick ass as anyone, but the idea of an entire detective department being 20-something underwear models with perfectly styled hair and impeccable fashion is as unrealistic as a person with the super power to fly. A downtown coffee shop where everyone looks like members of a fashion catalogue photo-spread has as much basis in reality as adamantium claws. Portraying large groups of people as exclusively conventionally attractive people is completely unrealistic and totally ruins my suspension of disbelief.

It seems to be getting worse too. I am not an especially old human, but even I can recall a time when on television or in comics people looked more demographically reasonable. Sure, there were still very pretty people, often in key roles, but around them you had your grizzled middle-aged detectives, your harried looking mothers, your goofy looking neighbours, or just your average looking extras. The fictional worlds of our visual media used to look so much more like the actual world (I mean, at least as far as attractiveness goes) and as a result used to be so much more believable. Sadly, it seems much of our media has abandoned this.

Southern Bastards does a lot of things very, very well. But the thing that made it feel so fresh to me as a reader and so utterly believable is that it showed a diversity of faces. People in Southern Bastards LOOK LIKE PEOPLE, with all the wrinkles, weight, age, and imperfections that real groups of humans have. There are still attractive people, cute teenagers and handsome youth, but there are also elderly people, fat people, middle-aged people, all of them wearing clothes that are consistent with what actual people of their economic situation would wear. It makes everything look so much more authentic, and it makes the more fantastic elements of the story, the crime, violence, and murder, also feel real and authentic. It's a perfect choice.

And one that I really, really wish we saw more often in comics.

Post by Michael Bround 

So I Read Southern Bastards: Here Was A Man

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