Now that the first chapter of the graphic novel is up at Kickstarter, this topic has surfaced a few times in conversation and in critique. “Why are the bodies so beautiful or so developed?” Usually, this kind of commentary is reserved for how women are often depicted in comics as overly voluptuous with images that pander to the stereotypical adolescent male reader. In the case of The Lightstream Chronicles, however there is no discrimination between males and females. All the men are just as muscularly perfected, and their body suits just as tight fitting as their female counterparts.
There are actually numerous reasons for the choice of body style. First and probably most important is that it is story appropriate. The design fiction future of The Lightstream Chronicles has been built in equal parts, on what exists today, what is projected for tomorrow and then some healthy speculation. How we will behave and what will we wear when everybody has “the perfect body?” According to Barbara Cohen, PhD. (1984), “We are a culture nearly addicted to individual control and the notion seems to exist in our society that fatness means a loss of self-control – which is considered the ultimate moral failure in our culture, and perhaps the most frightening of all fears” (1). In the story narrative, through genetic engineering, and continuous monitoring and augmentation of body chemistry, the society of 2159 has enabled the sculpting of any body shape, musculature, and proportion, (in addition to gene splicing and species blending). Hence, the story contains a visual proliferation of ideal bodies as a direct result of technological advancements in medicine and body design. The plot then, serves to drive body exaggerations in this context and provides the opportunity to examine the perfect body phenomenon in the cultural context of the narrative.
Andrew Curry (2010) examines this idea in The 1910 Time Traveler, asking what a 1910 Edwardian might think of 21st century London. He thinks many of the technologies may well be conceivable. The bigger changes may be in the quality and realism of content, the disappearance of industry and cleaner air. “The bigger changes, though, would almost certainly be about values.” The society is more international, more politically civil, the role of women has changed dramatically, and then there is: “Casualness of dress and social etiquette generally: both Edwardian men and women tended to travel well covered up, even at the beach. In contrast, our informality of clothing, and the casualness of our language – even rudeness – along with the end of most visible signs of etiquette, would be a profound change… But there’s perhaps an underlying story here. When we think about long-term change with the benefit of hindsight, the things we think are unfathomable are usually the technology – planes, cars, computers. But it is at least as likely that the things that time travelers would most struggle with are the shifts in social values, which are almost invisible to us because we swim in them constantly and adapt ourselves to them as they change.”
If an Edwardian would be shocked at a 21st century bikini, I imagine that we would be equally aghast at body suits that show off every detail of the ideal physique.
There is also another, more subtle rationale as homage to the superhero genre. There are two aspects to this objective: 1.Dramatic effect. Comics historian R.C. Harvey (1996,35) calls to mind the name of Burne Hogarth who drew Tarzan for a period in the 1940s. Remarking on Hogarth’s unique and, “minute attention to musculature,” Harvey says, “This treatment gave dramatic emphasis to the actions being depicted: Hogarth’s character, their muscles shown in bold relief, appeared to strain with the effort of their endeavors. The effect was to add a visual intensity to the drama of the narrative” 2. Heightened realism. Detail in anatomy adds visual excitement. In discussing the artwork of comic artist Jack Kirby, Harvey, refers to his realistic style. “Realistic rendering helps make it all seem possible, and Kirby’s skillful deployment of the medium’s resources makes the action so exciting that we overlook the impossibilities. We can’t help concluding that super heroics are possible—but we must add, only in the comics” (40). To aficionados of the classic comic genre, as well as to game enthusiasts (who are certainly targeted consumers of the graphic novel) superhero depictions, with exaggerated anatomy and operatic movement are an expected part of the presentation.
Not that I hold a candle to Jack Kirby, but it’s the thought that counts.
Cohen, Barbara A. Ph.D. (1984). The Psychology of Ideal Body Image as an Oppressive Force in the Lives of Women. Available: http://www.healingthehumanspirit.com/pages/body_img.htm. Last accessed 22 Oct 2012.
Curry, Andrew. http://thenextwavefutures.wordpress.com/2010/09/04/the-1910-time-traveller/
Harvey, Robert C., The Art of the Comic Book: An Aesthetic History. The University Press of Mississippi, 1996.