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Mad Woman

Before you all tell me how sexy I am in this painting created for this year’s NoirCon, give me a chance to explain how I feel about it.


Here’s the email I sent to Lou Boxer, the organizer.

I just saw the cover of the NoirCon catalog posted on twitter and am really upset. While I’m a huge fan of vintage pulp art and totally understand what you were going for in that painting, I’m hurt and offended to be portrayed as a half-naked damsel in distress. I try so hard to be taken seriously as a writer and to break out of the sexist mindset in which women are viewed as nothing but vixens and victims. I feel like that cover undermines everything I represent as a writer and a person.

To Lou’s credit, he got on the phone and called me right away, with the artist on the line. They apologized to me and told me that they never meant to offend me. The artist then went on to explain his intention, that it was meant to be ironic and that portraying me tied up and helpless was funny because it’s the opposite of how I really am.

While I appreciate the apology and the effort to communicate instead of hiding from conflict, I just don’t think that an image like this, ironic or not, is the kind of thing we need any more of in our genre.

So, Faustketeers, what’s your take? Do you think this painting is funny and ironic? Or does it reinforce the sexist stereotypes female writers have been up against for years? 

Edited to add: This image is on a program book that has already been distributed to con attendees for an event this weekend, so there's no way to nix, pull or change it. In fact I didn't even know about it until an attendee posted a photo on twitter, which is a major part of my beef as well.

Edited again to add: In the interest of fairness, I have been asked to post the back cover of the book. (Sorry for the blurry photo quality.) It depicts other women, so I'm not the only female, but I am the only one who is overtly sexualized and portrayed as a victim. That's Megan Abbott and a female DJ behind Reed Coleman and SJ Rozan holding the arm of Nazi Ken Bruen. And, as far as Reed and some of the other men being nearly naked too, as I stated in the comments, a straight man portraying another straight man half naked and/or victimized as a joke is not as creepy as a straight man portraying a woman half naked and victimized as a joke. Especially when the woman in question is not in on the joke.

newcam 002


( 66 comments — Leave a comment )
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Nov. 10th, 2012 01:02 am (UTC)
Yup, that's offensive all right
I'd be bullshit too, Christa. Especially since I very much doubt most people will "get" the irony-they'll just take it at face value. And the only woman depicted is tied up? That's just wrong. Far better if you'd been the one punching the guy out. I can't believe they didn't clear it with you first.
-Michelle Gagnon
Nov. 14th, 2012 05:10 am (UTC)
Re: Yup, that's offensive all right
"...I very much doubt most people will `get' the irony-they'll just take it at face value."

I think the cover's intended audience very much will (or did) get the irony. The program was never intended for mass circulation. Its target was attendees at a small conference, the majority of whom almost certainly know Christa and her work. Those people might well find the cover tasteless and offensive, but they almost certainly would regard it as ironic.

One lesson to be drawn from this? Be careful when you crack an in joke. In jokes have a way of breaking out.

Also, "face value" is a curiously imprecise expression to use in connection with this illustration. What do you think viewers will take at "face value": The imagery of Christa being threatened, or the characters' jokey, cartoonish expressions?

Re: Yup, that's offensive all right - faustfatale - Nov. 14th, 2012 05:33 am (UTC) - Expand
George Ibarra
Nov. 10th, 2012 01:03 am (UTC)
when looking at the cover as a whole i can see what the artist was going for. i can see that he was meaning to keep it light, ironic, and quirky. i can also see how you would find it offensive that you or any woman would be displayed in such a way, and being treated as an object despite the bad situation (is that a camera in his hand?)

i find it offensive myself with other reasons. being of mexican descent, i grow weary of seeing mesoamerican symbols being used as backdrops for sinister dealings. i could go on a rant about that, but i'll leave it at that, because i know most people don't have the depth of knowledge to discuss ancient mexican culture in a civilized way.

so yeah, it's offensive, and you have every right to raise your fist in anger.
Nov. 10th, 2012 01:08 am (UTC)
Ironic visual humor, when done right, is wonderful. This... this wasn't done right. And when it's not done right, it does re-enforce every stereotype it was meant to lampoon. It's one of the reasons Dave Chapelle stopped doing his show - people thought the parodies were reality. So I do agree, it is a reinforcement.

It is, also, frankly, not that well done. The composition is wrong, the heads looked pasted onto different bodies... just not well executed. The amateurish work almost compounds everything. Quoth Tom Stoppard. "It could have been anything. A mute dwarf, standing by the road, pointing the way. But it had to be this..."
J.D. Rhoades
Nov. 10th, 2012 01:12 am (UTC)
It would only be funny and ironic to people who know you or your work. But if it's meant to be seen beyond that, then yeah, I understand being unhappy.
Nov. 10th, 2012 02:26 am (UTC)
Re: Well...
Nov. 10th, 2012 01:16 am (UTC)
I lean towards funny and ironic. I don't feel like it's reinforcing stereotype so much as commenting on common conceptions of the genre, commenting on the stereotype. Mind you, I don't feel it's condemning or endorsing the stereotype. You don't look like you're actually in any distress in the picture any more than there appears to be an actual fight in the foreground.

I'm not very familiar with modern noir literary fiction, this image seems more a comment on pre-1960 adventure serials or comics to me. Personally, I prefer story over social agenda and find the conscious injection of the latter inevitably overwhelms the former, even if I agree with the principle. If there had been a subversion of the stereotype, like you throwing fists and the guys tied up, I think the casual viewer would say, "Oh, this is a con about subverting stereotype." Though I guess if it had been drawn as a Johnny Guitar parody, you might get the same reaction.

Of course, that's all moot if you're uncomfortable with an image of yourself in bondage being published, in which case I really think they should pull the image out of respect for you. Though that may be a dated attitude from me.

Edited at 2012-11-10 01:19 am (UTC)
Nov. 10th, 2012 01:17 am (UTC)
It's in the smile
which does nothing, here.

IF the artist had given you an "oh shit, see what I have to put up with" expression, then the irony could shine through.

As is, nah.
Nov. 10th, 2012 01:39 am (UTC)
Good point, an eye-rolling expression would have been better.

As it is, the smirk it give you does disarm it a bit for me. You're not panting and helpless; it seems like you could shrug your way out of those bonds if you felt like it. So I think the artist was really trying for some clever irony.

Only they didn't succeed so much with the clever ... or really even the irony.
Nov. 10th, 2012 01:36 am (UTC)
One of the main things is that you don't appear to be at Noircon. You mention seeing this online, and you sent an email, and then received a phone call.

Why put you on the cover for an event you aren't at? Why do that without your consent? That seems incredibly questionable, all on its own.

Alleged intent does not excuse actual effect. As a parent, you might mean to make a rebuke gentle or even funny, but the words might come off with more edge or negative emotion than you intend, and you still have to own that and apologize... or you're a jerk. Our society seems to be mastering the non-apology.

And, as Michelle said, they shouldn't have even represented you without your approval... especially if this is an event you aren't attending. I don't want to say this from the perspective of simply criticizing Noircon, but I say this from the perspective of supporting you as a person who's been misrepresented and offended. (And I am not convinced of the alleged attempt at irony at all.)
Nov. 10th, 2012 01:58 am (UTC)
I think it's both, honestly, Christa. I looked at the image a good long while before I even read your post below it and the first thing I thought is: Well the dude in the green and blue has about two seconds before he's where Ms. Faust is. So, yeah, there's irony there. But....

I believe you likely are also going to NoirCon to make connections with folks who don't know your work yet, right? So in that regard it may give off the damsel in distress perception.

However, I think given your gut reaction, you go with that. My gut never steers me wrong. And let me validate that your gut reaction is probably the smart move.

Are they willing to redesign? I can't imagine that NoirCon is represented in whole by this art as it is anyhow.

Regardless, happy they had the response they did and you, the artist & the organizers can come to an agreement.
Nov. 10th, 2012 02:11 am (UTC)
Nope Don't Agree with You
The artist used your likeness to stand in for an archetype, Christa. It's not about you. It's about the iconic noir female APPEARING helpless and in distress while she smiles to indicate it's all an act. I would love to be in your place in that painting.
Nov. 10th, 2012 02:20 am (UTC)
Re: Nope Don't Agree with You
I see your point, and maybe I would feel better about if if multiple female archetypes were displayed, like the femme fatale, the gun moll, etc. As it stands the only female author is a damsel in distress, smiling or not, and that's an archetype that can't die soon enough in my opinion.
Re: Nope Don't Agree with You - agent_mimi - Nov. 10th, 2012 03:25 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Nope Don't Agree with You - inkgrrl - Nov. 12th, 2012 08:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Anna Lee Zaytseva
Nov. 10th, 2012 02:13 am (UTC)
Nice save but...
I'm with you Faust. This is no bueno.
Irony (ha!) or not, I don't like it.
You should be center in that pic wielding an uppercut (or holding a pen and a glock).
Nov. 10th, 2012 02:13 am (UTC)
Anonymous-9 here
BTW, that last comment was left by Anonymous-9. About wanting to take your place in the painting. I felt it was a tribute, not a slight.
Lee Goldberg
Nov. 10th, 2012 02:24 am (UTC)
Common Courtesy
They were either gutless or stupid from the get-go...because the obvious, reasonable, polite thing for the organizers and artist to have done would have been to tell you ahead of time what they were intending and to ask if you were okay with the depiction *before* they did it. You have every right to be angry and they should redo the poster & catalog. What they did wasn't just wrong, impolite, and unprofessional, it was inept.


Edited at 2012-11-10 02:26 am (UTC)
Nov. 10th, 2012 04:03 am (UTC)
Re: Common Courtesy
I agree with everything Lee is saying here. Basic professional courtesy should have ensured they ran the idea past you for approval before the art was done.

(Deleted comment)
Jerry Leach
Nov. 10th, 2012 02:52 am (UTC)
tough call
I for one think it's pretty sexy. I also do take you seriously as a writer. I get the humor and do find it to be ironic. You write some pretty hard-boiled stuff.

Your portrayal here doesn't seem to be that distressed. But I do get where the resentment comes from. Gotta take your side on this.
Arinn Dembo
Nov. 10th, 2012 02:55 am (UTC)
Use of Likeness. Plain and Simple.
No doubt, they were completely in the wrong. If you don't want to give offense, you ASK someone before you even snap a photo of them, much less before you lampoon them in your art and then publish it for the consumption of hundreds or thousands of people.

Sure, maybe they were "trying to be ironic" by depicting you this way, but the whole point of going to conventions is to meet new people, readers and other authors who don't know you and your work. You have a right to choose how you present yourself to the public, and you would never have chosen this image of yourself.

Sorry this happened, and glad you're standing up for yourself. And for all those artists and convention organizers...ASK before you do something like this to a professional author.
Nov. 10th, 2012 03:14 am (UTC)
It's offensive.

Sometimes it's difficult for people to understand that the highest compliment you can give a woman isn't that you think she's sexy. Especially in a genre where women are struggling for acceptance and recognition as writers, it's infuriating to see oneself depicted as a victim. Yes, a lot of the pulp covers depict women in vulnerable situations. I can see from where the artist drew inspiration. But depicting a real person this way — especially a person who is not attending the convention — is troubling. It reeks much more of a sexual fantasy than ironic commentary. You get to be somebody's sexual fantasy in a very public way, which is hella gross.

I know you pretty well. Much like your LiveJournal icon, you're a straightforward, powerful person. Even if the artist didn't mean to, he depicted you in a way that robs you of your best qualities. And you have so many fabulous qualities that he could have been "ironic" about that don't involve your tits and exposed flesh. Maybe he didn't realize that depicting a femme domme like yourself as a submissive is offensive in and of itself, but regardless, sexualizing you puts you right where you don't want to be — you're depicted as a sex object rather than a person. I don't see any of the men depicted that way. Maybe a gun gives them a little extra testosterone, but none of them are sex objects.

I'm really glad to hear, though, that Lou was responsive. maybe next time they will get approvals from the people they are depicting before executing the artwork. That certainly would've gone a long way toward avoiding a situation like this. And, dude! Duane as a Nazi? How does he feel about that? Lots of people I know would have a problem being depicted that way.
Nov. 10th, 2012 03:32 am (UTC)
This Faustketeer agrees with you. No matter the intent, you are the only woman on the cover and you are tied up and half naked, while the men are in action poses, even if they are depicted as silly. Plays to the stereotypes. If they want to comment on the genre's tropes, they could tie up one of the men and have you rescuing or interrogating them.
Nov. 10th, 2012 03:37 am (UTC)
Re: Agreed
+1. Very well said.
Nov. 10th, 2012 03:36 am (UTC)
I'm so sorry this happened to you. I have to say, as a fan of the genre, running around being a woman, this cover would invoke my rage and I'd likely boycott the product. I'm so tired of crime and pulp being dominated by images of women as helpless. Reverse the genders of this cover and the message it imparts is entirely different. Grah.
Nov. 10th, 2012 06:01 am (UTC)
From what I know of your involvement in the fetish world, I'd have thought you should be the one doing the tying, perhaps with a rye and ironic expression. But I confess to personal involvement on both sides. I hope this does not lead to estrangment between people for whom I have a great deal of respect and affection.

Nov. 10th, 2012 12:43 pm (UTC)
Unprofessional and discourteous
"I'm so tired of crime and pulp being dominated by images of women as helpless. Reverse the genders of this cover and the message it imparts is entirely different."

That was pretty much my instinctive reaction. Leaving the guys helpless, giving the lady the whiphand, would mean you're playing with the tropes and having fun with irony, etc. It'd still be heavy-handed, but at least the message would be clearer.

Also, I can't believe they didn't ask your permission to use your likeness for a project like this. Unprofessional and discourteous, to say the least.

Cheers, Declan
Nov. 10th, 2012 12:59 pm (UTC)
It's like ray-ee-aaaaaayn on your wah-heddin day
I'd be interested to know why Boxer thought that Noircon was best represented by imagery from what looks like 30s pulp adventure novels. I'd also be interested to know if that is supposed to be Swierczynski in the Nazi uniform (irony!) and if Block is happy with the bottle of beer in his hand (irony!). Also be interested to know who that hand on the left belongs to - looks female, looks tied at the wrist.

Personally I don't think it's particularly funny (or ironic), and I know a couple of the people in it, so God knows what fans will make of it. I think you and the others should have been consulted and given the chance to yay or nay ideas for how you would be represented and I think it shows either a spectacular lack of professionalism or an abundance of ego that this wasn't done.

As for the image itself, yes it absolutely reinforces sexist stereotypes, but then that's the default setting for those who profess to love the genre. That's not going to change until the genre's archetypes change, and that'll only happen when the genre's authors change the narrative. You're one of only a handful of writers actually doing that, Faust, so it's going to be tougher on you. Bravo for taking a stand - in this world of writers having to eat shit for the sake of their "potential readership", it's nice to see a bit of clear, independent thought going on.

Lincoln Crisler
Nov. 10th, 2012 02:06 pm (UTC)
Maybe I'm just being an old stick-in-the-mud, but creation of that art should have been prefaced by something along the lines of "Hai, Christa--would you care to be featured on a magazine cover wearing almost nothing but a rope and a smile?"

Just sayin'.
Nov. 10th, 2012 10:59 pm (UTC)
It's certainly not my place to tell you to not be offended by anything... but, it comes across as parody to me. It looks way more like an old Mad Magazine cover than pulp to me.

To me, "Your" expression seems to say "isn't this ridiculous" rather than damsel-in-distress.

Alas, art... and humor... are up to interpretation. Lots of celebs got pissed over their portrayal in Mad Magazine as well.
Nov. 10th, 2012 11:19 pm (UTC)
Jeez, Christa, there are so many ways they could have handled this better. Why on EARTH did they not....oooooh....I don't know...mention it to you before they did it? Big hugs, dollface xx
Nov. 11th, 2012 07:05 pm (UTC)
Hey, how about the leering "Oriental" with the knife in his hand? Would it affect anyone's feelings about the cover if they knew that that was the artist and that he, indeed, is of Asian descent?

Nov. 11th, 2012 07:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Peter
It's fine for someone to parody their own gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation, because they can make that choice. Like a gay man can refer to himself as a faggot but a straight person shouldn't call him that. Same with the N word.

The artist *chose* to joke about his ethnicity. I was not allowed to choose the way I was presented in the painting, it was chosen for me without my consent. I was not in on the joke. And when a joke is made *about* you instead of *by* you, it just isn't funny.

Re: Peter - faustfatale - Nov. 11th, 2012 07:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Peter - (Anonymous) - Nov. 11th, 2012 07:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Peter - (Anonymous) - Nov. 11th, 2012 07:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
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