Comic artist Frank Cho says he does not objectify women

Frank Cho has illustrated for some of Marvel's biggest franchises, including Mighty Avengers and X-Men.
Frank Cho has illustrated for some of Marvel's biggest franchises, including Mighty Avengers and X-Men.PHOTO: COURTESY OF FRANK CHO

Comic artist Frank Cho, who has drawn women for 20 years, says he enjoys drawing them in realistic proportions

Comic artist Frank Cho has drawn his way through the Marvel and DC universes across a 20-year career, but there is one thing he will always be known for: women.

From Brandy, the animal psychiatrist with pin-up looks from his long-running cartoon strip Liberty Meadows, to dinosaur-punching jungle warrior Shanna the She- Devil, the women he draws are feisty, powerful and voluptuous.

This has brought him controversy in recent years, as online commentators feel he objectifies women. But Cho, who will be in town this weekend for the Singapore Toy, Game and Comic Convention, maintains he is drawing women as realistically as he knows how.

"I enjoy drawing strong, independent women who are realistically proportioned, not those super- skinny supermodels who look like teenage boys," says the 45-year-old over the telephone from Baltimore in the United States, where he is based. "I don't draw skinny victims."

He has illustrated for some of Marvel's biggest franchises - Mighty Avengers, Spider-Man, X-Men and the Hulk - and is the cover artist for supervillain Harley Quinn at DC Comics.

He has won a string of awards for his work, including the British comic prize Eagle Award, the Charles M. Schulz Award for Excellence in Cartooning and an Emmy for the documentary Creating Frank Cho's World.

Frank Cho has illustrated for some of Marvel's biggest franchises, including Mighty Avengers and X-Men.
Frank Cho has illustrated for some of Marvel’s biggest franchises, including Mighty Avengers and X-Men. PHOTO: COURTESY OF FRANK CHO

But he has recently come under fire for his sexualised imagery. In 2015, he drew backlash online for a sketch cover of teenage character Spider-Gwen in a sexually suggestive pose on all fours. He responded to critics by drawing Harley Quinn in the same pose. He later donated US$1,000 ($1,400), raised from the sale of the Spider-Gwen image to a charity for victims of domestic violence.

  • BOOK IT / SINGAPORE TOY, GAME AND COMIC CONVENTION

  • WHERE: Halls D, E and F, Marina Bay Sands Expo, 1 Bayfront Avenue

    WHEN: Saturday and Sunday, 10am to 8pm. Frank Cho will do a live drawing on Saturday at noon.

    ADMISSION: $7 to $85, depending on zone access and duration of pass; buy tickets at www.singaporetgcc.com

Last year, he walked off DC's Wonder Woman series, which he had been commissioned to produce covers for, citing a spat with writer Greg Rucka, who he said objected to the amount of skin Cho had Wonder Woman showing on the cover.

"I've drawn women for 20 years and reactions have been mostly positive," says Cho, who has two teenage daughters from his previous marriage.

"Then, three years ago, the political climate changed. Some Internet yahoos wrote a critical piece on me and, overnight, I became this misogynist who objectified women. It's complete nonsense."

He says he has had his fair share of compliments from female fans, some of whom approach him at conventions to get him to sign parts of their bodies. "It's usually their chests or their butts."

A career in comics was never on the horizon for a young Cho. Born in Seoul and without a command of the English language, he moved with his family to the US when he was six years old.

To integrate into this new world, he immersed himself in comics and movies - Indiana Jones, Blade Runner and all the old Hammer Horror films.

He had been doodling since he was a child, but his parents pressured him to become a doctor. They were college-educated, but had to take on menial jobs because their command of English was poor. His mother worked in a shoe factory, while his father juggled jobs as a carpenter and a janitor.

To placate them, he enrolled in nursing school - "it was shorter" - but after he graduated, he landed a syndication contract to do cartoons for newspapers. Then, he got recruited by Marvel, to his parents' chagrin. "They're from the old country," he says. "A grown man sitting in his room drawing cartoons all day - that was not a career to them. They thought I was going to starve."

Cho made a splash with Liberty Meadows, which grew out of a strip he started while at college. It features the high jinks of the inhabitants of an animal sanctuary, including a midget circus bear, a hypochondriac frog and an alcoholic, chain-smoking pig.

Although it went on hiatus in 2004, Cho says he plans to bring it back in a couple of years. He has also got the media rights back from Sony, which optioned them in 2008, and is working on the script for a 30-minute pilot with the hope of pitching it as a cartoon to the likes of Netflix and Amazon.

Cho is also working on creator- owned projects such as fantasy mini-series Skybourne and World Of Payne, a comic-slash-novel with writer Thomas Sniegoski, which has been described as a mixture of Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter and Hellblazer. His next goal is breaking into the movie market.

His visit to Singapore will be his first time in Asia since he left Seoul.

He says he is looking forward to eating seafood and meeting fans.

As for those young artists aspiring to draw for a living against their parents' wishes, he urges them to pursue their passion.

"If you end up doing something you love, you'll never work for the rest of your life."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2017, with the headline ''I don't draw skinny victims''. Print Edition | Subscribe