Review: Muse: The reason for boobs

Muse by Denis-Pierre Filippi, Terry Dodson, Rebecca Rendon

Humanoids

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Here’s the thing: I enjoyed Muse. It’s daft and silly, and while it’s not going to win any writing awards anytime soon, it’s diverting and engaging enough to retain interest, thanks largely to some glorious art, lovingly rendered steampunk elements and button-pushing literary allusions.

Hired as a governess/companion, the beautiful Coraline arrives at the gates of a vast estate to be met by an odd little man who seats her in a strange contraption in which they hurtle towards the house. It’s an introduction that sets the tone for Coraline: everything around her is a little weird: there’s a shifty butler/manservant who intermittently stalks and ogles her, a housekeeper who seems to know more than she’s letting on and  a precocious, rude boy genius charge who spends most of his time inventing mechansims and being brattish.

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And then there are the dreams. Every night after she falls asleep, she wakes up to be whisked away to a pair of flamboyant tailors who reside in her closet. Once suitably clothed, she is ceremoniously shown into a  lift that takes her to a different destination each night. The closet (bigger on the inside), it seems, is a doorway to faraway worlds: pirate ships, desert islands, Arabian nights. At first confused and bemused, Coraline soon doesn’t mind these adventures, other than the way they invariably end: a man -the same man- will come to her and attempt to have sex with her. Each time she refuses and slaps him, and thus awakens from the very life-like dream.

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Up to that point the narrative is okay: it can still go anywhere, but it goes here- the man in relentless pursuit of her is actually her 12 year old charge (whose behaviour is explained by Filippi as grief over the loss of his parents, leading to a subsequent loss of innocence -no, it doesn’t make sense to me either). As a story, and not a great one, I don’t have a problem with Muse; it is about as real as its depiction of women: a pretty, insubstantial trifle.

Described by publishers Humanoids as ‘a lyrical and titillating ride through reverie and nostalgia,’ the book’s purpose is to excite supposedly, so does that make it okay for it to present Coraline in the manner in which  she’s portrayed? Naked, or near naked on almost every page, lathering herself in lotion, being lathered by other women, taking dips in the lake, a complete lack of personality -let us not pretend she is anything other than as an object for the male gaze, a vessel for projection.

I guess you could make the argument that she’s assuming control of that view by quite literally snapping the boy (with the implication that those who see women like that are ‘little boys’), and thus the reader, out of the dream/fantasy. An argument rendered a little obsolete in that ‘reality’ doesn’t seems to offer much by way of clothing either.

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As a woman, I don’t find it offensive, but as a comics reader and critic, I do and those stances stem from the same address: Coraline is simply so far removed from being a character, let alone a person, and never mind a woman that she is unable to fulfill either remit. Gratuitous nudity for sure, even if its packaged in titillation, but there’s only two reasons to have boobs on display: narrative and character, and Muse lacks the conviction of both. I’m not really appeased by the ‘art’ argument, either.

Dodson adds to the air of general objectification and flatness by drawing her as plastic-y and rigidly as I’ve seen a woman illustrated, yet ironically his art on the whole is rather lovely: dappled trees and sunlight, he gives a real sense of space: you can feel the vastness of  some places and the tight crowded-ness o others.

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I’m sometimes worried that my responses to such things aren’t out perhaps as outraged as they should be: it’s relentless imagery with a purpose after all, and some form of sexism, that I end up asking myself if I’ve become Stockholm syndromed to the point whereby the victimisation of my gender has become so enmeshed, so embroiled in everything that I no longer recognise it, but honestly, Muse is just not significant enough to raise those questions in any serious regard. Pretty, diverting, but ultimately unmemorable.

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Comments

  1. Chris Hero says:

    I don’t think you should beat yourself up over your lack of outrage. Like you said, it’s not a significant work; it’s just vapid fluff. I haven’t read the book but I don’t care for Dodson’s art. I like it when the women look like real women, not when they look like adolescent fantasies. These pictures look like Lost Girls, but that book was very upfront about being pornography. This just looks incompetent and like bad cheesecake.

  2. I have not read the story, so I appreciate the review and opinion.

    As for the art… to each their own, I like it. Not the large breasts, I mean the backgrounds, craftsmanship and layout. He can really pull the camera back and create an environment, and yet move in for close ups. The hands, in particular are good. Hands can be very expressive and it’s a sore spot for many artists slack (myself included). For this style of art it works.

    The reason that it’s done in this willy-nilly dreamscape cheesecake factory is another matter — which I won’t comment on because I have not read the story. But I will say there are plenty of folks who just enjoy the visuals — much like an empty popcorn munching action flick. It won’t cure cancer, but that’s okay. I just call that *diversity*. I like a wide range of titles in the comic market. Many of them won’t win any Eisners, but they are part of the tide that rises all boats.

  3. Did the Dodsons write this as well?

  4. Zainab Akhtar says:

    Zach: No, it’s written by Denis-Pierre Filippi, illustrated by Terry Dodson.

  5. Zainab Akhtar says:

    Yeah, I do appreciate the art, as I mentioned in the review. I guess the thing that niggles is the way women are drawn and presented: it’s soft porn essentially, so I don’t have a problem with the nudity, but when he draws Coraline naked she looks unbelievably stiff and contorted. There are ways to do soft porn and sexy well that include and exclude nudity, but this is a poor example of it, as all it provides is a vacuous naked blonde in various sexual fantasy situations – a paper figure for projection.

  6. Chris Hero says:

    Jimmie,

    I’m not saying no one else has to like it, but I am saying I wish he was more upfront with what he’s doing. But yeah, if people like this kind of stuff, cool.

  7. Yeah, I agree with both of you. Good points. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disagreeing, as I said I haven’t read the book, I was just noting that some people like cheeseburgers and gourmet meals. Haha!

  8. Zainab Akhtar says:

    I’ll pretty much eat anything as long as it tastes good, Jimmie! :D

  9. Even bad cheap cheeseburgers.

  10. todd latores says:

    There’s obviously those Zenescope Grimmy/Grimm Fairy Tales books which have gone on for quite some time now. Talk about cheesecake

  11. Zainab Akhtar says:

    Yeah, my sister bought me the first volume of the Wonderland ones a year back: I like interpretations and twists on the whole Alice mythology, but it was pretty dire.

  12. Zainab Akhtar says:

    Yep, even! :)

  13. Chris Hero says:

    I should probably say I like good cheesecake. My all time favorite is Dave Stevens, but who doesn’t drool over his work? Jimmie Robinson draws some awfully good cheesecake, too. (Jimmie, you definitely deserve comparison to Dave Stevens in some ways. I’m always a bit amazed no one ever makes that comparison. I feel like you picked up from him and ran in your own direction with it, a sign of good art. But I’m off on a huge tangent….)

    And look, nothing against Mr. Dodson, he’s probably a great guy, I’m just not a fan of his work. My personal taste is either go all in on the pin-up/cheesecake approach or strive to be like Jaime. But hey, that’s just me.

  14. mooky says:

    no titty no buy

  15. Roberto Briceno says:

    I got the book a few weeks ago. I enjoyed the story and the art. For me, what I got was just a lonely kid that was searching for a friend.

  16. Zainab Akhtar says:

    Roberto: looking for a friend by hiring multiple women as governesses, drugging them and then attempting to sleep with them?

    I enjoyed the art too, but the story definitely has problems.

  17. Whatever says:

    Frank Cho nuff’ said.

  18. Roberto Briceno says:

    Zianab: it’s a sad little boy.

  19. We’ve all been there, Zainab

  20. Zainab Akhtar says:

    This explains much, Stevie

  21. no fun club says:

    Comics are serious business.

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