Representing extraordinary women
Being able to imagine and draw extraordinary female characters is one of the superpowers attributed to my humble status as an illustrator.
The images of these heroines enrich the portfolio of idols and icons who serve as benchmarks for children, teenagers and all people, men or women, who are searching for role models!
From the rooftops in New York to the streets of Paris, from adventures in Tibet to scientific odysseys that save millions of lives… Male and female heroes are everywhere!
My quest as an illustrator today is to imagine, sketch and represent one or more heroic female characters who can make girls … and women dream! Those who, like me, do not fully recognize themselves either in Batman or in Tomb Raider …
Fictional heroines: Drawings of feminine super powers
Images of male heroes, brave and courageous, with outrageously sketched muscular shapes and silhouettes, running from adventure to adventure to save the world, inhabit our imagination and that of our children, girls and boys.
Illustrators and cartoonists for comics participated in the creation of these graphic representations and these imaginary worlds, often inspired by the colorful comics or manga universes. I am thinking for example of the illustrator and cartoonist Dragonarte, who imagines and draws with talent the childhood super heroes such as Superman, Spiderman, Batman or Wonderwoman.
From Superman, muscular, polite and kind, well-groomed and endowed with super powers, to the anti-hero, a pirate, still very strong, sympathetic and courageous Jack’s Barrow, there’s no shortage of illustrations of male characters admirable for their extraordinary qualities. …
As for heroine iconography, out of the world of Wonder Woman and Tomb Raider, representations are rarer. And I hope to use my illustrator superpowers to improve this!
The first representations of female heroes
Female representations heroes are quite rare in myths and fiction. There are, however, very old ones: I’m thinking of Antigone, or even Joan of Arc in France. The representations, paintings and illustrations of this young woman in armor fighting the enemy have certainly changed the minds about the perception of women.
In the case of Joan of Arc, the image of the heroine is very often adorned with qualities illustrating so-called masculine values such as strength, a martial character … Joan of Arc is drawn or painted with short hair, and takes a warlike pose by showing off her heavy vengeful sword …
Images of strong and combative women… Like men?
From Wonder Woman, whose first comic strips and drawings were at the time at the forefront of feminism, to Tomb Raider, these women are extraordinary because they are in general “very strong” … like men. They have either overdeveloped drawn muscles, or powerful weapons, or both! There aren’t many fictional heroines who manage to fight courageously in their real or imaginary world thanks to qualities that are not masculine attributes …
Sketching real life heroines
Fortunately, however, our history is teeming with women who have shaped – and are shaping – a fairer world through their courage, creativity or talent.
Marie Curie still saves millions of lives around the world today, and has proven to billions of women that the female brain is not just useful for making a home and raising children! Full of talent, the feminine brain can imagine, create, invent, calculate, deduct and even… command! A little less famous, but with such an extraordinary scientific background, I also think of Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, who discovered HIV and has been fighting against the virus ever since. She also received, with Luc Montagnier, the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2008 for this discovery …
These real famous heroines of modern times are like a breath of fresh air and give us hope for the future of our feminine condition. They prove that women have in them other resources than the seduction of men to survive, and especially to follow their quests, just as eager for ideals and adventures as their male counterparts.
Sketching female heroes on their quest for an ideal
What creates a hero, whether real or fictional, is the story of his exploits, his gesture. Heroes’ exploits are often warlike, but they can be of any kind, as long as the character pursues them in his quest for an ideal.
We can therefore imagine and draw heroines who are not warriors like men, as is the case of Wonder Woman or Tomb Raider. Obviously the staging of the physical adventure for this adventurous hero is more aesthetic than the graphic representation of the researcher in her laboratory! The costume design for Wonder Woman, with her blue knickers with a star pattern and red cape, is visually more exciting and colorful than the dark dresses of Marie Curie worn by teenage girls in search of an ideal and adventures.
Maybe it would be possible to imagine and draw other heroines, other quests, other combat routes, other gestures to quench the thirst for ideal women?
Stories and pictures of female adventurers and explorers
In my opinion, when you are a teenager, girl or boy, I think that you dream of adventures, fairer worlds, travels … Except that it seems to me that these dreams are developed or encouraged in boys, and a little less for girls… So what is left for girls to dream about? Find a prince charming who takes her on his white horse? To be very studious at school to become a great scientist like Marie Curie? Or just … sadly … to try and get a job to survive? Ahem! No! It’s time to let girls dream and develop their own ideals, so that they can embark on their own quest. Again, fortunately there are some modern heroines to help us do so!
I am thinking in particular of the incredible Alexandra David-Neel, tibetologist, feminist, journalist … and an outstanding adventurer! Her accounts of trips to Tibet, at a time when the word “travel” had nothing to do with a stay at Club Med, make her a hero for me who lives extraordinary exploits, all physical, intellectual and spiritual, and thus gives us an exciting and enlightening gesture story for generations of adolescent girls and women (You can visit her house and the exhibitions she hosts in Digne: you can discover paintings, masks, painted scrolls that she reported from her travels…).
The stories of the traveller and adventurer Marco Polo, whether fictional or real, have enabled thousands of young European boys to dream of more constructive and peaceful ideals than the paths of war or crusades … May the incredible life of Alexandra David-Neel allow us to imagine ideals made of travel, meetings, spiritual quests and adventures for the generations of young girls who expect just that.
Imaging and drawing new quests
My job as a freelance illustrator offers me the incredible possibility – which is also a responsibility! – to be able to imagine and represent through my drawings new heroic female characters.
Female warriors, vigilantes with big arms do not interest me very much… I fully admire women scientists, but, as we have seen, their laboratory gestures do not present (in my opinion at least) great graphic potential! (I will still think about it!).
No, I’m thinking of 2 categories of heroines that I would like to draw:
. Everyday heroines: for example, nurses who sacrifice their comfort and put themselves in danger to save lives.
. Adventurers and explorers of exotic worlds, in search of spiritual and intellectual discoveries and adventures, in the line of women like Alexandra David-Neel.
I’m not going to re-invent the wheel; others have reflected before me on this issue of the representation of the hero, and on the duality between his daily life … and his life of adventure and quest … And others long before me have imagined heroes – and heroines – whose life was made up of a classic and routine part – in which everyone can recognize themselves – and a quest and adventure part, in which everyone can envisage! We can think of fictional heroes like Indiana Jones (a professor with glasses living in the city, a muscular and fearless adventurer during his archaeological quests!), But also all the characters if the cartoon “The Incredibles” (who were a quiet and tidy American family, before being recalled to take part in extraordinary adventures and use their superhero powers!).
In the category of real-life female heroes, Alexandra David Neel had a married life, fairly classic (she was still a singer …) before having the life of an illustrious adventurer and explorer who made her famous!
And this is very good news: in fact, all heroes live a part of their lives like everyone else, like us … With a routine, family or work constraints, perhaps customer requests, quotes and invoices, sometimes children, shopping at the supermarket, disappointments in love, maybe tables to clear every night … So don’t worry, it is not because our life contains its share of routine that we are excluded from the rather open circle of heroes.
No, what makes a hero, and a heroine, is that one day the character will decide that his ideal and his quest are more important than his routine. And that will allow him to face his fears. He will go out of his, his path in which he believes in, (often wrongly) protected, he will follow his instincts and put himself at the service of his ideal.
This imperceptible side step is the beginning of the adventure, of the heroic gesture (and it may also be the beginning of a form of … happiness?). This imperceptible movement only needs to be valued in people’s minds, and this requires the representation among other things in illustration, drawings, film painting, sculpture or any other kind of figuration, of heroic female characters.
I am not a heroine, I am an illustrator who admires heroines, and I am the mother of 2 great girls, 10 and 12 years old at the time of writing this article. Today, I too, have a quest to carry out with my weapons, which are my pencil, my graphic palette, my color chart and my drawing software. It’s a graphic quest that will lead my professional life as a freelance illustrator for weeks, months, and maybe years to come: imagining, sketching and drawing the lives of heroic women, fearless, free, intelligent and independent! These heroines will, I hope, conquer the visual imaginations of my contemporaries and will give birth to myriads of female vocations for adventure and freedom!
Text by Marc Falco for Solène Debiès