Creating Chloe: Thoughts On A Girl’s Appearance
For those that are new to this comic, the central hero of book 1 in Adamsville is Chloe Johnson. She’s a 12 year old basketball star. She’s popular at school and adored by the other hero of the story, Todd Frederick. Here’s her being awesome:
I love her character. She’s smart, brave, makes hard decisions and in the end she’s exactly the person she needs to be. But one of the only things I have ever been criticized on with the art for Adamsville has been Chloe’s appearance. Every so often I am given feedback from someone on how boyish she looks. Or that she should be prettier. I’ve had people tell me that if I dolled her up more I might sell more copies of the book or it would be more popular.
For a long time I took these comments to heart and would feel bad about it. Mostly I would take it as an affront on my art and ability to draw. I would feel like “maybe I just can’t draw a pretty girl.” And I mean, I’m just a humble artist trying to make his way in the world, what if I did maker her prettier? Maybe I WOULD make more money. It made me feel very self conscious of myself and my character. It’s hard to have someone call a character, you feel so fondly for, ugly basically.
I don’t know what that means for “the success of my book” or if it “turns away readers.” I would have no way to quantify that, but what it has done is make me think very soberly about the thing I see behind comments like this. What I really feel when someone comments on her like this is “what kind of message are we sending our girls?” What is going on that I should feel pressured to make Chloe a character that looks a certain way to help me sell books?
A friend of mine posted this up on Facebook and I was really touched and moved by its message. It really helped me see what this sort of message does to these beautiful young ladies and women in general:
This is a serious problem in general within our society. I am a father to two young girls and they will be growing up with all sorts of insecurities about themselves and their appearances. Every movie they see, or show they watch, and magazine on the store self screams at them THIS IS WHAT PRETTY IS! It scares me frankly. As I know it does many parents.
The funny thing is, I designed Chloe very specifically. I designed her to be a bit boyish in her appearance, because she’s a tomboy! It’s an essential part of her character. I designed her taller than Todd because she’s a basketball player, so she’s lankier and more stretched out in her design. I didn’t sit down to design her and think how I could make her the most attractive 12 year old I could think up. I had a character that I saw very clearly in my head, and frankly the way she appears in the book is exactly how I want her to look. I tried to design a character who is a person, not some sort of strange 12 year old sex symbol. And I think she’s very pretty the way she is, thank you very much.
All this to say… I love Chloe Johnson and who she is as a character. After thinking on this criticism, it’s actually made me proud of what she represents to my readers. I love the way she looks, because to me she is a normal person… Though fictional. So I used to feel very self conscious about her, but now… I embrace this bit of feedback. Because 1) it means my character design came through and 2) I’m not out to reinforce these stereotypes. Maybe Chloe can help break some of that down.
I hope in some small part she encourages other young female readers of my book to be brave in scary situations. To believe in something bigger than themselves. To be themselves. And that they’re pretty awesome, the way they look and the way they are.