Fantasy Women in Real Armor
The Illustrators Challenge
I have struck what I will dub the “Kitiara Complex”. Kitiara was a character in the Dragonlance series who donned dragon armor. A mysterious and skilled warrior who no one realized was the beautiful Kitiara until later in the story when she removed her helmet and armor.
It has been my intent to create an adventure module highlighting a lady knight or cavalier of great skill and prowess in her craft. I want a good quest with a strong and heroic female lead. As I was working on my latest illustration, seen here at it’s initial stages, I was hoping to use the image in the new quest. I could decide the character inside the plate armor is male or female at this stage, and really no one would know. Then it struck me, this is possibly how historically inaccurate armor perpetuates through the fantasy genre. – The Kitiara Complex –
There really is no way to identify the powerful knight as female to the consumer (Reader) from an illustrators standpoint. This image does not read a feminine at all. It may relate a different tale in the text, but one has to ‘sell’ the content with imagery. I could swing the hips out, create a more feminine pose, but then I would not be fairly illustrating the powerful and skilled warrior that our female hero is. I could move the lead arm down and “Boobify” the armor departing from it’s practical usefulness in deflecting blows. The armor is already a departure from historical accuracy in design, why not toss in some boobs?
I don’t think I will because as an artist it is in my blood to depart from what is expected. I think I might just hang in there with not immediately ‘selling’ the image as female at all. Sell it as a powerful knight or cavalier.
Otherwise, what is an illustrator to do? A client request for a female warrior is a paying client request. The artist may take a beating for over-sexing a female character in impractical armor. Unless the artist departs from historical accuracy it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish sex beneath the plates and chain uniform of the medieval or sci-fi warrior. There is a line where the chainmail thong tries to be sold as AC 5, but there are also harsh critics of even bosom shapes sculpted into a Cuirass. The fantasy artist needs to be cut just a little slack and some concessions should be made. An illustration request of female warrior wearing a helmet would look exactly like a male warrior wearing a helmet if we were true to history.
We need to illustrate the feminine qualities of a hero in some way. Larry Elmore achieved this by often illustrating Kitiara with her helmet removed. When she was still a mystery, her helmet was on and she was an imposing figure. Which did not translate as feminine at all. Later she was allowed some cleavage and pieces of the dragon armor were retained.
So yes, yes, we are often aware that our illustrated armor is not historically accurate. Heck it’s a struggle to do it at all and make it fit into a fantasy campaign for any sex. Tromping about the wilderness, being comfortable in platemail armor for days on end IS a fantasy. When an artist puts some breast shapes or even some cleavage into a cuirass, maybe it’s time to relax just a little bit and accept that perhaps the request was for a female in the role. Maybe they were asked to illustrate a female warrior that needed to retain a feminine appearance. When rent is due, we all make compromises on what we would prefer to be doing, it does not mean fantasy artists are all sexist pigs. It means we are trying to work for a living and illustrate a story or idea effectively. Sometimes that requires identifying a gender in armor.
RPGs are evolving, and there are no gender barriers in most solid tabletop gaming systems…. At least the ones that will survive. Video games may be a different battle, but it has occurred to me that they may be facing the same Kitiara complex when producing video games. Characters move fast, games can be an avalanche of ‘short attention span theater’. A feminine or masculine character needs to be immediately identified in a fraction of a second (Not even exaggerating). How do you do that? Show thighs and breasts. As an artist these factors along with body language are how to identify female from male immediately.
Also, I have to admit… I would likely fall into the perpetuation of drawing buxom lasses in platemail lingerie for the right reliable salary. $100K+ buys a lot of compromise. So it is something we need to look higher up the supply chain for a solution.
In the mean time, I hope we all can cut the illustrators a little free reign over their images. We are illustrators taking artistic license. viking helmets didn’t have horns, battle armor didn’t have opera singer madonna boobs, broadswords didn’t have gems and otyughs as hilts. I kind of WISH I could say platemail didn’t have overly exaggerated codpieces…. but, well…
Keep your eyes on the website, webcart, and Facebook page as I work on the next round of Mini Mod Adventures which will be including some strong female leads in practical fantasy armor and weapons. I think it is an area that deserves attention and will make for some epic adventuring!
I have been VERY pleased to see so many ladies embracing the hobby world wide and I hope to help empower their position at the RPG tables with choices for KICKASS women in the same roles that KICKASS men have had. Male or female we should not be afraid to play the sexy elven thief or the commander of the army on the battlefield!