(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized self-dug grave.)
I want you to take a good, long look at the comic to the right, clicking on it to see it full-sized if necessary, and telling me how you would describe Marigold’s appearance, especially outside the first row of panels when she’s just wearing the bikini.
Now, I want you to take a look at the previous comic, and think about how you might describe Marigold in that comic, particularly in the first panel where you can see below her waist.
Now, if you’ve never seen Questionable Content or Marigold before, your reaction to the first comic, especially if you’re a heterosexual, perhaps subconsciously sexist male, was probably, “Wow, that is one fat chick.” Regardless of your familiarity, you were probably still struck by how flabby she looks. But if you’re like me, and you compared the bikini-clad Marigold to the one in the first row or the one in the previous comic, you probably realized that you were struck more by her flabbiness in the former compared to the latter.
I’m not trying to accuse Jeph Jacques of drawing Marigold fatter to capitalize on her insecurities about her weight. I don’t intend to compare each version of Marigold pixel-by-pixel, and certainly I can see how the looseness with which her shirt fits her might hide her body shape. Nor do I intend to go on a spiel on how we perceive how people look, even before we assign value judgments to them. What I do want to point out is that, for whatever reason, in the transition from the fully-clothed Marigold in the previous comic to the bikini-clad Marigold of this one, the word “fat” moved far closer to the forefront of words that come to mind when looking at her, in a way that some people seem to be taking offense at.
Perhaps no webcomic creator is more well-known for their treatment of women (excluding those who are simply mocked for overt sexism) than Jeph Jacques; we’re a little over a month away from the eight-year anniversary of Eric Burns(-White) asking “when did we become the No Fat Chicks club?” while defending QC‘s portrayal of women. On the one hand, Jacques has a very large cast of very well fleshed-out characters, male and female, and a very large proportion of his cast, indeed probably the majority, are women. And as much as QC fans like to joke about “Marten’s harem”, the fact is that none of these women are sexualized to the point of existing primarily for men, inside or outside the comic, to gawk at, not even the lesbians like Tai (with the possible exception of Marten’s mother, who exists partly for Dora to gawk at). All of Jacques’ women are extremely well fleshed-out and complex characters with their own motivations, and at least in the case of Faye and Dora, are anything but “delicate flowers” but headstrong figures who can go toe-to-toe with any of the men in the comic.
On the other hand… there are a lot of women, and they are very prominent, and while they aren’t overly sexualized they do live in a comic where sex and romance are key themes, one where the underlying conflict of the first 500 strips could be summed up as “Marten pines for Faye while she grinds him underneath his boot”, and so never completely free of heterosexual male fantasies, not to mention that the way they’re drawn tends to be rather… noticeable.
Marigold being fat has been a part of her character from the start, part of a larger portrayal of her as an ordinary-looking geek girl, cute but hardly a knockout, whose constant insecurities about her imperfections prevented her from coming out of her shell, seeing herself as she really is, and finding happiness in the world around her. The whole thing was just formulaic, just cliche, just male-fantasy enough that it’s resulted in a constant uneasy tension in how Marigold has been perceived by the fanbase.
For the record, this isn’t why I hate Marigold; as I said in my original review, I’ve been rooting for her to find that happiness ever since she first appeared. My problems have more to do with the way Marigold nearly took over the comic both literally and figuratively for a time after Dora and Marten broke up as the vanguard of a potential shift in its focus while her own personal plot that was her main attraction to me spun its wheels when it wasn’t ignored entirely. On her own merits, I’d take Marigold a thousand times over Emily (who thankfully has not been very prominent in this plotline at her own house).
In any case, however much Marigold may have come off as more of a cypher compared to the other women in QC, she did fit into (and perhaps even exemplified) one theme of the comic, however positive or negative you make of it, that the comic’s women tend to blow whatever insecurities they may have out of proportion, exaggerating their imperfections and blinding themselves to how good they actually have it. Marigold may be a bit curvy, but until now she was hardly what most normal people would have called “fat”. Nor are her concerns about her weight even unique within the comic; for a long time (especially after Dora showed up) Faye was regularly teased about her own flabbiness, despite the comic’s art style at the time making her look downright thin, and I’m actually a little concerned that Jeph has overcompensated as time has gone on, portraying Faye as fatter than she really should be to drive the point home among fans.
By the way? Take a look at this comic and tell me with a straight face that Faye’s assessment in the second panel isn’t essentially accurate. Then tell me with a straight face that you would call Faye in that comic “fat” by any stretch of the imagination, the end of the previous paragraph notwithstanding.
Jeph Jacques has pretty much earned a free pass when it comes to his treatment of women; he’s demonstrated more than enough his ability to skillfully write for the fairer sex (to the point I wouldn’t be surprised if QC‘s fanbase is more than half female), and in and of itself I’m finding it hard to find anything particularly offensive about this sequence. Anyone who thinks Marigold is being reduced to a fat joke has either never followed the character before (and thus grasped how this comic fits into her larger character arc) or is letting their own biases seep through more than exposing any of Jeph’s, maybe both. At the same time, his treatment of women has never been as completely respectful as you might think, and with Marigold in particular has come concerningly close to lapsing into tired and simplistic stereotypes, and this comic may have exposed that, inadvertently or not. Understanding this comic in its full context should help people realize just how ultimately unfounded any criticisms of it might be, while also suggesting that those same criticisms may contain within them the germ of a deeper truth.