Amanda Conner on the Black Canary Barbie Hubbub

Conner on the Black Canary Barbie Hubbub

On Wednesday, The Sun (under the calm headline “S&M Barbie Lashed by Public”) gave some column inches to the religious group Christian Voice which is protesting Mattel’s Black Canary $40 collector doll based on the DC Comics character. The doll, shown at the right, is dressed in a costume which debuted in Bird of Prey - a black leather jacket, high-heeled boots and fishnet stockings.

“Barbie has always been on the tarty side and this is taking it too far. A children’s doll in sexually suggestive clothing is irresponsible – it’s filth,” the group’s statement to The Sun reads.

As the news crawled across the internet, it received the normal raised eyebrows and groans from comic fans, and over in one corner, someone was giggling.

That someone was artist Amanda Conner, who designed to costume for the Birds of Prey issue.

We spoke with her about the design, and the fuss it’s caused with the conservative Christian group.

Newsarama: Amanda, obviously every artist wants their work to be noticed and affect the widest audience, but what happens when it gets noticed for something like this? Do you go into defensive mode? Go on offense against the critics? Lie low until it's over? I mean…they called it "filth."

Amanda Conner: Actually, it makes me giggle a little bit. I mean, it just started out being a kinda cool super-hero costume I designed for the story arc that I did with Terry Moore on Birds of Prey. But as soon as it's on Barbie, people start bringing up S & M gear and freaking out... I think it tells you a little bit about what's going on in their heads rather than what's going on in reality. Y'know, she's pretty covered up in that outfit... I guess what the protesters are freaking out about is the fishnets... and maybe that it's shiny black leather. Maybe Mattel should've gone with cotton candy pink. That would probably calm everybody down.

NRAMA: Take us back to that point - when you designed this look for Black Canary, what were you going for both in design and what it would say about the character?

AC: I wanted to sort of bring Black Canary back to her origins (fishnets and all), costume-wise. Her original costume was really hot, but with the strapless body suit, and the wig and everything, it wasn't quite as functional as I wanted it to be (on a side note, Wonder Woman can totally pull off strapless, 'cause, well, she's Wonder Woman). Most of the time I try to think of super-hero costumes as something you could actually fight in. Also, I try to imagine what the character's personality is, as if they were a real person. Dinah seems to be a woman who is very comfortable in her own skin, and, like many women in real life, likes to wear sexy clothes.

Admittedly, I also designed an outfit I'd really like to have. And wear. All the time. And then I try to imagine myself in the local Target wearing that. And then back to reality.

NRAMA: Touching on the design element that gets the most attention – in your view, why does she wear the fishnets, anyway? I'm sure, every artist who's ever had to draw Black Canary has winced at the idea of puling out the ruler once the figure image was all done, and drawing all the cris-crosses...

AC: There are just some girls that love the fishnets! Yes, I am one of them. I'm guessing that Dinah would be, too. And, they offer a great distraction to any super-villain right before delivering a round-house kick to the head. The down-side is that they get holes easily. And they're not so bad to draw... I don't use a ruler. I use a sort of Zen-like line drawing technique my Mom taught me. Thanks, Mom!

NRAMA: But don’t discussions like this always go back to the well-plowed field - that is, here's a female character who is dressed in a sexy outfit, yet male characters, aside from Hawkman and Aquaman (who we all have questions about anyway – joking Hawkman and Aquaman fans, joking) are covered in wrist to ankle spandex... Why, in your view, is this kind of costume appropriate for the character?

AC: I don't know about appropriate, but it does seem like the right costume for the character. She should be in black... it's in her name. And leather is very tough... it saved my brother's skin (literally) when he laid his motorcycle down at about 80 mph (He doesn't do that anymore. He's a very good Dad now.). If she's gonna have baddies coming at her with knives and swords etc... the leather isn't armor, but it's damn tough, and it's easier to deliver some good kicks if it's a body suit and not pants.

Oh... you were talking about sexy! Well, most comic book characters, male and female, have the sexy factor going on. It's fun to draw and it's fun to look at. It seems like the female characters take a whole lot more heat for their outfits than the male ones do. I think Canary's costume is sexy without being lascivious.

NRAMA: When did you become aware that your design was being used for this version of a Barbie? If it was earlier than this, did any worries cross your mind?

AC: I heard a teaser or something about Barbie's 'scandalous' new outfit on the afternoon news, and then forgot about it until I went online, and then was definitely surprised when I saw the photo! I actually think it's kinda cool! Oddly enough, years ago, when I was working on Barbie comics, 101 Dalmatians had been re-released in the theaters. Dalmatians were very hot that year, and I did a Dalmatian-themed cover with Barbie wearing a Dalmatian dress. A little while later, a Barbie doll came out in that outfit, minus a hat and a ruffle. I have that doll... somewhere... i think. I definitely want to get the Black Canary one. I very well may be a frustrated designer... but I dunno if anybody would wear my designs...

As far as worrying goes, I think that any parent who doesn't want this doll for their kids will simply not buy it for them. And as for that $40 collector's price tag, I think it's being geared towards chicks like me who are (slightly) grown-up and into comics, and don't play with Barbies anymore, but would still kinda like to... and (slightly) grown-up collector dudes who like super-heroines.

NRAMA: While I'm sure you got a laugh out of all the hubub, in your view, is there something more serious here in the criticism of the doll?

AC: I'm actually not so worried about peoples stereotypes of what women should be wearing or the potential psychological damage and possible spontaneous combustion a 7-year-old girl will incur if she lays eyes on this doll... what I do think is pretty serious is the fact that there are so many crazy, and heinous, and real events going on in the world, and this is what a certain number of people have chosen to get up-in-arms about.

The 2008 Barbie Collection also includes Batgirl, Wonder Woman, and Supergirl (bare midriff version) in addition to Black Canary.

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