The Lipstick Incident and a Short History of Lipstick in Comics

lipstick003

Captain Marvel, maybe wearing “Cherries in the Snow” or “Toast of New York”?

Lipstick is one of the strangest objects when it comes to comic book characters, specifically its female characters.  If one looks at an average female character, the color of their lips is almost always one which could be achieved by women in the real world only with lipstick.  On the other hand, the modern female character almost never actually applies any lipstick, or at least is not seen to be.  Normal lipsticks would be at least smeared in basic fistfights, and would be subject to all kinds of weird forces from other superpowers.  Imagine Captain Marvel flying at super speeds while wearing lipstick.  Lipstick is basically a thick wax or oil applied to the lips, and it is hard to imagine that anything resembling a liquid oil which would stay put at that speed and pressure, even if it was designed to be somewhat sticky or to stay in place.  The only times that some superheroines might be seen to be applying lipstick (or any cosmetics for that matter) is if they are going out, usually for a night on the town, under the guise of their alter egos.  These moments are rare enough though, and don’t really have any bearing on the superheroics.  The only other uses of lipstick are those as poison, primarily through the Joker and Poison Ivy.  Strictly put lipstick does not exist in comics except as it applies to something else, and never to superheroics.  It is always on but never put on.

lipstick001There is an exception to the lipstick question in comics though, and that is through the role of romance comics.  This is perhaps the flip side of the argument, because as opposed to being rarely shown, it is quite often shown.  In the old time comics, lipsticks were often shown, but more so their application was used as a setting in themselves, as many lovestruck girls wondered into their vanity mirrors whether they should be date Darren or Brad, or whether Tom next door would ever find the courage to ask them out.  The role of romance comics was so strong as to infiltrate even superhero comics, as the Lois Lane series from the 1960s was primarily focused around the same concepts as romance comics.  Romance comics have obviously come and gone from the mainstream of the comic medium, even if there seems to be a minor resurgence underway.  The last major romance comics with any following were the major holdovers from the earlier days into the early to mid 1970s, with series such as Young Romance or Secret Hearts holding out until the end that a resurgence was coming.  The only remaining stalwart in the romance department has been Archie Comics, who have managed to continue their long run in romance by infusing it with a healthy dose of humor.  Nonetheless lipstick has often shown up in these comics in modern years, as they often have a feminine enough approach while also focusing on the romantic side of teenage life.

lipstick004This all ties together to make the new Archie series all the more interesting.  After a long run it was finally decided to reboot Archie with a new look and modified background into a new series.  Apparently gone is the focus on humor, to be replaced instead with a focus on storytelling.  Things are not looking as good for some of them, as Archie and Betty are facing a rocky road after a long time dating.  What made them break up?  No one knows yet, not the characters inside the book, nor the readers outside, but there is one clue, which is incidentally one which the company has cleverly used to create its own buzz, #lipstickincident.  It is not exactly clear what this is, although there are several mentions of the incident throughout the issue, as various characters react to the news and and speculate as to reasons and meanings.  While it is interesting as a hashtag, it is also interesting as it throws an otherwise unknown or ignored item to the forefront of comic books, at least for a short time.  It might not be as engaging as trying to guess the identity of Thor, but lipstick is being used to explain the tumultuous times in a relationship for two of comics’ longest running sweethearts.

6 comments

  • This is so darn true :O

  • One of my pet peeves is how artists draw women who would clearly never be wearing lipstick as wearing lipstick in comics. It’s another point of artists saying “all women are the same” when we’re not. And it can be a way of erasing the gender presentation of the more butch women in comics. I’m sorry but all the women I know in real life who look and dress like Rene Montoya or Scandal Savage do not wear lipstick. And I’ve seen them drawn with straight up red lipstick! Women aren’t all the same!

    • I can’t really claim to be anything of an expert on lipstick, as I have never worn it, but for good or bad, it does seem to be a big part of feminine identity, and what is shown in comics somewhat highlights the fact that women are sexual objects, at least to some degree. That is to say, that even if Renee Montoya is a lesbian, that she is still made to be sexually attractive to a man.

  • Maybe super powers turn your lips red and the only thing that can prevent that is a y chromosome. I don’t have any problem with makeup but I do have a problem with nonsensical uses of it. Why is it that the focus for female characters always seems to be on how attractive they are?