Dresden Codak

A comic by Aaron Diaz

The fedora is fairly well-established as a symbol of the “men’s rights” “movement” (aka misogynists) and I think that’s great. It’s convenient to have a cultural shorthand for such things, not to mention having a specific uniform to tip you off to dudes best avoided. But MRAs are only one kind of misogynist douchebag, and I think that we should have a similar identifier for self-identified “male feminists” who use the language of anti-opression to hide their sexist, objectifying motivations.

Fortunately, such a shorthand readily presents itself: waistcoats. A certain subset of men sees waistcoats as a fashionable yet somewhat quirky garment, something to express how much they’re “not like other guys” while staying within the strictures of masculinity. This reflects their core motivation: the desire to appear open-minded and approachable to women without needing to examine or address their privilege.

It’s worth noting that when I met Aaron Diaz at Webcomics Weekend 2010, he was wearing a waistcoat.

A bit high-concept, but hey, I'm a nerd.
A bit high-concept, but hey, I’m a nerd.

Dresden Codak started out as a spiritual successor to A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible, carrying the torch of surreal philosophical humor and lushly painted landscapes after A Lesson’s death. In many ways, early Dresden Codak was better than its predecessor, wasting less time on misogynist tropes in favor of science-based puns and visual gags. A lot of it was genuinely funny, each page being a relatively self-contained story about some bizarre idea extrapolated to a comically ironic conclusion. The problems came later.

Now, there’s a lot of wankery around the internet about how unreasonable it is for Diaz to ask for donations from readers when his update schedule is notoriously erratic. But pay him they do, and to be frank that’s a relationship between a terrible creator and his terrible fans and I don’t care to comment or get involved with it. That’s not the problems I’m talking about. Mostly there’s really only one problem actually: Diaz’ boner.

Too young to, properly, sexualize? You can see he's still trying in the last panel though.
Too young to properly sexualize I guess. You can see he’s still trying in the last panel though.

As Dresden Codak went on, his protagonist – the brilliant and socially anxious Kimiko Ross – went from being a high schooler to something vaguely older, and that progression was marked by an increased sexualization of her. She had always been, erm, buxom, but Diaz, clearly a subscriber to the Masamune Shirow school of female empowerment, turned her into a full-on tiddy girl, dressing her in increasingly revealing clothes and coming up with more and more excuses to get her out of those clothes. This shift was a welcome one to the horny otaku in his audience, but I found it both male-gazey and profoundly out of character. Presumably encouraged by positive feedback from his readers(‘ libidos), Diaz only accelerated this progression in later chapters.

This scene definitely called for this! Very tasteful! That's sarcasm.
This scene definitely called for this! Very tasteful! That’s sarcasm.

Now listen, most people get horny. It’s not wrong to be horny. People can jerk off to whatever, I don’t care, it’s fine to wanna look at a boobs girl if that’s what you’re into. But Diaz famously asserts that his portrayals of Kimiko and other female characters are, in fact, feminist and empowering. This is a classic dodge, the claim that a fictional character has the ability to own and control her sexuality, as if the author has no say in the matter and is in fact being literally strongarmed by her into drawing her naked.

What the fuck?? Why is she jumping everywhere?
What the fuck?? Why is she jumping everywhere?

That would be bad enough, but in the ongoing Dark Science storyline, we’re also getting an uncomfortably close look at Diaz’s helpless-disabled-girl fetish! I know I just said that I don’t care what people jerk off to, but I feel like a little kinkshaming is in order when you put gross stuff on the internet for public viewing – while trying to pass it off as feminist to boot. Does it make me uncomfortable that he uses Kimiko’s amputations and/or the periodic destruction of her prosthetic limbs to put her in distressed, sexily-vulnerable positions? Yeah. Does it strike me as fetishizing of certain kinds of disabilities? Yuh-huh. Do I think that maybe Diaz should keep this sort of stuff in his own private wank stash? You’re god damn right I do.


There’s also the matter of Kimiko’s racial identity. The daughter of a white mother and a Japanese father, she’s listed on the cast page as being “uncomfortable with [her] Asian heritage”. Multiracial folks certainly face a lot of complicated issues around family and belonging, prejudice and passing, but it’s clear that Diaz is not interested or perhaps even capable of addressing those issues competently. His handling of Kimiko’s race has two modes: one is exploring Kim’s angst over her dad leaving, though the story stops short of examining what effect this had on her identity; the other is Kim having lines like “Don’t forget that I’m half Asian, which allows me to wear a Pendant of Laozi!” Yikes dude.

"She's buff now, so it's ok to objectify her. Checkmate feminists!!"
“She’s buff now, so it’s ok to objectify her. Checkmate feminists!!”

It’s too bad, because he’s not an unfunny writer or an unskilled artist. I honestly was a fan of the early comics, and there are still moments where his cleverness and originality shines through, as tainted as they are by smugness. I always thought he had the potential to grow into a true master of the medium.

Instead, he just grew up to be a damn waistcoat.

The verdict: Transhumanist boys love this comic, which may be warning enough to stay away if you know many transhumanist boys. If you like boobs, there’s plenty. Just don’t be tricked into thinking they’re feminist boobs.

11 comments on “Dresden Codak

  1. oh finally is here, from the moment you Advertisers week of hate i knew that a review of dresden codak
    would arrive,and I’m glad if you did because I have long had curious about this comic but I did not want to read it because diaz is an insufferable person
    so thanks for the review

  2. Oh dear, this is going to be a long one and I apologize in advance for that.
    I´m so with you on this, even though I have so many more problems with this comic. The artwork of the later arcs is honestly great and Diaz is really competent when it comes to creating certain moods. Some of the pages do even feel epic. The thing is, I don´t think that he knows how to write a decent story or to translate his ideas for an epic tale into a comic.
    There are certainly parts that feel like there might be something interesting and great (especially in the Dark Science plotline), but all of that gets buried under weird fanservice, very confusing panel structures and use of speech bubbles and honestly confused philosophy.
    I was especially baffled by Kims completely new body, that even though it´s synthetic still has a visible metal arm. Her talk about finally feeling whole are so weird, because I never got the impression that she did feel that way (even though it was hinted at in the Hob storyline, but Diaz said Dark Science is independent from Hob). So because he kinda forgot to insert her issues with her own body, it feels more like Diaz is making her more “buff” because he developed a strong liking for (still conventionally attractive) buff women. Also the whole thing is terribly undermined by putting her in super tight underwear and letting her take that swim with the lovingly rendered shot of her butt.
    I think the page you choose of Kim “jumping” around without her limps is a perfect example of what is wrong with the comic. You got the fetishization (why else would she crawl around on the ground like that), the gross “humor” and the mind-numbingly confusing paneling + actions in those panels that don´t seem to follow any logic.
    I think it´s also noteworthy that none of his characters seem to have a constant personality, except Kimiko, but even she switches from time to time. They are either forgettably or only act like plot devices.
    I could forgive that if at least the world building was kinda decent, but half the time I don´t even know what is going on. The city seems to be a place were everything is highly bureaucratic, but on the other hand characters never really have to face consequences for acting out of line.
    Dresden Codak is such a mess, when it comes to it´s storylines and I´m not even sure if Diaz knows what he wants it to be.
    It has so many layers of bad, that I can´t even get to the bottom of it all and the art is seriously wasted on this.

  3. I’ve never read this, and now, I probably never will. As a person who’s actually half-Japanese, I probably would have found the race stuff patronizing as hell. ?

    You’re right about how being biracial/multiracial has its hang-ups, but in my experience, they mostly caused by external factors than internal. Though, again, that’s just me. I can’t speak for everyone that’s biracial or multiracial.

    Also, thanks for the review as well as all of your reviews! ? I really enjoy them, and I find your perspective and thoughtful analyses refreshing. Please never stop. ?

  4. Nice review! I think Diaz’s main weakness is his inability to take criticism. Whenever someone critiques him he becomes defensive and dismissive rather than introspective. And his trying to hide fanservice behind the guise of feminism is cringe-inducing since he tries to portray himself as one of the good guys of webcomics. If he just said “here’s some fanservice lol” I wouldn’t care. But that isn’t what he does.

    It’s a shame since he’s undeniably skilled ARTISTICALLY, but writing-wise he makes several questionable choices.

  5. This is all very disheartening. I only know Diaz as the guy who redid the New 52 DC lineup with more women and less skin. I perused his comic after that, didn’t see anything that great, and moved on. But in my mind he was always an OK guy. This is a shame.

  6. Its good to see some discussion of the ableism in the comic(although not good to see the ableism lmao)! I was wondering if in your basics box it would be possible to include whether there’s positive portrayal of disabled characters because as a queer disabled girl trying to find comics that resonate with me can be difficult. By the way, I adore this website and all the work you put into it, its a fantastic resource xx

  7. Just found your site and some things you said here kept me awake.

    First, a bit of context. I would call myself a Transhumanist… Ok, maybe more of a Posthumanist, but let’s try to keep things simple. Even more so, I have a huge knack for prothetics. I would call it a fetish, though it’s is not sexual. I think. (To make matters worse I am also male and white).
    Only very few people that I know, couled be called transhumanists. So my big Questions is: Why is a Transhumanist Boy bad?
    I asume it has a lot to do with over sexualising the female body, including augmentation. – The gaze, I call it the angle – A lot of my favourite fiction has these, my eye roll moments. Shirow espacially gets worse over time. His early works have only very few moments like shower scenes. You can see him drift into porn reading his stuff in chronological order… Which is what he does today.

    What I fear now is that I am part of a shitty movement without kowing it. I personally think that the fetishisation of the human body is silly for a transhumanist. I adore the non human parts. 😀 Always thought that was the point…

    Thanks for any input, super curious, good thoughts.

    1. Hey, I actually kind of feel like a transhumanist myself, but I’ve just shied away from using that term after seeing how rife the community is with snide know-it-alls who sneer at things like feminism and social justice. There’s nothing wrong with transhumanism in and of itself, it just seems to attract a lot of, like, objectivists and libertarians. And Dresden Codak readers.

    2. Hope I don´t come off as rude, for adding my own two cents to this conversation.
      I think one thing that makes Aaron Diaz’ views on prosthetics in regards to his comic so icky is, that he fetishizes people who use them, but does not admit to it. He tries to play it off as the height of representation and diversity.
      Half of what he does wouldn´t even be that disgusting (but still pretty ew), if he would just admit to producing fan-service. Instead, he loves to brag about how empowering and feminist his objectification is.
      His transhumanist views also really reek of ableism, at one point objectifying the use of prosthetics but also subtly calling disabled people “not whole” in the comic.
      I don´t know, hope that might help in addition somehow.

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