Overlooked by the Mainstream, Queer Characters Thrive in Webcomics

Image: The lead characters of queer-centric web comic The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal.

This week brought another reminder that despite lots of agitation and conversation and market data and sexy drawings of Hawkeye, the bigwigs of the comics industry still don't really get that what's wrong with mainstream comics. 

ThinkProgress writer Alyssa Rosenberg reported on a panel of comics legends at the Television Critics Association tour this week, where a group of long-time comics creators dismissed the issue of sexism in the industry. "The vast majority of dudes [are] doing this high testosterone sort of storytelling, and so we put our fantasy on the plate on the pages," said Spawn creator Todd McFarlane. The Punisher creator Gerry Conway noted, "The comics follow society. They don't lead society."

The problem is that comics aren't following society—they're following a very narrow section of society that seems to be composed mostly of straight, white men. 

A lot of the focus of recent debates about the exclusivity of the comics industry has focused on treatment of female characters. But mainstream "high testosterone" comics have also historically left out LGBT characters and queer narratives. 

There is a 40-year history of queer-centric comics, which have long been created and published as indie comics and underground comix, zines, and in queer-centric newspapers and magazines. But until very recently, readers were very unlikely to find many LGBT characters in mainstream comics. This is partly due to overt censorship: the Comics Code Authority, which was in place nationally until 1989, banned any reference to homosexuality. It's also been due to the culture in the major comics publishers—Marvel in the 1980s reported had a "No Gays in the Marvel Universe" policy. Mainstream comics have occasionally included gender-bending characters (Bitch recently published a list of five great genderqueer comics characters that included characters from two DC titles and one Marvel title) and gay minor characters, but the vast majority of the comics landscape has been straight-up hetero. 

In just the past two years, there has been a big uptick in openly LGBT characters in mainstream comics, including characters in Archie and The Green Lantern, and DC's "New 52" reboot included two lesbian leads, a bi-sexual superhero, and a gay superhero duo. Some movers-and-shakers in the industry are clearly looking to make comics more inclusive and to push the genre forward—let's hope they get some traction. I look forward to a time when comics actually represent society.

Meanwhile, for the past decade, queer comics have thrived online. While DC and Marvel are just figuring out that queer characters resonate with comics readers, online artists and writers have for years been crafting stories with a variety of rich and complex queer characters who represent just about every point on the lengthy gender and sexuality spectrum. Working online is good in many ways for comics creators—there's no printing costs, few gatekeepers, and it allows artists and writers more freedom—but also obvious drawbacks, such as smaller audiences and a lack of quality paychecks.  All-volunteer nonprofit PRISM Comics has spent 10 years supporting and publicizing queer comics at big-deal conventions like San Diego Comicon and there is definitely much more room for mainstream comics to incorporate queer characters. 

Until then, for people just getting into comics or who are used to picking up print copies rather than reading comics online, Bitch Media intern Hanna White gathered together this list of five queer-centric webcomics that make her smile. 

1) The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal

Featuring the adventures of a young man named Amal who comes out to his conservative parents, goes out drinking, and wakes up to a man with dreadlocks cooking him eggs and suggesting a joint road trip from Berkeley, California to Providence, New Jersey so that Amal can see his sister's graduation. Includes some incredibly beautiful art. Updates weekly.

2) Go Get A Roomie!

The story of a self-identified hippie and promiscuous lesbian who goes by Roomie after she moves in with shut-in Lillian. Besides Roomie and Lillian, the cast includes a wide variety of repeat characters, including Ramona and Richard, a pair of twins who are, respectively, a dom and sub, and several fantastical beings who populate Lillian's vivid, incredibly drawn lucid dreams. Updates Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

3) Girls With Slingshots

Although main character Hazel is straight, this comic makes the list for its truly incredible array of side characters, including a drag queen, a married lesbian couple, a dom librarian, and an asexual character. Also, a talking cactus. Updates Monday through Friday.

4) Capitol Hillbillies

As a proud Pacific Northwesterner and a huge nerd, I would be remiss if I didn't include this strip, about four queer male gamers living on Capitol Hill. Based upon the author's experiences being… well, a queer male gamer living on Capitol Hill. Updates weekly.

5) Asexy Mythical Creature

An informative comic about asexuality and what it means (and doesn't mean) to be on the spectrum. It hasn't updated in about a year, but the author/artist will be bringing it back soon. It's a good thing too, since asexuality remains severely underrepresented and misinformation about it is pretty rampant (see: the delightful comics on "Shit asexuals hear!").

For other queer comics, Queerty recommends Young Bottoms in Love, among others, and here on Bitch we've covered a collection of comics about Midwesterners and gender and run Erika Moen's queer-friendly sex comic Oh Joy Sex Toy


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Comments

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Some good suggestions on this

Some good suggestions on this list! I'd also recommend O Human Star (http://ohumanstar.com) and Curvy (http://c.urvy.org)

I draw a webcomic about queer teens in Christian youth camps, too: http://melaniegillman.com

more!

Kind of a conspicuous lack of the "T" in "LBGT" on that list...

Here's some more suggestions:

The Princess ( http://the-princess.funonthe.net/ ) - updates Monday and Friday, about a young trans girl

Flaky Pastry ( http://flakypastry.runningwithpencils.com/ ) - updates Fridays, has several lesbian and bi characters

Riot Nrrd ( http://www.riotnrrdcomics.com/ ) - hasn't updated in quite a while, but chock full o' queer and trans characters.

And Questionable Content has several queer characters as well, but I think almost everyone has heard of it already. :)

Thanks very much for these!

Thanks very much for these! This was my last week as an intern, so I had limited time to spend on blog work while trying to finish the other part of my job and wasn't able to do much digging when webcomic-surfing. Sadly, the lists I found of queer webcomics were often, as you are articulating, not that trans* inclusive, so I'm glad to know that it's around to be found.

Queeeeeer comicssss

Rooster Tails is not to be missed! Wonderful autobio comic by transguy Sam Orchard (who contributed to Oh Joy Sex Toy) http://www.roostertailscomic.com/

Sfe Monster creates beautiful queer comics too: http://www.sfemonster.com/projects.html

Great list!

Great list! While we're at it, I respectfully submit my own comic, Finn and Charlie Are Hitched, about a gay married couple and their friends.

And some of my favorites that didn't make your list:
O Human Star
The Boy in Pink Earmuffs
Manta-Man

Archie!

I'm really surprised not to see Archie Comics on this list- last year was huge for them. One of their lead male characters came out and got married to a man- a whole story arc followed it. A lot of places caused a big stink about it but the creators publicly and repeatedly emphasized how Riverdale is "a place for everyone" and that the real world should be more like it.

The young protectors:

The young protectors: engaging the enemy, a superhero comic http://webcomics.yaoi911.com/archive/ete_title_page/
A sci-fi comic http://webcomics.yaoi911.com/archive/artifice-title-page/
Teahouse. a comic about a brothel in a 19th century like setting http://teahousecomic.com/comic/?id=1
Yu+Me:Dream, a phantastic comic about dreams http://rosalarian.com/yume/?p=1
I was kidnapped by lesbian pirates from outer space http://lesbianspacepirates.com/index.php?id=1 (the name gives pretty much away what it is about).
Collar6, a comic about a bdsm centered world (surprisingly low on explicit scenes) http://collar6.com/archive/collar-6-1
The princess, a comic about a young trans girl http://www.drunkduck.com/The_Princess/5186771/

Have fun reading those ^^

I do one.

There's always my own Decrypting Rita, about a robot lady who's dragged outside of reality by her ex-boyfriend. There's characters who are gay, lesbian, bi, and poly, and the author/artist (me) is a transwoman.

I don't have any other queer comics links that aren't already mentioned in the article or the comments.

Two great ones on

Two great ones on asexuality:
Shades of A http://www.discordcomics.com/
14 nights http://14nights.kstipetic.com/index.php

And I can hardly believe this hasn't been mentioned, features L, G, B and T characters,
Khaos Komix http://www.khaoskomix.com/

I just started a comic called

I just started a comic called Life, Love, and Liberal Arts. It's about a Muslim girl from Oman who is studying in the US. She meets an old bisexual woman and the two bond over their shared dreams.

www.patcomics.com

Great article and great

Great article and great comics! Already reading most of them, but there's a few here I'll have to check out now!

My partner and I also make a queer-inclusive comic. It's called Mahou Shounen FIGHT! and it's specifically family-friendly/for kids and teens. Both of us who create it are queer folks. :) We actually have worked with Prism Comics at San Diego Comic Con for the last two years now! They're a great group.

~JD

I have more suggestions :) I

I have more suggestions :) I really, really love these comics.

Tripping Over You

Knights-Errant

Always Raining Here

Art School Sub Rosa

webcomics are the best

I have more suggestions :) I really, really love these comics.

Tripping Over You

Knights-Errant

Always Raining Here

Art School Sub Rosa

I've only read TJ&Amal from

I've only read TJ&Amal from this list, definitely gonna check out the others on this list. Just a lil note tho! It's Providence, Rhode Island (that state's capital) that's their destination, not NJ.

TJ and Amal is hilarious with

TJ and Amal is hilarious with great art! I'm going to check out Asexy Mythical Creature because this is the first comic I've heard about asexuals.

PS: Providence is the capitol of Rhode Island, not New Jersey. The comic even references some of its attractions.

I'm always surprised that in

I'm always surprised that in lists of lgbt webcomics, no one ever mentions "The Kingfisher" (www.bory.com/kingfisher) which I think is probably one of the best webcomics out there. Excellent art. Fantastic storytelling. Updates like clockwork. Hilarious, sexy, and terrifying all at once. 

Whoops, the correct url for

Whoops, the correct url for "The Kingfisher" is www.borfy.com/kingfisher.
I missed an 'f' in there!

This post plus comments is a

This post plus comments is a really great rec-list! I've been enjoying TJ and Amal and O Human Star for a while now and loving it all!
I'd also contribute Grave Impressions to the list : http://graveimpressions.smackjeeves.com/
It's mystery webcomic set in the world war II homefront, reminiscent of the noir-film style. The detective and several of the main cast are gay. Points for period realism and plot!

Might I also suggest Iothera?

Might I also suggest Iothera?

http://iothera.com/

This webcomic focuses on queer academics in space (basically) and the protagonist is a young trans woman! It also doesn't make a big deal out of the fact that she's trans, which is refreshing.