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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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