Comics Ties To LGBTQ

Comics have been an escape for people around the world, since their beginning in the late 19th century. They have been a way to make us forget about our own personal trials and, for a brief moment, make us feel like we have control. It was easy for a kid to open the newspaper or grab a comic book and find some way they could relate to a character on its pages. They became our modern myths and as such a way to share stories of inspiration to millions of readers. But is it always inclusive to all people?

History of comics

The first comic to appear in newspapers started in the late 19th century. From there many were collected and printed into books, starting in the United States around 1895 with The Yellow Kid. Europe had The Adventures of TinTin in 1928, it started as a two page strip in the youth supplemental of a Belgian newspaper. It would be almost fifty years before we saw a semblance to modern comics.

The superhero genre of comics took over the world with the creation of Superman and Batman, in the 1930s. Jerry Siegel, born in Cleveland Ohio, was the creator or Superman. His comic became massively successful because Siegel wrote about real world issues that affected everyday people, drawing much influence from things that happened in Ohio. Quickly, Superman became known as the protector of those that could not protect themselves. That comic character gave the world hope at a time when Nazis were a big threat to the world He became an inspiration for people to do better.

By 1934, DC comics was founded, originally known for Action and Detective Comics, and the birthplaces for Batman and Superman. Fifteen months separated the beginning of Detective and Action Comics. Superman carried readership beyond the numbers that Batman had and became the biggest property of DC comics.

New York, NY 1939 was the birthplace for Marvel comics, originally known as Timely Comics. The first Marvel Comics book features the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner. By the 1940s, they released Captain America. By 1950, Timely had canceled its superhero comics and Martin Goodman, creator of Timely Comics, left to start his own distribution company. At that point, Timely became Atlas Magazine.  During their time, they were known for humor, horror, westerns, war, and science fiction.

In 1956, in what was called the Silver Age of comics, DC was reintroducing super hero titles and they were well received. By 1960, Atlas became Marvel and the rest is history.

LGBTQ subtext in comics

From 1934 to 1968, the Hays Code changed film history and you can find it briefly touched on in this article (insert lgbtq movie history article), it was a self imposed code that dictated how and what movies could show to the public. It ruled things like profanity, suggestive nudity, too much violence, and sexual persuasions were not allowed to be shown openly in movies. 

Comic books were not immune to this ruling. In the 1950s, the Comic Authority Code restricted what could be published in the pages of popular comics. Including things they deemed as sexually pervese, such as LGBTQ themes. This did not stop comic artists, much like the film industry, they switched to coded subtext to get their themes across.

“Comics still wanted to represent queer lifestyles, queer culture – and they couldn’t do it literally. They had to do it subtly and {subtextually] until the 1990s, when some restrictions were lifted. Then we saw Marvel and DC incorporate queer representation into their comics.” Andrew Deman, lecturer at University of Waterloo.

Marvel quickly took up the charge and introduced its first openly gay character, Northstar. Many young readers also aligned with titles like Marvels X-Men, feeling kinship with how they were treated, compared to their own day to day Iives. Many felt like the comics spoke to then in how they were treated by family and the world, as outcasts and under appreciated. THemes like duality and identity, being able to have a double life gives us a way to living our our day to day frustrations and feel a little more in control.

Just because these restrictions have been removed doesn’t mean that those companies are so easy with LGBTQ representation. If characters seem to “openly LGBTQ,” many comic companies desire to play it safe and dial it back so that it can appeal to the masses and not alienate. This leads LGBTQ readers to search for subtext clues about their favorite characters.

The need to push representation

With the release of the Eternals from Marvel Studios and Disney, the need to pursue queer story lines is growing. Many still decide to play it shade so that they do not jeopardize global box office returns.

The Eternals was pulled form theaters in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait due to the inclusion of its same-sex couple, played by Brian Tyree Henry and Haaz Sleiman. This is a more recent change for Marvel Studios, as they have, historically, shied away from showing explicitly LGBTQ relationships. Captain Marvel removed the queer subtext between Carol Danvers and Maria Rambeau, painting them as a platonic friendship. Marvel included a non superhero LGBTQ character in Avengers: Endgame, where briefly you see someone in a support group mentions going on a same-sex date.

While these small inclusions are nice, is it time that these companies start showing more of LGBTQ people than just passing references to their sexuality? There doesn’t need to be an LGBTQ sex scene, but giving more than a wink and a nod is greatly needed.

The pages of comic books seem to be more ahead of the current movie franchises in their inclusion of LGBTQ topics. Since “coming out of the closet,” we have seen comics take in topics like coming out, societal discrimination, and personal/romantic relationships between its characters. However, this is an issue that America seems to have where other countries do not.

Europe has a far greater acceptance of comics as adult entertainment and much like in the ways of censorship, led their comics to start being more inclusive at an earlier date. Now, there is very little controversy in the showing of their inclusion. Japan has had inclusion in its own comics, yaoi and yuri, since the 1970s. These works are extremely romantic and idealized and the characters rarely identify as LGBTQ, simply showing the love between two people.

LGBTQ Assemble

There is no denying that the visibility of LGBTQ characters in comics is on the rise and fans are also noticing it. They are demanding more from the companies they love. This has caused several LGBTQ centric comic companies to be born. This started with LGBTQ comic websites like Prismcomics.org, Pinkkritonite.com, and Gayleague.com. This is only the beginning.

In 1992, GLAAD gave its first award for Best Comic Book to DC’s the Flash. From there, the list of their awards have grown. This led to the creation of the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards. Their awards go to science fiction, horror, fantasy, and an “other works’ ‘ category that is used to highlight comic book series. The Lambda Literary Foundation also recognizes notable literature for LGBTQ themes with their awards, called the Lammys.

While we are seeing a rise of inclusion in literature and movies we enjoy, the road is still littered with obstacles that hold us back. As the world slowly realizes the amount of money that LGBTQ people spend, they are also realizing the influence that same money can generate. It is time that we, too, realize this power and start supporting those that support us and move away from those that do not. After all, we grew up on superheroes that protected the weak and cannot protect themselves, it is time we see we have become those heroes we long since read about.

2 thoughts on “Comics Ties To LGBTQ

  1. !!Probably unpopular opinion alert!! I’m pretty bitter about the whole Batman/Robin thing and how much context there used to be in the early comics, and how they shifted gears completely a little later. Everyone keeps saying they don’t want their beloved straight characters to be rewritten as gay, but I just wish they’d throw in the towel and cave a little on Nightwing. He’s a historic enough character to make significant headwind in the LGBTQ comic space and it would make complete sense and it would just be really cool.

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    1. I fully agree with you. We live in a world where heroes are believed to be heteronormative cisgendered and mostly white. It is what’s expected and wanted by many, it truly makes it hard to break the mold. (Hugs)

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