Comic-Con: Gay characters enjoying new prominence, tolerance

July 14, 2012 | 4:10 a.m.
jon macy Comic Con: Gay characters enjoying new prominence, tolerance

Jon Macy signs one of his comic books, “Fearful Hunter,” which features gay characters, in the exhibit hall at Comic-Con. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Caped crusaders are out and proud this year at Comic-Con International. Even Superman and Batman at the Prism Comics booth wear snug Underoos, capes and chef’s aprons — but not much else — as they entertain passersby. T-shirts featuring “Glamazonia: The Uncanny Super-Tranny,” “Wuvable Oaf,” a hairy-chested wrestler-type in pink shorts. and other less-famous characters line the walls of Prism’s booth — the unofficial hub of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community at this week’s convention.

“It feels revolutionary,” says Scott Covert, decked out as Batman’s sidekick, Robin, at one of the convention’s many panels about gay culture and the comic book world. He flips the lip of his cape as he adds, “There’s more tolerance this year.”

Gay Geekdom celebrated last month when Marvel’s mutant superhero, Northstar, married his longtime partner, Kyle, in “Astonishing X-Men No. 51.” The day the issue was released, comic book shops nationwide, including L.A.’s Meltdown Comics, hosted commitment ceremonies, vow renewals or parties; and there was a legal same-sex wedding at Midtown Comics in Manhattan.

Astonishing X-Men #51 (Djurdjevic variant)

“Astonishing X-Men No. 51.” (Marvel Comics)

Also in June, DC Comics resurrected the original Golden Age Green Lantern, featuring Alan Scott as a gay man. Even Archie Comics’ All-American Riverdale was the site of a biracial, military-themed, same-sex wedding earlier this year.

The effects of such publishing milestones are palpable at Comic-Con, which is seeing more gay-themed panels, parties, signings and off-site events than ever before, notes Justin Hall, author of the just-released “No Straight Lines,” a retrospective of LGBT comics.

“Queer fandom is absolutely galvanized by seeing more accurate representations of ourselves,” he says. “There’s a snowball effect.”

“It’s always been going on under the surface, but now there’s a real queer presence,” adds Love Ablan, a self-described pop culture nerd who’s bisexual. “Even among non-queer fans. My super-straight guy friend is totally into this comic about queer bears.”

Gay characters have long been featured in underground and alternative comics. Howard Cruse’s “Gay Comix” and Alison Bechdel’s “Dykes to Watch Out For” were groundbreakers in the ’80s. Even in mainstream comics, gay superheroes aren’t exactly new. For decades costumed crime fighters have been subtly nodding to LGBT themes through coded subtext.

There’s been speculation about Wonder Woman’s island of all-female, immortal Amazons, for example, and the homoerotic tension between Batman and Robin has been a source of conversation (and jokes) for years. X-Men’s Northstar, long shrouded in gay innuendo, officially came out in 1992, breaking the taboo; and Batwoman made her debut as a lesbian in 2009.

life with archie 16 Comic Con: Gay characters enjoying new prominence, tolerance

“Life With Archie No. 16.” (Archie Comics)

But openly gay characters from major publishers, like Archie Comics’ Kevin Keller, have been rare. Comic books were traditionally aimed at teenage boys and they were scrubbed clean of sex and violence from the mid-’50s into the ’80s by the now-defunct comics code authority. That core audience, however, has grown up and society is more open to gay narratives.

“It wasn’t until about 10 years ago, though, that they started fleshing out gay characters. Before that, they felt gimmicky — the token Mexican guy with the sombrero,” says Hall. “That’s why the Northstar marriage is so important — it humanizes them.”

Writer James Robinson, who brought the Green Lantern back as gay, took to heart fan criticism that gay superheroes were seemingly gratuitous or one-dimensional. “My goal was to present him as a fully rounded human being whose sexuality is merely a part of who he is along with his style, wit, bravery and innate goodness,” he says.

Some, however, see this year’s high-profile same-sex weddings as buzz-generating, monetary plays rather than attempts at diversity. After all, Kevin Keller’s debut in a Veronica book sold out — the first issue to do so in the company’s history. X-Men’s gay wedding issue, “No. 51,” placed 12th among all comics published in June, with more than 82,000 comic shop orders.

astonishingxmen 51 cover Comic Con: Gay characters enjoying new prominence, tolerance

The cover of “Astonishing X-Men No. 51.” (Dustin Weaver / Marvel Comics)

“That’s a huge event-driven boost in sales,” says John Jackson Miller, founding editor of, which tracks comic book sales figures. “Announcing it to the world and telling comic book shops ‘you should order this because it might be in the newspapers’ is a stunt. It’s a press release-driven phenomenon.”

“We did this story because gay marriage became legal in New York state,” argues Marvel Editor in Chief Axel Alonso. “When anything happens in the world — the World Trade Center falls, whatever — we respond to it.”

Indeed, pop culture is a cyclical beast, both reflecting and shaping the news. And it’s self-perpetuating: as more gay characters show up on TV, in films and in comics, their narratives help promote broader tolerance and understanding — not just among fans, but among creators and editors in the industry.

cruse1 Comic Con: Gay characters enjoying new prominence, tolerance“One of my concerns as a cartoonist, was a fear that my creativity would be defined by being gay,” says Cruse, whose collection of non gay-themed work, “The Other Sides of Howard Cruse,” was just released. “There are some high-profile mainstream comics creators who are still in the closet, but overall, there are more welcoming attitudes toward gay employees.”

Openly gay comics editors are key to forwarding the medium in a truly diverse direction, says Joan Hilty, a former DC Comics editor. “Gay characters don’t pop up in comics because straight editors want to do a solid, but because gay editors want to tell stories about people who are like them.”

Hilty will appear on Saturday’s Gays in Comics panel, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. It’s one of the longest-running panels at the convention, offering a window into how much openly gay fandom has grown at Comic-Con. Hilty was an early panelist.

“In the past, we struggled to fill three rows of seats,” she recalls. “Now it’s in one of those huge screening halls — and it’s standing-room only.”

Still, others see gay superheroes as just a trend. “It used to be dead superheroes. Now it’s gay superheroes,” says Ciro Nieli, executive producer of Nickelodeon’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” “Next year it’ll be dead gay superheroes who come back as Chihuahuas!”

— Deborah Vankin


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54 Responses to Comic-Con: Gay characters enjoying new prominence, tolerance

  1. Victoria M. says:

    Gay people aren't tolerated, they're accepted.

  2. JohnB says:

    Any mention of HIV in these comic books?

  3. Matthews says:

    The movie industry is still prejudice against Gays and Lesbians. They don't portray Gays and Lesbians in a positive situation.

  4. tyler says:

    thank god we know the sexuality of fake superheros.cuz thats whats important when there saving the fake world.we know who there fake banging.i can fake sleep in fake peace now.

  5. Tony Siracu says:

    That’s the gay

  6. Steven M. says:

    They can print it, but will anybody buy it? How about bringing back "Classics Illustrated" instead?

  7. tyler says:

    Yay for Gay

  8. P-funk says:

    Interesting article.

  9. desertpatriot says:

    if it bleeds it leads. it it's gay it plays

  10. Ty_ says:

    Movies, novels, television shows, music, and comic books all reflect much of what is observed in everyday life. Same-sex couples do get married everyday, so the fact that gay comic book characters are marrying each other is appropriate in reflecting the world we live in whether you disagree, agree, or disinterested with gay marriage.

    It's interesting that both of these couples are interracial, one black and one white man.

  11. Paul says:

    Oh dear,
    Here we go again, after decades of gay artists, film stars, pop stars and other cultural icons having to hide their gay identity and masquerade at the alter of the mighty heterosexual. They're still those in society that feel that they must stomp their narrow minded quasi religious views on us all. One has to wonder why they feel the need to prove to the world that they are SO straight. What was that quote about the lady dose protest too much?

  12. Ty_ says:

    Movies, novels, television shows, music, and comic books all reflect much of what is observed in everyday life. Same-sex couples do get married everyday, so the fact that gay comic book characters are marrying each other is appropriate in reflecting the world we live in whether you disagree, agree, or disinterested with gay marriage.

  13. Sean says:

    Thank you for this article. As for the bigots below whining about "intolerance" your lack of self awareness is painfully clear to everyone else.

  14. Jung park says:

    Gays and I are both sinners. The difference is I know I am a sinner.

  15. :-) says:

    Not liking the tolerance part. Normalize through exposure, make it a subject of conversation. We will get there!!

  16. skunk says:

    don't forget about Renee Montoya from Gotham Central in 03-06, she comes back big time when she becomes The Question in 52 and has romantic ties to the lesbian Batwoman. More sexy, tough lesbians in comics, please =]

  17. conraddubbs says:

    All of this gay crap is getting silly…what next gay soap operas?……

  18. Crystalshine Marie says:

    Why does it have to be 'astonishing', why not refreshing?

  19. david says:

    I think it's fine for them to have gay/lesbian characters. Art is supposed to be a caricature of reality, and the reality is that the majority of men are either bi or gay.

  20. KatieMurphy says:

    the same old Bs of the bigots claiming they are the victim when in fact they are the victimizers

  21. stevemd2 says:

    notice how dylan celebrates the murder of two women.

    thats how deep hatred of gay / lesbian people goes.

    Religious conservatives in America are little different then those in Iran.

  22. stevemd2 says:

    looks like that anti gay website is part of the Westboro baptist church – the nut cases who celebrate the murder of gay people and our soldiers protecting our country.

  23. David says:

    I'm not anti-gay or anything but all this hype over gay hero's is getting kinda stupid…I mean what are comic book publishers trying to prove or sell too?I'm all about green lantern and batman,but the second they6 become gay I'm not buying.

  24. Vickie says:

    Given the amount of attention gays receive, you would think they are the majority. I don't disaree with accepting them; I get tired of having them in my face as if they are the most important thing going.

  25. eshcetera says:

    I stopped reading comic books at a very young age because I didn't see myself in any of the story lines. I know a lot of my friends who would insert themselves into the feelings of the "Other" or characters that were considered different by society and continue reading a series because that was enough for them to identify with the comics. Not me. Where were the prominent People of Color (POC) characters? Where were the prominent Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) characters? Where were they? I think it's important to note the strides that the inclusion of LGBTQ characters has in our lives, the impact it makes in shifting attitudes from intolerance to acceptance. We're here, we always have been, and now we're no longer hiding in the closet. Maybe now some young LGBTQ kid will be able to open up their favorite comic and really be able to identify with a character from the immediate start, instead of reading between the lines and subtext.

  26. macdonaldbank says:

    Being black, left-handed or being gay is just as natural. It is a sometimes rare occurrence to fall in Love and to hold that person in your heart and be loved in return … it is something that should be celebrated! If it’s between two guys or two girls — all the better. It takes even more courage to defend that LOVE!

    The evil writings in Leviticus 18:22 … against gays – depict: “P” … “priestly rules” & expanded by the pope; homophobes and religious frauds … to attack the gay community and never meant to apply to the public — but to priests. Leviticus was written long after Moses — 600BC.

    There is no scientific evidence to prove any of the cross related bogus elements of christianity and other religions. Our early human ancestors; on this earth … go back more than 6 million years … 5,996,000 years before the Greeks, Romans and the Jews. Christianity is basically a 2012 year old fictional cult.

  27. dmont76 says:

    Someone mentioned that it's thrown in their face. As a bi man, I can honestly say that it isn't our fault it's thrown in your face. All LGBTQ people want is to be ACCEPTED as HUMANS and not freaks. If people would ACCEPT the LGBTQ community as a human being and treat us as such, then it wouldn't be such a big deal. I'm glad comics are adding the LGBTQ characters more. Eventually it'll be just another "normal" part of life. You know, like how black and whites can marry now and nobody thinks twice (except KKK).

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