Comics Features

Do We Need More LGBT Superheroes? And Not The Caped Kind!

Written by Stu Laurie

The comic book industry has laid its foundations on people living double lives, on people hiding their true identity behind a mask or a fake identity. Despite progress in terms of widespread acceptance there are many LGBT individuals within the public eye that feel the need to do exactly the same. But there are waves of acceptance crashing about the shore within the comic book industry.

The prevalence of transgender individuals within the media has been a hot topic this year. With the brave decision of Caitlyn Jenner to pursue who she wanted to be, boxing promoter Kellie Maloney making the transition from male to female in the public eye and transgender actress Laverne Cox in her lead role in Orange is the New Black. So with this increase in mainstream exposure of the LGBT community, should comic books following the trend in terms of creators? Here we look at some of the LGBT community that have worked within the comic industry and identify if the industry is as diverse as the worlds it creates.

There have been openly LGBT individuals working within the comic book world for many years. One of the earliest being Talented Mr Ripley author and openly bisexual Patricia Highsmith. Prior to writing novels Highsmith spent time working for Fawcett Publications writing for characters such as Golden Arrow, Spy Smasher and Captain Midnight during the 1940’s. She also penned romance comics for Timely Comics and Atlas comics, the precursors to Marvel.

Back in 1973 Mary Wings founded the first underground lesbian comic Come Out Comix and in 1980 the underground comic community was introduced to Gay Comix, later called Gay Comics which ran for 18 years to 1998. Excerpts from the series were used in an anthology in 1989. The series featured work from the likes of Vaughn Frick. As one of the first openly gay cartoonists he not only worked on Gay Comix he also created the influential Watch Out! Comix#1 in 1986.

The Gay Comix publication, which featured the work of primarily gay and lesbian cartoonists was created by Howard Cruse, an alternative artist who used the medium to explore gay themes in his cartoons. In the late 1990s he created Stuck Rubber Baby, a graphic novel published by DC Comics Paradox Press which tells story of young American Toland Park and his growing awareness of his own sexuality.

So there was a strong underground gay comic ‘scene’ during the 80’s yet in the mainstream comic world gay characters and storylines were much less prevalent, as were openly LGBT writers and artists. However, they were there and in 1991 one of the most well-known artists, P. Craig Russell came out publicly as gay and is renowned for being the first mainstream, well known comic book artist to do so. Russell worked for DC Comics illustrating Batman stories in Batman Family and Detective Comics.

Alongside Russell out gay Marc Andreyko co-created a one-shot for Marvel Comics featuring Dr Strange entitled What Is It That Disturbs You, Stephen? He also wrote for DC Comics Manhunter series in 2004 where he created character Kate Spencer and her business partner Damon Matthews, who is in a gay relationship with superhero Obsidian who are one of few gay couples within a mainstream comic.

These are not the only mainstream LGBT characters to be created by LGBT writers. Allan Heinberg, an openly gay writer, is known for writing Young Avengers for Marvel which was praised for including two gay characters, Wiccan and Hulkling. Rachel Pollack, a transgender female writer who worked on Doom Patrol for DC Comics Imprint Vertigo wrote storylines that dealt with issues such as sexual identity and transsexuality and outside of mainstream comics, Andy Mangels, an openly gay author created a gay superhero for Gay Comix anthology called Pride. Mangels, who has written for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse amongst others also sits on the annual ‘Gay in Comics’ comicon international panel.

Despite some of the homoerotic undertones to certain comics, and despite many, many hundreds of fan fiction and fan theories there a few LGBT characters within mainstream comics which is potentially a mirror to the industry itself. Whilst there are LGBT writers and artists, it appears to be more difficult to bring an LGBT character to the forefront. By being able to do this it is quite possibly that it would make it more accessible an industry for potential LGBT talent. This is not always the case for LGBT staff, and there have been a number of staff that are LGBT that have become prominent with the mainstream comic book industry. One of the most prominent is Neal Pozner.

Pozner began working for DC in 1977 when he designed a tablet format book for the Superman movie. He was then hired as the first real production designer. He wrote the 1986 Aquaman miniseries and was responsible for incorporating DC Comics characters into a series of AIDS awareness house ads published within the comics. Pozner later became DC Comics Group Editor and was attached to comic book artist Phil Jiminez. Jiminez wrote and illustrated miniseries Tempest based on character from Neal Pozner’s late 80’ Aquaman series. It was dedicated to Pozner, who was his long term partner. In the dedication Jimenez himself came out as gay.

These individuals are by no means the only LGBT representatives of the comic book industry, but it highlights that there has been a long running stream of LGBT staff of writers and artists throughout the history of comic books. Other notable names include gay male Fantastic Four writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Batman, Batgirl and Fogtown writer Andersen Gabrych, an openly gay male, gay transgender writer of Sandman spin off The Dreaming Caitlin R. Kiernan and transgender comic book writer and successful film director Lana Wachowski who, along with her brother, directed the Matrix franchise as well as working for Marvel. This made Lana the first well known Hollywood director to come out as transgender.

With these trailblazers proving that it is possible to be in the mainstream comic industry whilst also being part of the LGBT community, and offering inspiration to young LGBT artists who want to make a name for themselves there is hope that the future will bring more LFGBT talent into the comic book community. With organisations such as Prism Comics supporting LGBT within the comic book industry there is support for LGBT writers and artists.

Despite this we can only hope that the prominence of LGBT staff grows within this industry so that LGBT writers, artists and creators do not need to spread their wings in the underground comic book community because they can spread them wherever they dream to. If the Prism Comics cause gets more publicity and support to enable writers coming into the industry to feel they have a voice and the opportunity to make their way in the world of super heroes, this may be possible. In a world where everybody wears a mask or sticks to the shadows, those that create those masks should not have to wear a mask themselves, nor should they have to stick to the shadows.

Do you think there is a lack of LGBT creatives in the comic book world? Let us know in the comments section or send us a Tweet!

About the author

Stu Laurie