Join ComicsVerse as we celebrate Pride 2017 with our in-depth podcast on Homosexuality in Comics.

ComicsVerse CEO Justin Alba joins CV writers Tim O’Reilly and Marius Thienenkamp, along with head editors of the Indies Comics section Madeleine Slade (me), Lindsey Mott, and Rachel Davis, to discuss their first-hand experiences as queer comic lovers.

READ: ComicsVerse interviews Sina Grace about ICEMAN and Bobby Drake’s coming out!

“Homosexuality In Comics”? Really, Guys? What About The Rest Of The Community?

In truth, this podcast has a trick title. While this episode’s main focus is definitely on the representation of same-sex attraction in Western comics, we do cover a wide variety of other LGBTQIA+ identities. So why call it “Homosexuality In Comics”? Well, we want this podcast to be accessible both for seasoned members of the queer world as well as people who don’t know very much about it. Homosexuality is a strong midway point between those two groups, so we thought we’d start there and branch out.

The first hour of this podcast is essentially a quick LGBT Studies 101 course. In this segment, we respond to a number of complex questions that you might have about the community but were afraid to ask.

For Instance:

Why use the term “queer”? Isn’t that a slur?

What does nonbinary mean?

Aren’t trans and nonbinary people accidentally reaffirming gender stereotypes by identifying this way?

Can’t bi-, pan-, and asexual individuals just pretend to be straight?

What is the Kinsey Scale?

Why does representation in media matter so much to y’all anyway?

Not only are these important questions for people unfamiliar with the LGBTQIA+ community to discuss, but they are questions even members of the community argue about amongst themselves. For instance, as a nonbinary bisexual, I have plenty of firsthand experience of other queer people questioning my place in the community. A little known fact outside The Movement is that we have our own intense hierarchies in place. White cisgender (non-trans) gay men and lesbians kinda run the show, and the rest of us live in the sidelines. And while we’ve come a long way in terms of allowing LGBTQIA+ voices to enter the comics world, it’s still the “LG” part of that acronym that takes priority.

One of the goals of this podcast is to show how far we have come in terms of gay representation in comics while also pointing out how far we have to go in terms of queer representation in comics. About halfway through the podcast, we start getting into this history.

CLICK: Read all about 10 DC female characters that should come out as bisexual!

LGBTQIA+ Comic History

BATMAN And Seduction Of The Innocent

Homosexuality In Comics

The first comic we discuss is from the original BATMAN series. Specifically, we take a look at certain panels cherry-picked from the 1954 anti-comic manifesto Seduction Of The Innocent. This book and the subsequent trial against comics in the 50s argued that the homoerotic undertones in Batman and Robin’s relationship were corrupting the youth into “sexual delinquency.”

Now, our group at ComicsVerse quickly noticed that these panels have undertones of pedophilia as well. Batman adopted Robin and raised him, and now they’re sharing a bed and getting naked spa treatments together. Back in the 50s, accusations of pedophilia and homosexuality blended together. Batman was seen as predatory just as much because this was a child as that it was a same-sex relationship. Furthermore, the comic itself was seen as predatory because it was implying young boys that sexual relations with men of any age is okay.

It seems that during this time, people didn’t really understand the difference between child abuse and consenting, same-sex adult relationships. And perhaps that blurring of lines was done on purpose, to promote heterosexual marriage as the only moral option.

HULK #23: Gay Men As Predators

Homosexuality In Comics

From the 40s and 50s, we jump to 1980 with Jim Shooter’s HULK #23. This comic has a similar problem. During one scene, Bruce Banner is finishing a workout at the YMCA. As he goes to take a shower, two femme gay men attack him and explicitly attempt to sexually assault him. The scene is deeply disturbing — Bruce keeps crying out that he doesn’t want this, and he just barely gets away. The scene seems to exist mainly as a plot device to get Bruce Banner really upset, which is offensive to sexual assault survivors. It’s yet again portraying all homosexual desire as inherently predatory and violent. And this was downright dangerous to gay people living in the 80s.

Just a year later, the AIDS epidemic started. Gay men were dying at alarming rates while receiving no support from the government. The few hospitals that would treat AIDS patients left them in dingy conditions with a homophobic staff that sometimes outright refused to treat them. By painting all gay men as evil, writers and artists were contributing to a public atmosphere where it was socially acceptable to just let gay people die.

Homosexuality in Comics: Northstar Comes Out!

Homosexuality In Comics

The countless, needless deaths definitely had their cultural impact by 1992, when Marvel’s ALPHA FLIGHT #106 hit shelves. This was the first mainstream comic to have a good guy come out as gay — and a superhero no less! In the issue, Canadian superhero Northstar adopts a baby who developed AIDS through her mother. A father of a gay man who died of AIDS challenges Northstar to a battle, enraged at the positive media attention the baby has received while his son got nothing. During the battle, Northstar admits to being gay and understanding his enemy’s pain. The foe tells him that a superhero like Northstar coming out publicly could have helped to save his son’s life. Northstar agrees with him and makes a public announcement. The two end the battle as friends.

While the writing here is pretty awkward (muscular men are throwing punches while debating a really serious topic), it was still a big moment. This comic allowed queer people to be heroes in comics for the very first time.

Since then, Northstar has found a boyfriend, struggled with regular relationship drama on top of his superhero duties, and even got married in 2012. In addition, other superheroes have come out, and we finally started to talk about homosexuality in comics in an empowering light. Today, we have everything from sci-fi/fantasy tales that happen to have queer characters (Y THE LAST MAN and TREES) to memoirs and anthologies written by queer writers (FUN HOME and LOVE IS LOVE, for instance).

LISTEN: ComicsVerse devoted a full podcast episode to the lesbian comic memoir FUN HOME! 

Modern Day Comics And The Queer Community

Homosexuality In Comics

Episode 93: “Homosexuality in Comics” delves into modern comics such as BITCH PLANET (a sci-fi feminist prison drama about race, gender, and sexuality), WONDER WOMAN: EARTH ONE (in which Wonder Woman comes out as bisexual), JUGHEAD #4 (in which Jughead of ARCHIE COMICS is outed as asexual), and more!

Our writers and editors have many different reactions to these comics. There are aspects we love, and things we are still less than thrilled by. However, we all agree that by 2017, there’s a lot of great queer content in comics. We’re finally starting to see ourselves as a diverse group of individuals in our favorite medium. Even in kids’ comics, there’s some great stuff happening. For instance, LUMBERJANES by Boom! Studios portrays lesbian and transgender kids solving wacky mysteries. As an adult who remembers as a kid scrounging through media for any trace of people like myself, I am so happy for the LGBTQIA+ kids of today. And I can’t wait to see where they go from here.

All in all, this podcast was a lot of fun to make. We hope that it is super informative for all listeners. Have a great time learning about homosexuality (and other identities) in comics!

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