It’s funny what comics have to do to get in the news lately. I am, of course, terribly excited when any comics-related news makes it into the mainstream media, and always pleased to see comic art recognized as a medium for all sorts of stories, even stories that readers of say, The New York Times, can get into.This last week’s NYT featured an article on an upcoming story arc in DC Comics’ Green Lantern focusing on gay-bashing, the first time a major plotline in a mainstream comic has involved gay issues so blatantly. I applaud the writers and creators for going ahead with this storyline, for getting it published, and managing to wrangle the public’s attention, for a few minutes at least, and direct them toward the importance comics can have. I can only hope that this kind of story will reach a lot of people, including those inside the comics industry, who need a push toward tolerating, hopefully accepting, and at the very least acknowledging gay people as a part of their community.

(stepping up on my soapbox for a minute)
You see, a great part of what I read for, look for, and hope for in all media aimed at teens are a plethora of examples of humanity, from role models to villains, without any hedging or compromising on the part of creators to reflect the world we live in. This, of course, includes graphic novels. Yes, superheroes do not exist in the world, but they can throw our own prejudices, glories, and virtues back at us, and they should. They must, or else why do we care?

Now, for a broad and thus necessarily steretypical statement: the comics industry does not always do so well in its representation of a lot of people, most notably women and the gay community. I’ve long noted rumblings that the industry itself is both misogynistic and homophobic, and I can’t claim to know the industry intimately enough to say either one is true. For one thing, “the industry” is rather a broad term, rather like “they.”

I can see, in the work printed, that as with any other medium, comics have a ways to go toward providing an array of female characters with the same diversity they give their male characters. Even titles I really enjoy, such as Scion, have most of their female characters wandering around in armor that exposes rather more than would be necessary or practical on the battlefield. At least one of the female warriors did don armor that was appropriately glamorous and workable without being pin-up material — little victories.

In the same vein, comics have even further to go toward representing gay people at all. Lesbians seem to be more acceptable, while gay men are generally avoided (this should not be surprising when you consider that the industry is dominated by men and in America, for whatever reason, straight men are stereotypically paranoid about gay men). In the past, if these characters existed at all, they were, like in times of yore in the film industry and within literature, either terminally single or killed off. T’was a sad state of affairs, to say the least.

Then along came The Authority, penned by maverick Warren Ellis. In The Authority, Ellis features Apollo and Midnighter, two men, two superheroes, who also happen to be in love. And, miracle of miracles, there’s just no big deal about it. No compatriot is taught the valuable lesson of acceptance, nor does the couple wrangle with their place in the world or the morality of their love. Nor are they particularly outstanding role models — their threshold for violence alone makes both rather less golden than their ancestors Superman and Batman. They’re just there, living their lives, and no one blinks an eye. It’s refreshing, in any medium, to see fully realized main characters who are also, incidentally, gay.

Sadly, we still don’t live in a world where that’s the usual case. To my mind, The Authority broke down the door by having gay superheroes. Perhaps it did all start, as some claim, with a nudge, nudge, wink, wink joke among the creators, but what’s on the page is what matters most. The existence of those two crossed a major line. Now, with the Green Lantern tale, we’re going to the next step by showing the reality too many minorities have to live with. I say we encourage everyone to continue the trend. Heck, getting some more ethnic minorities in there would be nice.

image credits: The Authority created by Warren Ellis and Brian Hitch, copyright Wildstorm/DC Comics 2000

  • Robin B.

    | She/Her Teen Librarian, Public Library of Brookline

    Editor in Chief

    Robin E. Brenner is Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts. She has chaired the American Library Association Great Graphic Novels for Teens Selection List Committee, the Margaret A. Edwards Award Committee, and served on the Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She is currently the President of the Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table for ALA. She was a judge for the 2007 Eisner awards, helped judge the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards in 2011, and contributes to the Good Comics for Kids blog at School Library Journal. She regularly gives lectures and workshops on graphic novels, manga, and anime at comics conventions including New York and San Diego Comic-Con and at the American Library Association’s conferences. Her guide, Understanding Manga and Anime (Libraries Unlimited, 2007), was nominated for a 2008 Eisner Award.

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