October means only one thing: (no, this isn't about your Pumpkin Spice Latte) it's time for New York Comic Con! The 4-day event is overflowing with the most glorious in geekdom: comics, video games, cosplay, panels, long lines and, of course, even longer lines.
One of the first panels of this Eastern media mecca was “LGBT and Allies in Comics” presented by New York Times OUT and Geeks Out. It featured panelists currently working in comics such as Dan Parent (Archie’s Pal Kevin Keller), Majorie Liu (Astonishing X-Men), Dan Ketchum (MARVEL editor - Uncanny Avengers), Rich Bernatovech (Sentinels), and Greg Pak (Action Comics), and was moderated by NYT Book Review staff editor, Jude Biersdorf. Each of them spoke out on trends in comics regarding gay, transgender, and minority characters.
Dan Parent, current artist and writer of Kevin Keller, addressed the uproar that manifested following the Archie character’s coming out, including the Million Moms March protesting the comic's new direction. “We poked fun at that controversy,” he said. Though, Parent confessed that while he wanted to comment on media events, he also wanted to stress that “they’re still just Archie stories.”
The conversation was then steered towards Majorie Liu, who wrote the story surrounding the marriage of X-Men character Northstar-- the first homosexual character participating in the first same-sex marriage in comics. Liu noted that “each character was a great opportunity…to explore them as human people...to make them live for others in ways that are realistic as they can be in a comic book.” She also urged other comic writers to tackle issues like female victimization, race, and sexuality head on, as it’s the best way to combat them.
Rich Bernatovech and Greg Pak addressed issues of the under-representation in comics, and they both made very important, but different points. Bernatovech spoke about his experience as an independent creator, writing characters that break away from the standard tropes of coming from different places in the world--in ways other than geographic origin. Pak stressed the point further, stating that creators should “avoid the stereotype...and make him real,” but also make more characters who either embrace or resist social norms. No one character should have to carry the burden of being representative of all people from a race, noting that “we should be creating tons of characters.”
Dan Ketchum talked about his experience as a Marvel editor where he was responsible for handling various characters' sexuality. He expressed that sometimes decisions regarding sexuality (for example, Wiccan and Hulkling kissing on-panel) would reach as high as Marvel Publisher, Dan Buckley. “Now,” Ketchum said, “there are options,” commenting on how much comic companies and the community has evolved. Pak chimed in with a response to an audience question regarding transgender representation, and brought up the example of Alpha Flight’s Sasquatch switching genders.
Finally, Biersdorf raised the controversy with DC Comics’ decisions on Batwoman and Superman comics and asked panelists’ opinions on whether superheroes were allowed to be happy in marriage. Liu commented that these relationships are rich grounds for conflict and worth exploring, and that DC's "lazy storytelling" habits were responsible for the lack of exploration. Pak, who writes both Action Comics and Superman/Batman, agreed with Liu, stating that “it comes down to a character to character basis on where the character [and their relationships] should go.”
To round up the discussion, Biersdorf asked the panel who their same-sex couple dream-teams would be. Pak reaffirmed his decision of Wolverine and Hercules, but quickly followed up with, “there are a lot of Lord of the Rings characters I’d like to pair up!”
As a person who reads A LOT of comics and cares deeply that the medium be respected, it’s calming to see that creators are like-minded in the quest to stifle underrepresentation in sequential media. While I don’t read any of the comics these creators work on (I’m more of an indie and Spidey-guy), it’s important that the people making the content understand these issues.
How do YOU feel? Who would your favorite same-sex pairing be? Sound off! Assemble! Happy NYCC!