CCI: Figuring Out the Rules of Gay Characters in Comics

In recent months the topic of sexual orientation has been a hot button issue in the world of comic books and a discussion on the approach to writing these characters and the accompanying politics was held Thursday at Comic-Con International in San Diego.

The Rewriting the Rules of Queers in Comics panel was moderated by Prism Comics President Charles Christensen the panel included writers Gail Simone ("Batgirl," "Birds of Prey,"), James Robinson ("Earth 2"), Ivan Velez ("Static"), and artists Oliver Nome ("Fathom"), and Nicola Scott ("Earth 2"). The panelists discussed recent events in comics such as the first gay weddings in both Marvel Comics and Archie Comics earlier this year, and Robinson and Scott's recently launched "Earth 2" series featuring gay Green Lantern Alan Scott.

Simone said she views the surge of interest in LGBTQ characters in comic books as good thing, and although the public may view recent events as stunts they are important in advancing the depiction of queer characters in comic books.

"It's a stepping stone. When the first gay characters came about they were kind of stereotypes and kind of corny," said Simone.

"Not mine," countered Velez, which made the audience burst into laughter.

The discussion then turned to how to write these types of characters so it doesn't feel like a stunt or a gimmick. "I personally would feel nervous if I was writing a gay villain because there are so few gay characters that I want to try to create as many positive examples of gay characters as I can," said Robinson, a heterosexual male.

Velez, a gay man, felt differently about the subject and said that gay characters should be written in a positive light and negative light and that it just depends on the character. Judging by the reaction, many members of the crowd agreed with him.

Attendee Kelsey Toy came to the microphone and said, "I think the important thing is that we need to have characters who are fully human. They're complicated, they're flawed and they're also queer as well. I think that a fully human character is more than just positive portrayals of characters."

The panel shifted to the visual element when Christensen asked the panelists if they approached drawing a gay character differently than they do heterosexual characters. "I feel it really depends on the character itself," Scott said. She then described how she drew the character Scandal Savage as a lesbian, with body language that was similar to other male character in "Birds of Prey." Nome agreed, saying he believes it depends on the character and personality rather than orientation.

The subject of editorial pressure guiding the introduction of diversity to titles was also touched upon. While the panel members all said editorial will sometimes ask creators to include more diversity in titles, they had varying opinions about the role of this sort of "interference."

"In my experience I usually just write and if they don't like it they'll tell me to take it out, which has never happened, in terms of being encouraged to write a certain kind of diversity," Simone said. "Outside of one occasion I've never been asked to."

"I have been asked to introduce more diversity into 'Earth 2.' I don't mind it either because I'm showing the whole world," said Robinson who was applauded by the crowd.

The enthusiastic and supportive feedback was nothing new to the panel. Over the years they have gotten more positive feedback than negative for their efforts to introduce more diversity in comic books. "I got letters from gang bangers -- this was the '90s -- and they were telling me, 'It's OK. Fade's the man, Fade's the man,'" Velez said.

"The most hostile criticism I've received was hostile tweets from Brazil. I had been out and the next morning I was like 'all right, my liver is murdering me' and someone was like, 'your liver is punishing you for what you did to Green Lantern," said Robinson with a laugh. "So, just out of spite, when Alan Scott can love again the man in his life is going to be Brazilian."

Stay tuned to CBR News for more up-to-the-minute coverage of Comic-Con International 2012.

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