New York Comic Con hosted a panel Friday to discuss the representation of LGBT characters in All-Ages comics. The moderator introduced the panel of guests, which included Kat Leyh (“Lumberjanes”), Blue Delliquanti (“O Human Star”), Jeremy Sorese (“Steven Universe”), and, arriving late, artist James Tynion IV (“The Backstagers”).
Asked off the top about their queer role models, Delliquanti said, “I was really drawn to Sailor Uranus and Sailor Mars from Sailor Moon as a child and I didn’t know why!”
Sorese said, “I didn’t have an obvious role model, I came out late — in college. I remember looking at Queer Eye for the straight Guy and thinking ‘I’m not gay, because I’m not like Carson Presley.’ But then when I was in college Maurice Sinet came out and I thought…wow, this is a big deal…I thought ‘Oh this is what it feels like, this is what it feels like to have a weird beacon.’ But it happened late.”
Leyh said, “Nothing really comes to mind when I think about it, I just remember a frustration that I couldn’t really articulate about not seeing people like me and I didn’t really know what that was — because I also identify as asexual and that is very invisible. I remember when ‘Ellen’ came out because I watched that show with my mother, and I remember we stopped watching it [after she came out].”
Delliquanti noted how queer role models are a relatively recent phenomenon. “When you grow up in the ’90s and the only bisexual icon is Sharon Stone, that doesn’t really work for a bashful, nerd middle school-aged girl.”
Sorese said, as a public figure, he now has free reign to be only gay — something that wasn’t necessarily possible until recent years. “As a public figure now, I’m conscious that…I don’t have to change who I am, and I don’t have to get nervous about it…We’re at a great time now where things that are existing now have never existed before, and you can sort of be that beacon early on. You don’t have to be Maurice Sinet coming out [late in life]. It’s like, ‘Oh, my life is pretty good just for existing.'”
The moderator then asked the panelists if there was a kind of queer character they represent that isn’t usually explored in comics.
Delliquanti said, “Personally, I try to be more representative of non-binary or gender fluid representations, especially with child characters. The main character [in my book] is a non-binary teen…having non-binary people come up to me at shows…because there’s such a lack of them was really good to hear.”
Leyh noted, “I definitely agree about the non-binary gender-fluid thing, because one important thing that needs to be discussed is pronoun discussions with kids. They need to be discussed because — I’ve had my conversation with my cousins, and my parents about using proper pronouns for people. And I’d love to see representation of female characters for girls that aren’t love interest in all-ages media. Just because I remember growing up and every movie and TV show I was into the girls only existed as romantic interests. I’d like to see more of that thrown out the window.”
Sorese added, “As a cis-gendered gay man…it breaks down in the same way where women are vehicles for romance…even with females as the lead it turns into a machismo, hot girl with a sword [trope].”
The moderator asked is the panelists ever encountered reads that are uninformed about LGBT characters. Leyh was the first to say, “Never been in that situation.”
Delliquanti said, “I haven’t been in that situation with my own work…but I’ve seen that applied to all-ages works I enjoy where people wonder why this component is in a kids show because they see it as something kids shouldn’t have to decide on…the misconception is that kids will be making a choice if they’re exposed to that early, instead of it being who they are, and they’re just trying to be open about. Stuff like that drives me crazy…it’s just stifling and makes it hard to talk about later.”
Sorese added, “You just have to do a really good job and think through what you’re telling kids because they’re going to be so much more excited and so much more open once you don’t attach shame to it.”
Delliquanti continued, “It’s so easy to forget…there are plenty stories with heterosexual [characters] that don’t have sex in them.”
When Tynion arrived at the panel he discussed the inspiration for his new series at BOOM! Studios, “Backstagers.” “I was a queer stage crew kid in high school,” he said, “and I have a feeling that there’s a lot of crossover between theater geeks and comic geeks, especially in the queer comic geeks scene.”
Tynion continued, “They’re the outcasts of the outcasts. Stage crew was this really important home to me — I thought I wanted to be a part of the theater scene — but it was just kind of finding that I had a very specific home among the weirdos. That really let me come into myself, and I wanted to do a book that had a bunch of different representations of male queerness at an all-boys high school, which was my experience…It’s a nice little escape from Gotham City where things always aren’t as nice as they are…”
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