I was at Special Edition Con this past weekend. The turnout was decent, but never overcrowded. But I had a mission, find LGBT representation in the comics scene. My first stop was the Secret Identities: Transgender Themes in Comic Books panel. Playwright Charles Battersby, Joe Kelly(“Bango Tango”), Morgan Boecher(“What’s Normal Anyways?”), P. Kristen Enos(“Creatures of Grace”) talked the history of cross dressing in comics like Madame Fatale and Bugs Bunny, to the actual trans characters including in various series, and the outpouring of content on the internet. Listen to the podcast of the panel here.
After the panel, I talked to Joe Eisma of Morning Glories and asked him about illustrating the steamy, classroom sex scene between Guillaume and Jun, written by Nick Spencer. Joe stressed that the first sex scene in the book, was a gay one and that Tumblr blew up in the process. But, for Joe, it was more two people connecting in an intimate, tender moment. Joe is busy illustrating the Glories “return to school” and working on a standalone issue of Evil Empire, by BOOM! Studios.
At the Archie panel, Archie Comics promised big, unannounced plans for Kevin Keller for the near future. Artists Alley was filled with great talent including friends of GeeksOut: Rey Arzeno and Eric Guerrero of Rage Gear Studios. They weren’t hard to find, they were the only booth with a gay flag waving. They had cookies and great Powerpuff girl inspired t-shirts! Great art for sale and endless booths of bargain bins.
But overall, Batgirl and Red Sonja writer, Gail Simone, was the non-gendered head of royalty at Special Edition Con. She was on many panels and always had a long line in the corner of Artist Alley. Her panels included “Reimagining the Female Hero” and a celebration for Batman’s 75th. On the Female Hero panel Gail Simone, Marguerite Bennett, Emanuela Lapacchino, and Jenny Frison talk about the difference between being sexual and being sexualized, created for the male gaze. The characters need to have personhood, in control over their bodies and uniforms. People read comics to escape from reality, and who doesn’t want to be sexy and confident? The audience was a good mix of men and women and everyone in between, really behind all the steps female characters and creators have taken. I knew I had to talk Gail some more…
“Thoughtful, smart, emotional, and powerful. Reserved, modest, scary, goal oriented. Compassionate, strong, sensitive, and supportive.” These are words Gail uses to define her characters, Virtue and Tremor from The Movement, and Alysia Yeoh of Batgirl- all three happen to not be straight or white. Gail Simone describes her characters with care, free of how the media and society labels them: “Lesbian, asexual, and transgender.” These characters are all these qualities and more, but they often get pigeonholed as the “gay characters” or “token minority”. Gail treats the characters with respect, not focusing on their downfalls or sexuality, but making it a normal part of their lives. Sometimes they need to clarify it, as LGBT often have to in today’s society, and then the action continues.
When Gail creates a new character, she goes for something new, someone new, “someone not well represented in comics.” She tries to make all her characters “three dimensional, interesting…not stereotypical.” She does her research…boy does she do her research. Gail seeks out experts in whatever she wants to portray. Books, physiatrists, doctors, trauma care…all “fabulous and knowledgeable” resources. She wants to portray the situation as real as possible. “I talk about experiences [with those who have experienced them]” she tells me, “I try to listen”.
Last year, when Alysia, Barbra “Batgirl” Gordon’s roommate, revealed herself to be transgender, the internet broke. Headlines of “DC introduces first openly transgender character” sensationalized the story which really was less than sensational. In the issue, the two roommates sat on the couch and in one panel Alysia shared an intimate fact. Simple as that. “It was amazing to see the feedback [for Alysia’s reveal]. The positive reactions outweighed the negative.” Gail was teary eyed for days reading her e-mail from all the readers it inspired and spoke to. “It’s my firm belief that visibility saves lives.”
Although having created more mainstream LGBT characters than any other creator, Simone states: “It’s not my responsibility to represent the community but rather my privilege. I’m honored to be in my position.” She feels “trusted” with the task.
Stan and Jack [Kirby] did not write females well. Today, characters still remain hesitant to hit a femme fatale. But a statuesque woman? A grotesque woman? They can take a punch. The industry is opening up. It’s getting better but we need to do more. Gail, along with all forward thinking comic fans, are “looking forward to more diverse casts and more diverse creators.”
As Special Edition Con ended, I went on my way, bouncing The Watcher's Eye from Original Sin while Gail received a special call from the White House to speak to a forum about LGBTQ and disability issues. The last redheaded comic personality to get a call from Obama was Archie Andrews…