Panelists: Chris Claremont, Phil Jimenez, Tana Ford, Josh Siegel
In this panel, Phil Jimenez, Tana Ford, Josh Siegel and the audience got the opportunity to personally ask the legendary writer Chris Claremont questions about his seventeen years writing Uncanny X-Men and other X-related titles for Marvel. For many of us gay geeky comic book fans, The X-Men were a representation of the struggle of being seen as different by the general public, the struggle of being a minority group filled with diverse people and cultures that share one thing in common: being born on the spectrum of LGBTQ. As queer people, we identified with the party line, “living in a world that hates and fears them.” It was clear that everyone who attended the panel had a special place in their heart for Chris Claremont. And of course, in Chris Claremont fashion, we were treated to many stories about his youth and becoming a writer for Marvel. (At one point Claremont jokes about being paid per word. And later when answering a question about being inspired by discrimination in the US, he recalls when he accidentally was involved in a guerilla strike strike on Jordanian soil when he was staying in Israel.)
Here are some highlights from the panel:
Phil asked about Chris Claremont’s “Secret Origins” (Where are you from?). Claremont responded that he was born in London, but after a series of events his family moved to Denver and then finally to Long Island where he continues to reside now.
When Tana inquired when he started writing, Claremont gave us a glimpse of his youth in which he was studying and working as an actor. He has been a member of SAG since 1973, and he actually used to watch Sir Ian McKellen, the original cinematic Magneto, when he would perform in NYC.
Through some questioning Josh got Claremont to reveal that he was officially a political theory major in university. This became an important part of Claremont experiencing Manhattan as a hub for counterculture, especially since he was simultaneously involved in the theater community. It became clear that acting in NYC was a big influence on Claremont. Tana followed up with a question about how acting affected his writing. Claremont’s response went into the art of acting which according to him requires the ability to image when taking on a role and how that relates to being able to writing new characters, scenes, and worlds. Imagining what each character is doing and the scenarios that they must respond to; imagining is what a writer does.
The panelists all asked about more of the connections between The X-Men and Queerness.
When asked about queer representation in his writing, Claremont exclaimed that the metaphor of queerness stemmed from the zeitgeist of living in NYC. All it took was being aware of the world and people around you. While it may not have been in his head, it clearly came through to those reading, especially the queer audience. Most importantly, Claremont spoke of how emotions and characters were where the uniqueness of the X-Men comes through. Yes, the fashion sense of the time was really cool, but by speaking with emotion and wonder he did his best to capture a sort of hopefulness. He says “God bless ambiguity” when the slide show shows Professor X and Magneto having an intimate conversation, bordering on a homoerotic intimacy that for the audience always brought attention to how queer the X-Men were when Claremont was at the helm. Claremont goes on to explain that he, and other members of his generation, felt like the world was coming to an end with all the strife and civil rights battles during the time. The X-Men were a representation of that to him. These were kids who want a decent chance of life. But, people only see powers and fear them.
Specifically, when Claremont was creating the New Mutants in the 80s, he was looking for diversity and new untouched backgrounds to explore. His goal was to come up with interesting characters first and then set them loose in the Marvel Universe. The question was always, what absurd 19th century trope can we use to make a 20th-century quality story. The overall advice he gave writers once they created interesting characters was to visualize scenes and then convey them well to a penciler. The writer’s job is “knowing when to shut up” and trust the artist to do what they do best.
In the end, Chris Claremont couldn’t choose a favorite X-Men, but when asked who the queerest character is he alluded to the book X-Men: The End where Kitty Pryde is seen to be the president of the USA. As president we see Katherine with her children, no sign of a father, but Rachel Grey is seen by her side. Take that as you will.