Like many other artistic avenues, queer themes in comics were often only found in underground publications or subtly intertwined and disguised in mainstream comics. Up until 1989 the Comics Code Authority did not allow any mention of homosexuality in comics, forbidding gay characters, themes, or innuendo in dialogue. Their justification for these restrictions was that comics are designated for children, and along with horror and violence, homosexuality was not a wholesome subject for children to be exposed to or raised on.
In the past couple of decades, this sort of censorship no longer exists. Comic book stores do not require a CCA seal of approval before putting a book on the shelf, and publishers have long ago realized what comic fans have always known, that comics are not just for kids. The stereotype that adult comic readers are single, socially inept males has also been thrown out the window when considering the mainstream success of graphic novels and the surge of female writers and readers alike. And yet, despite the overthrown censorship and the expanding readership and success of popular comic driven movies, there is still a severe lack of LGBT comics on the shelves.
This is changing, but the progress is slower than one would think. The LGBT section in your local comic shop probably only consists of a couple of shelves (even less, depending on where you live). Archie comics made a big splash with their first openly gay character in 2010 and then wowed readers with the fabulous cover showing a same-sex wedding in early 2012. Despite ridiculous campaigns to withdraw this comic from the shelves of toy stores, it remained for sale. Alison Bechdel, famous for her ongoing comic series called Dykes to Watch Out For, released her first graphic novel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, in 2006. This memoir comic, dealing with her own history as a lesbian as well as the sexuality of her father, was wildly successful in the mainstream literary world, bridging the gap between comic books and literary novels in a seemingly effortless manner. Its strong LGBT themes are critical to the story, but also critical for any reader struggling with their own sexuality or place within their family.
And this is the point. Children, teenagers, adults, and people in between are reading books, magazines, and comics as a way to escape their own lives, yes, but also to find a tenuous connection to a reality that exists somewhere other than their own worlds. A young boy experiencing thoughts or feelings that may be completely foreign to how he was raised can find some truth and validation in a comic book. Will the comic deny the existence of homosexuality completely? Will it allude to sexual tension between heavily muscled men in tights? Or will it have openly gay characters who don't treat homosexuality as something to be ashamed of or disguised?
I began writing the memoir comic Jesus Loves Lesbians, Too because I wanted to share my story with others, and I wanted a sweet and funny way to do it. I distinctly remembered what it was like being a Christian, falling in love with a woman, and not feeling like anyone could possibly relate to what I was going through. The Christian friends didn't get the "gay part," and the gay friends couldn't fathom the "Christian part." My mom purchased a few books recommended by her church friends, but unfortunately (and this may or may not be surprising to you), they were not very affirming or encouraging. Part of the inspiration for my comic stemmed from the experience of just wanting to know that someone, somewhere, knew what I was feeling.
And so I keep writing, and, more importantly, I keep reading. It is so important to support other LGBT authors, because for every bisexual or Christian or girl or sibling who can relate to my words, there is someone else out there who may relate more to some other stripe in the spectrum. Authors like Alison Bechdel, Erika Moen, Joey Sayers, and Brian Andersen are creating comics that matter. Sure, not every comic is emotionally eviscerating or filled with multi-tiered layers, but even the silly, nonsensical comics can be important to a young reader who would otherwise feel alone.
Brian Andersen has created not only one but five amazing, and amazingly queer, comics. Growing up as a comic-book-loving, superhero-idolizing boy, he finally followed his dream of creating comics in 2007. His comic So Super Duper is about a gay superhero named Psyche who doesn't realize his own gayness at first but slowly and eventually begins accepting it, making him an even better hero. (Brian has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to compile all 12 issues of So Super Duper into two fantastic, beautifully colored trade collections.) You can get your action fix, your humor fix, and your queer fix all in one sweet, fun-filled comic series. This is a series you can give your nephew, your cousin, your sister, or your partner, gay or straight, and they will enjoy it, because who doesn't love to laugh? Better yet, they may even relate to the endearing story of a superhero trying to break into a group while struggling with his own attractions and effeminate tendencies.