The Importance Of LGBTQ Representation In All-Ages Comic Books [Kids’ Comics]
LGBTQ representation in comic books is important, and it’s something we’ve talked about --- and will continue to talk about --- at ComicsAlliance at length. But what doesn’t get said enough is that LGBTQ representation is especially important in all-ages and young adult comic books. Representation at such a young age can be legitimately life-changing for children, and while certain publishers are making tremendous strides in the right direction, others are missing the boat completely.
The big hurdle in LGBTQ representation, both in all-ages comics and in media in general, is that people often equate stories with queer themes and characters with sex, and those stories are therefore taboo for young readers. The more stories with LGBTQ representation we see published, the more it normalizes the idea of those relationships, and the more we erode that taboo.
Last year, I was hesitant to give my tween cousin a copy of Noelle Stevenson’s excellent Nimona because of the relationship between Blackheart and Goldenloin, two characters that are firmly established to have unresolved romantic feeling for each other despite being enemies. I was hesitant because I did not know how her parents would react if they found out, but ultimately I gave her my copy, because Nimona is awesome and I was prepared to have that conversation with my uncle.
Unfortunately, this is a conversation people still need to have (and thankfully a conversation I didn't have to have on this occasion), because people who grew up without a need for representation do not see the problem. You hear a lot of talk about waiting until children are older before we broach subjects of sexuality or gender, or even worse, talking of “corruption” --- an idea that can be traced back all the way to Dr. Frederic Wertham and his claims that Batman and Robin set a bad example for kids.
Nimona is a great example of positive representation, because it shows that LGBTQ relationships are just as varied and unique as straight ones are. So many stories feature queer characters finding their one true love and settling down and being together forever, and that’s great, but that’s not reflective of life. People fight, people break-up, people flirt and have unresolved feelings. If only one story is being told, it’s not true representation.
We’ve seen some great progress in recent years with comics like Lumberjanes, Life With Kevin, and The Backstagers, and each of those comics tells a very different story, which will mean something very special to all sorts of children who read them. However, other publishers, particularly the Big Two superhero publishers, Marvel and DC, don’t seem at as interested in providing that sort of representation.
Marvel and its editor-in-chief Axel Alonso will talk at length about the progress the publisher has made when it comes to diversity, especially talking up titles like The Mighty Thor, Ms. Marvel, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, but when pressed about Angela’s sexual orientation and status as Marvel’s first gay or bisexual lead character --- the same week she shared a kiss with her trans partner Sera --- Alonso replied
That's a question for readers to ponder and answer for themselves. We're not looking to put labels on the character or the series. We'd prefer that the story Marguerite, Kim and Stephanie are telling -- all aspects of it -- speak for itself.
Angela: Queen of Hel is not a kids' comic, it's mature and sophisticated and relies on knowledge of literary conventions, but if Alonso --- and by extension Marvel --- can't admit that a character like Angela is gay, what hope do we have for the LGBTQ equivalent of Ms. Marvel or Moon Girl?
To DC’s credit, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner and John Timms’ Harley Quinn has been a surprisingly progressive book, not only addressing Harley’s bisexuality and relationship with Poison Ivy, but also digging into their polyamorous relationship and Ivy’s lack of jealousy over Harley seeing other people. While probably not a book you’d give to children, it certainly falls within the bounds of Young Adult, and there are going to be some teenagers who read it --- maybe because of Margot Robbie’s performance in Suicide Squad --- who will be exposed to new ideas and concepts for the first time.
Being young and queer can be one of the scariest times in a child’s life, but comic books can provide messages about the world that let people know that they’re okay exactly as they are, and there are people out there just like them that can’t wait to meet them.
If one child reads one comic with a queer lead and feels more comfortable in themselves, that’s a huge achievement; extrapolate that across the industry and there is the opportunity for comics to make an enormous positive change.