Whether you’re representing women or LGBTQ or any other minority in comics, there’s a lot of similarity in the issues. The Queer Comics panel at Boston Comic Con covered lots of ground including the progress being made in the mainstream, writing characters you don’t know, and encouraging more characters.
The room was packed and, unfortunately, attendees had to be turned away for the Saturday Queer Comics panel at this year’s Boston Comic Con. The panel featuring Tana Ford, Jennie Wood, Amber Love and Joey Stern discussed LGBTQ representation.
Keeping the conversation honest but positive
One of the things that made this panel so powerful to me was the focus on the positive. The moderator and all the panelists were able to discuss how LGBTQ character representation in comics has changed and the progress that’s still needed, but by staying positive it created a safe space for discussion.
At one point, Tana was sharing her thoughts on the effect of the queer community becoming “mainstream” with the ability to marry and come out to your family becoming more widespread. She spoke honestly, relaying her personal struggle about losing lesbian identity and what that means. “It’s wonderful to see complex human stories,” but a potential downside of going mainstream is commercialization, because “now it’s gimmicky. We need a gay character, etc.” Poignantly, she asked “we’re not the other and we’re blending in. What does that mean for us as a whole?”
What happens after the advocating, after it’s become part of your identity, how do you cope when you’re accepted and mainstream? The panel didn’t have any answers, but was able to raise the question without any negative backlash.
Acknowledging progress in the mainstream
Sure, there’s still a lot of work to do, but acknowledging progress in the mainstream and the effect the mainstream has isn’t always a bad idea. Joey Stern, discussing the new Young Avengers and its inclusion of LGBTQ characters, said that “it’s important that it’s a Marvel comic.”
As a creator, Jennie thinks that “comics reach a demographic that need these stories, a wide demographic not just a young demographic. …[we’re] able to reach an audience through comics we can’t reach anywhere else.”
Writing what you don’t know
After the panel, I spoke with Jennie Wood. She had mentioned Y: The Last Man as an influential LGBTQ book for herself. Y: The Last Man was written by Brian K. Vaughn who is neither a female nor LGBTQ. How should writers approach writing what they don’t know first hand?
For Jennie, who’s working on a new book about a trans man, it’s about “writing a human not a character.” She’s also using research and early readers from the community to help find any incongruities. It’s great advice for anyone writing the Other. If you’re not a woman and want to check your perspective, ask a female friend to give it a read. Not a gay man? See if you can find one to help you workshop your story.
If you don’t have a friend who can help. . .
During the audience Q&A, an aspiring writer had this question: “As a writer, I don’t want to feel that I’m just plugging a character in if I don’t have that voice in my head.” Joey Stern responded with: “I prefer tokens to nothing. I would rather a gay character exists and there’s an acknowledgement than nothing at all.”
Earlier in the panel, Joey had expanded on the idea of more, not necessarily better, characters: “It’s not that I need better characters, I need more characters. So Black Widow doesn’t have to represent all women, if you have more representation of sad, strong, etc., so you can have more individual stories.”
But what if as a writer you get it “wrong?”
In out post panel chat, I asked Jennie how she’s bracing herself for the potential negative commentary for her trans male book: “Remind yourself not everyone is going to like your work. It’s not going to resonate with everyone. We’re all individuals, we all want to see ourselves in the book, and we’re not always going to please everyone. If everyone loves your book, I feel like you’re doing something wrong. And that’s ok, it’s actually more than ok. And you just put it out there. And you learn what people want more of to help you grow as a writer. You listen to it and then let it go.”