Round-Table: LGBTQIA+ Comic Influences

Rainbow flag, an iconic pride symbol

June is National Pride Month, a time for celebrating identity and creating a space where LGBTQIA+ individuals can speak up and have their voices heard. Women Write About Comics has an interest—naturally—in queer comics and how they influenced us for better or worse. We sat down with some of our staff and contributors to talk to them about the influences of comics as it pertains to their gender identity and sexual orientation.

First, I want to thank everyone for participating. We have such an amazing and diverse cast here at WWAC, and we’re fortunate to have so many different perspectives represented in our work. To that effect, if you are comfortable doing so, would you mind sharing with us how you identify yourself?

CP Hoffman: I’m non-binary and queer.

Mackenzie Pitcock: I’m a non-binary bisexual icon.

Nola Pfau: Trans, queer, generally difficult.

Corissa Haury: I am a bisexual cis woman.

Thank you for sharing. I think it’s safe to say that media, especially comics, has played a big part in who we are today. I know it’s definitely played a huge role in figuring out who I am. Looking back at the comics you’ve read in the past, are there any that stand out to you as your “awakening” moment?

CP: A couple of years ago, I was starting to think of myself as something other than a cis man, but in an extremely tentative way, where I wasn’t entirely sure what I was and was terrified of claiming someone else’s identity. And then in early October 2016, I read the first issue of Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love by Sarah Vaughn, Lan Medina, José Villarrubia, and Janice Chiang, and suddenly there was a non-binary character on the page of a Big Two comic, and they were treated with respect and love by those around them and my mind was blown.

Mackenzie: When I was about eleven, I picked up CLAMP’s Magic Knight Rayearth, and it had everything I had been looking for in a series: cute/strong girls, robots, questing, and so much subtle destruction of the gender binary. I was captivated by the character design, and after sharing the series with a friend, realized that we thought about the girls in the series very differently and I was way more into them.

Nola: I didn’t have a way to contextualize it for decades, but it always comes back to X-Men for me. My first issue, #173, was the issue wherein Storm undergoes a significant personal change and adopts the punk rock look she carried for most of the ’80s. To see someone radically redefine themselves, to pursue self-expression in their entire mode of appearance, just because they could, was significant.

Corissa: When I picked up Snotgirl for my 28th birthday, I didn’t realize it was going to start me on a path to coming out. It really awakened this curiosity in me because the main character, Lottie, has this fascination with a woman she’s interested in. I had a similar fascination with the woman I loved, and there was this validation in Lottie’s bisexual needs and how she struggled with that attraction the same way I struggled with mine.

The impact something has on you isn’t always immediately apparent. When you read that comic, did you realize how significant it would be to you? Or did it occur to you retrospectively?

CP: Okay, so funny story: I wrote a whole thing about the impact on me of that Deadman miniseries last year for National Coming Out Day, but it turns out I’ve been mis-remembering a critical detail. In my brain, I had remembered very tentatively coming out as non-binary and then reading that first issue of Deadman and it kickstarted a mental process that had already begun. Haha, turns out that’s wrong. Instead, I read that first issue, and not a week later described myself for the first time as a non-binary-type person. I’m pretty confident I would have reached that conclusion eventually, since I had always felt constrained by being defined as a man, but it absolutely offered me a legitimized vision of something I could perhaps claim as my own without diminishing anyone else’s identity.

Mackenzie: I didn’t realized how significant Magic Knight Rayearth was going to be to me at the time, and I even kinda forgot about the series for a bit. It wasn’t until later, when I was rereading it that I realized just how impactful the series was. As a kid, I loved all the girls in the series, but always saw myself more in the male characters, especially Fuu’s love interest Ferio. He’s cool and cute, and often emotionally vulnerable, traits I was used to associating with strictly feminine presentations were being presented by someone more masculine. I was so into it and so jealous; I wanted to be like that! Last year-ish, I had just come out as non-binary to my partner and decided to reread the series for fun. When I got to where Ferio is introduced, it was this surprise moment of queer realization. A lot of Ferio’s characteristics are characteristics I saw in myself that led me towards coming out, but also Fuu is super cute, and I would absolutely date her.

Nola: Retrospectively, for sure. When I started to sort everything out, it took several days of basic isolation and about ten thousand words of writing to put everything into order; I had to catalogue almost three decades worth of lived experiences in a way that showed the contextual threads I was trying to pull at cleanly. When I did, when I finally reached the end of that, I broke down in tears, because the weight of it releasing was just such an incredible thing. The last year or so since that point (is it really so recent?) has been a wild rush.

Corissa: Absolutely retrospectively. Looking back, I realized that there was this emotional connection I had to the comic that I hadn’t seen before. When I pick it up and I read it again (and again, and again), I have these revelations about why certain scenes and conversations between these queer women are meaningful to me.

What about that comic spoke to you? Were you drawn to a particular character or was there a specific scene that had a lasting impact on you?

CP: The character of Sam had a relatively minor role in the Deadman mini, but I loved them. The scene with the biggest impact on me, though, was Berenice explaining Sam to Deadman. “Sam uses They/Them pronouns. They’re non-binary. Not a woman or a man. Just awesome.” That description echoed inside me and felt so intuitively right. I immediately tweeted out the panel with the comment “THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE.” I feel a little bad saying that cis people talking about the trans character is what impacted me the most, but… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ The description of Sam’s gender was just so concise and felt so familiar that it’s stuck with me ever since.

Mackenzie: Everything about Rayearth spoke to me. Every female character in the series is so strong and talented, and the only male characters who aren’t useless are the effeminate/androgynous ones. Also, magical big robots and evolving armor, yes please. Going back to the series made me realize that I was subconsciously reading most of the characters as non-binary (Ferio, Fuu, Presea, Hikaru), and the characters I wasn’t reading as enby, were all really, really cute girls that I wanted to date (Umi, Fuu, Tatra, Tarta).

Nola: To be fair, it wasn’t just that issue; the themes of subtextual queerness run deep throughout years and years of X-Men comics. That particular issue though features several concurrent narratives of self-actualization, and those are as important to me now as they were to me at eight years old. Storm’s change of identity (and Kitty’s rejection of it), Rogue’s desperate desire to prove herself to the team’s hardened veteran, Mariko’s sudden rejection of love in favor of the strength of her family: these were all narratives that centered women making important decisions about the focus and direction of their lives. That was a lesson I needed.

Corissa: In general the overall acceptance of queer identity in Snotgirl, how it feels natural to the world and the story, really inspires me. But specifically, the Lottie-Caroline relationship that is always in flux, where Lottie is always questioning Caroline’s moods and motives, is especially poignant for me. I’m pretty much attracted to almost everyone in the book, except maybe Cutegirl, so there is also that queer validation. As I said before though, in reality I identify most closely with Lottie and her confused queer experiences with Caroline.

Before we wrap up, I want to thank everyone again for participating. It’s wonderful to hear how comics have played a part in shaping who we are today. The last thing I want to ask is: Have you revisited that keystone comic since you initially read it? Is it still significant to you or was it more like a stepping stone in your journey of self-discovery?

CP: I reread the Deadman mini in its entirety when the trade came out about a year ago, as prep for writing a piece on it for Book Riot. That was shortly after, I started coming out as non-binary in a real way (at least online), and at that point the comic still felt fresh and relevant. I suspect if I went back to it now I might be disappointed in just how little Sam has to do in the book. It’s mostly the Berenice show. We’ve seen a little more non-binary rep in mainstream comics since it came out—notably the recent issue of Supergirl co-written by Vita Ayala—but by and large non-binary characters haven’t been able to take the lead.

Mackenzie: As I said earlier, I revisited the series about a year ago, and honestly, it’s more important to me now than it was when I first read it. It gave me a huge sense of comfort and relief as re-reading the series reassured me of my own identity. It wasn’t even two weeks later that I came out online and to those close to me. Shoutout to CLAMP for helping me reach my queer potential!

Nola: As a matter of fact, I reread it regularly. I have a few copies, since it’s available cheaply, but I keep the original near my desk at all times so that I can flip through it whenever I’d like. It’s deeply, personally important to me.

Corissa: I think in some ways Snotgirl will always be significant to me. I am always re-reading it in some form, probably about once a month. If I’m not reading it cover to cover, I’m flipping through to a favorite scene to look at a specific piece of art. It’s fun, too, to read the trade paperbacks sometimes versus the individual comic issues. But in general, it’s just a great piece of queer art that’s nice to look at!

Heather Wells

Heather Wells

Book reviewer, video game-er, and WWAC editor, Heather can be found on Twitter @terminality_, where she mostly posts about her cat.