The first panel I attended at New York Comic Con was the LGBT in Comics panel on Thursday, October 8. It was sponsored by TimesOUT, an LGBT affiliate of the New York Times. The lineup was quite star-studded and possibly the first time that three bisexual men have sat on a panel at a comics convention together. It consisted of writer Steve Orlando (Midnighter), artist Kris Anka (Uncanny X-Men), writer Jennie Wood (Flutter), artist Babs Tarr (Batgirl), cover artist Kevin Wada (She-Hulk), and writer James Tynion IV (Memetic). They represent a broad spectrum of comics genres from fashion forward superheroes to YA survival stories and even exploitation sub-genres. The panel was moderated by New York Times writer Jude Biersdorfer.
Steve Orlando got the first question about his work on Midnighter, which is the only DC or Marvel book to feature a gay male lead currently. When asked about why he broke up the long time couple Apollo and Midnighter, he began with the fact that they’ve shared far less history in the New 52 continuity versus the Wildstorm universe. Orlando wanted to create a Midnighter comic in which his lead anti-hero wasn’t defined by his relationship with Apollo. In this new setting, he can be 100% true to himself with no back-story or secret identity. When Biersdorfer asked if Midnighter was a good role model, Orlando said that even though he is very violent that his lack of second guessing himself is something that queer people can aspire to. It’s all a part of creating queer representation in comics, a medium in which everyone should see a bit of themselves in.
Later, Jennie Wood discussed her book Flutter in which a girl shapeshifts into a boy to get a girl. The protagonist Lily realizes that she’s treated differently as she sees that girls get shamed for having sex, and boys get praised. Basically, she misses male entitlement, and this will be further explored in Flutter Volume 2, which came out this summer from 215 Ink.
Biersdorfer then turned to the artists in the panel and asked about their process for creating a striking comics cover. Kevin Wada said “fashion, and Babs Tarr talked about how she was an illustration major in college and most comfortable doing covers with lots of neon, pink, and “smooching”. (See the last issue of Batgirl where Barbara and Luke Fox were making out.) Kris Anka bounced off this and said that pink is his go-to color for covers because it is a different palette from other artists. He also talked about how he’s a “research fiend” when it comes to costume design going deep into a superhero’s backstory to find out who they are as a character in all aspects of their life and not just fighting crime, like one of Carol Danvers’ workout tank tops in Captain Marvel #1.
Babs Tarr’s approach to costuming is thinking what a 21 year old woman would actually wear and keeping it relatable. She remarked, “It’s okay to be sexy, but not sexualized.” about the outfits she crafts for the characters. Tarr has Pinterest boards with ideas for various Batgirl characters’ daily outfits and is playing with giving Barbara Gordon a kind of librarian style in later issues as an homage to her job in the 1966 Batman TV show and earlier comics. Wada goes all out with his high fashion superheroes and then dials it back after getting editorial input.
James Tynion was asked about how his high concept sci-fi/post-apocalyptic story Memetic from BOOM! Studios had no straight white males in the lead roles. He said that growing up he didn’t see himself in his favorite stories and sought to change that to change that in his creator owned comics for BOOM! As far as Memetic, the two main characters Aaron (a white gay college student who is hearing impaired) and Marcus (a black military vet who is visually impaired) represent the human and government sides at the end of the world and didn’t need to be white, straight men necessarily.
Tynion talked about his large workload of comics ranging from titles like the upcoming Cognetic and The Woods (recently optioned to be a feature film) for BOOM! to Batman and Robin Eternal and Hellblazer for DC Comics. Each book stretches a different part of him as a writer: the Bat-books are dark and bombastic like his favorite superhero stories, TMNT/Batman mixes that darkness with a splash of humor and pizza, The Woods is a YA story, and Memetic is high concept sci-fi/horror. Hellblazer is an interesting mix because it is emotionally dark, but John Constantine also has a snarky sense of humor that keep things fresh.
Bierdorfer asked the panelists what personal bits of themselves they put in their works. Tarr said that Batgirl was basically writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher letting her draw fun things she enjoyed, like a cat themed villainess and a Scooby Doo themed issue. Before she was out as a lesbian, Wood grew up in a small, Southern town and while she popped popcorn at the movie theatre and pretended that she was the boy taking girls to movies because it was taboo for a girl to take a girl. This experience filtered out to her work in Flutter while her YA novel A Boy Like Me is written from the perspective of a trans boy, which is different from her own experience.
Orlando began his answer by joking, “I’ve never cut anyone’s head off”, and then said that Midnighter #6 will explore the tension between parents and queer sons. There is also the universal experience of breakups shown in flashbacks between Apollo and Midnighter, and he thinks that they did deserve a real, romance instead of already being established as a longterm couple back in Stormwatch. Tynion said the characters in The Woods are different aspects of him, like his organizational side along with his experience of being queer and having weight issue. It’s his most personal work.
Bierdorfer read a 2008 quote from writer Greg Pak (Action Comics) “I don’t think any character should try to sustain the hopes and dreams of an entire people.” and asked the panel what qualities made a well-rounded LGBT character. Wood said that she should be flawed and human, and Tynion said he likes to include contradictory elements in characters and to make his characters as diverse as possible just like his real life LGBT friends. Orlando talked about how much he doesn’t try to make his characters speak for all LGBT people and makes sure they have interesting elements beyond their sexuality. Writing a character to please everyone ends up making the character boring and vanilla. Wood echoed this by saying that a character’s sexuality shouldn’t be the most interesting part about them.
As the discussion concluded, the panelists gave recommendations of LGBT-friendly or comics in general that they were enjoying. Jennie Wood recommended Duck by Tana Ford, an independent comic about lesbians who live in Boston from Northwest Press. Babs Tarr and Kevin Wada recommended Image Comics standouts, like Saga, Southern Bastards, and WicDiv. James Tynion enjoyed the epic scale of Jason Aaron’s Star Wars comic for Marvel as well as Raina Telgemaier’s graphic novel Drama, especially since he used to be a stage crew kid. Steve Orlando recommended Enormous, a survivalist series from Image Comics featuring giant monsters and a lesbian lead. Kris Anka raved about the Starz TV show Black Sails featuring Captain Flint coming out as bisexual in Season 2, and how his love for a man motivated his violence and revenge.
Then, there was a fan Q and A that touched on a variety of topics, including Orlando’s choice of the very homophobic country of Jamaica for the setting of Virgil and the impossibility of a queer character remaining queer at the Big Two because of the revolving door of creators (See Hercules.). James Tynion tried to counter this in his Hellblazer by making his bisexuality very evident from the opening pages of the first issue. He then talked about his own relationship with John Constantine, and that Constantine walks a lot and interacts with people even though he’ll probably end up getting them killed because he is sad and lonely. Tynion said that everyone has their own versions of iconic characters, like Batman, and that his Constantine’s distrust for authority comes his own feelings and not from the punk movement, like older creators.
The LGBT panel ended on an uplifting note as Babs Tarr praised the diversity of comics creators starting to gain prevalence in the industry, saying, “We’re kinda badass.” In retrospect, her sentiment reminds me of the announcement of an all female creative team for Marvel’s Hellcat and the Jessica Jones TV show panel, which featured only one white man. (And David Tennant via video message.) Wood replied to this and talked about how there is room for LGBT creators in the wide world of indie comics.