The month of June is upon us and in it’s prime and, along with enjoying the pleasant weather, it is the month for celebrating gay pride. We here at Orbital are in the swing of it, exhibiting artwork in the beginning of the month from Dan Parent’s ‘Kevin Keller’ comics (the first gay Archie Comics title character) and hosting a wedding reception to toast the vows of Northstar and Kyle from Astonishing X-Men.
So, in the spirit of the season, I would like to recommend a few books that prominently feature LGBT characters and relationships. Here are a few of my favourites.
I am a massive fan of superhero comics, and the Big Two have been increasingly active in representing strong gay characters in their books. A wonderful example of this is the current Batwoman title at DC. Written and mostly illustrated by J.H. Williams III, the character-focused storytelling and unbelievable art make this one of the best-received books to come out of the New 52 relaunch.
Kate Kane, in the titular role, is a lesbian character who capably carries the mantle of the Bat. The two main women in her life also have important roles to play elsewhere in the DCU. Her current romantic interest is Captain Maggie Sawyer of the Gotham Central Police Department, whose role in the police force often conflicts with Kate’s secret identity as Batwoman. Kate’s ex-girlfriend, Rene Montoya, was once a member of the GCPD and has recently been donning a mask and a new destiny as The Question.
Kate Kane first featured in the very good weekly series ‘52’ and was given her own five-issue story in the Batman ongoing ‘Detective’ series several years later. This is collected as ‘Batwoman: Elegy’ and is my recommended introductory point for the character. ‘Elegy’ is a very strong story written by Greg Rucka, also with art by Williams. The plot doesn’t hang on gay issues by it wisely doesn’t avoid them either.
Some other LGBT characters and relationships in mainstream superhero comics, just to name a few: Apollo and Midnighter (Authority, Stormwatch), Rictor and Shatterstar (X-Factor), Karolina Dean (Runaways), Striker and Julie Power (Avengers Academy), and lest we forget, John Constantine (Hellblazer).
Before moving on from superhero books, I’d like to quickly single out the relationship between Wiccan and Hulking of the Young Avengers series as being especially well portrayed. This fantastic team book is written with a teen audience in mind, and the loving, angst-free relationship between the aforementioned characters is a breath of fresh air. Teen readers who may be questioning their own orientation could draw a positive message from a book like this.
Now, on to the Indies! There are troves of books worth mentioning, but I will narrow it down to a few for brevity’s sake.
Love and Rockets, which made its debut in the early 1980’s, is perhaps the go-to for excellent independent storytelling and art. Los Bros Hernandez’s long-running urban punk soap opera features a rotating cast of characters falling in and out of relationships. It is noteworthy for the many same-sex relationships that feature throughout the series, and the refusal to shy away from scenes of intimacy between them. Now published by Fantagraphics Books, L & R is hailed as one of the most progressive and best-loved series in independent comics history.
An on-topic book that I have recently read and thoroughly enjoyed was Fun Home. Autobiographer Alison Bechdel’s memoir of her strange upbringing as the open lesbian daughter of a repressed gay father in Middle America in the early 1980’s is aptly labelled a ‘family tragicomic’. Bechdel (also the creator of the infamous Bechdel Test) really draws you in with an alternately humorous and sad look at her life growing up in the oppressive environment of a family whose lives were ruled by her father’s secret. The book is a resonating account of the societal pressure to be ‘normal’ (i.e. heterosexual) and of the pain and abnormality that choosing to wear the mask has bred behind closed doors of suburban families. The destruction to Bechdel’s family was total because of it, and this was only twenty-odd years ago.
On the flip side, another family-based story I recently got an enormous kick out of was Jan Van Meter’s Hopeless Savages from Oni Press, which reads like a sugar-rush on paper. The story is about two seventies punk-rocker parents (a less ill-fated Sid and Nancy) and their quirky young adult kids. There are madcap adventures, silly espionage stories and of course a romantic same-gender relationship, of which all the family are very supportive. It’s a fun, feel-good read, and I love that.
A list like this could go on and on, and a little consultation with your search engine will bring up hundreds of other results. So my real recommendation is to celebrate gay pride month by giving at least one new story a try, and see what takes your fancy.