No, I’m going to talk about ones that were in my reading piles back in the day (i.e. before I ran out of room to stick another comic book in my apartment). I’d like to look at the mainstream comics first then independent ones (which have a better track record).
I’ve always been a fan of the superhero groups rather than the stand alone heroes (hence me being rather oblivious to any of the LBGT themes in Green Lantern which went on to win a GLAAD award according to wiki). I read a lot of groups, X-Men (okay, ALL the X-books), Alpha Flight, Justice League, Legion of Superheroes, etc so I have hundreds of DC and Marvel comics.
Let’s start with Marvel, since it was here I met one of the more major characters that turned out to be homosexual. I was always a fan of Alpha Flight, a Canadian super hero group who numbered the twins Northstar and Aurora in their ranks. Northstar’s, Jean- Paul Beaubier, mutant ability is super strength and speed. Growing up, he became an expert skier and rather than have every ski bunny hanging off of him, Jean-Paul was played as being obsessed with being a champion and didn’t have time for women. His creator, John Byrne, said this was to hint at the fact Northstar had no interest in women because Byrne was not allowed to have a gay character and that he always intended for Northstar to be gay (for more on the history, check out Northstar’s wiki).
Whether or not it’s true that Jim Shooter (Marvel’s editor-in-chief in the 80’s) had a ‘no gays in Marvel comics’ policy or not (again more info to be found on wiki. This wiki is well documented), I have no way of knowing. I do know a lot of artists and writers who have worked in the comic book field and knew of a lot of policies that were very restrictive (and often just plain weird). It wouldn’t surprise me if it were true.
However, in 1992, in Alpha Flight #106 (this one is in my collection), they finally got permission to have Northstar come out as gay. Even though it was mostly hushed back up again for years, this comic sold out and was induced into the Gaylactic Hall of Fame. Two years later, with only a few brief mentions of his sexuality, Alpha Flight was canceled.
Northstar had his own miniseries, still ignoring his homosexuality, then ended up in The X-Men, leaving the group and rejoining it again in 2009 (after I gave up collecting. It had become too costly to try and follow storylines through multiple X-books, sadly). Jean-Paul is in a relationship with his sports company’s event manager, Kyle. They will marry in the Astonishing X-Men #51, due out in Pride month, June 27th (where I’ll be in the air traveling to a research destination, sigh. I wonder if this will also sell out). Of course, not everyone is happy about this. The One Million Mums group with their homophobia is protesting it. There was one very good meme photo passed around facebook (Thank you, Mr. George Takei) that really summed it up for me. It had a leaked panel of the marriage of Jean-Paul and Claude along side of the Punisher blowing off someone’s head and said something to the effect of ‘If you don’t want your child to see this because of the psychological damage it could do (the marriage picture) but don’t mind them looking at this (The Punisher) you are a bad parent.’
Also within the Marvel universe in X-Factor, two of my favorite characters, Rictor and Shatterstar, started exploring their bisexuality with each other. There is at least one on-panel kiss (It took Northstar thirty years to earn that privilege). After a dispute with the characters’ creator, who no longer has much in the way of creative rights (points to those aforementioned policies), it was decided that in spite of his protests these characters weren’t bi, the bisexual relationship was going to be explored.
DC Comics doesn’t fare much better in the way of LGBT entertainment. I’m not really going to go into the homosexual subtext for this (Batman and Robin for instance) and concentrate on characters that were openly gay. In the early 90’s, a few minor characters were depicted as gay. I mostly remember Shrinking Violet and Lightning Lass in the Legion of Super-Heroes (two very minor characters) being lesbian, but their relationship, like others, were retconned later to make the characters straight again.
My exposure to LGBT characters in the DC universe was through their Vertigo line which was aimed more at the adult reader. Alan Moore, while not my favorite author (I know, I know, it’s like I have to turn in my geek crown when I say that), did have some very realistic treatments, good and bad, in his Watchmen and
The ones that stayed with me more, however, were from the wonderful pen of Neil Gaiman. Sandman had several LGBT characters and some of the most realistic themes I’ve ever seen in the comic book world. I loved his characters. If you only know Gaiman’s work from his novels, go look up the bound Sandman collections. This comic book is one of the few I own every issue and rereading often. It is just that good. There is no beautifying and idealizing of the LGBT relationship (such as found in yaoi manga, for instance) in his work. It is visceral and real, both loving and nasty with all the ups and downs of any real relationship.
And one of the most interesting LGBT characters I ever read in the comic book medium was Lord Fanny (yes, the name is cringe-worthy) a transgendered character in Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. Fanny was born a boy in Brazil, Hilde. Boys couldn’t be trained as witches and his grandmother seeing his magical ability raised him as a girl. She does live life as a girl both before and after joining the Invisibles group and wielded a fair amount of power.
Dark Horse comics did deal with LGBT themes, at least in their Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. Willow and Tara and later Willow and Kennedy being a canon lesbian relationship from the TV series itself. The comic book went one step further into having lesbian experimentation by Buffy. Fan reaction was very mixed. Honestly, it didn’t work for me, mostly because it wasn’t portrayed in a way that jived with what Whedon would later claim when the protests went up; that Buffy wasn’t gay but rather young, open minded and experimenting. It was more like out of the blue and out of character, in my opinion, but then again, I don’t have a high opinion of the ‘eighth’ season comic book.
Independent comics do a better job of portraying LGBT characters. Naturally, they have less rules to abide by in many cases. Two that I remember very well from the 80s-90s were Desert Peach (now reprinted on the web) and A Distant Soil and mostly because I erratically pen paled with the creator of one of them and peripherally knew the creative force behind the other (fan fiction has had many benefits for me over the years). Both of them were fan favorites at the time though A Distant Soil did have production problems many times over the years. I’m not entirely sure Colleen was ever able to finish the story.
In non-comic book comic strips that tackled LGBT themes there was Doonesbury by Gary Trudeau. This probably isn’t much of a surprise to the older readers. The character Andy Lippincott was introduced in the 70’s and later died of AIDS, which led to a Pulitzer nomination for Trudeau.
My friend masqthephlsphr put up an article on an independent comic, Dykes to Watch For by Alison Bechdel in Masq’s LJ, which you can find here . And while it is not a comic book related LGBT story, you can check out her novel Dis/inhibition , which deals with lesbian relationships. You can find her author’s blog here .
YAM magazine's LGBT Blogathon