Art Attack! An Introductory Guide to Comics for Ladygays

Art Attack Month:

0. 1/28/2012 - Art Attack Call for Submissions, by Riese
1. 2/1/2012 - Art Attack Gallery: 100 Queer Woman Artists In Your Face, by The Team
2. 2/3/2012 - Judy Chicago, by Lindsay
3. 2/7/2012 - Gran Fury, by Rachel
4. 2/7/2012 - Diane Arbus, by MJ
5. 2/8/2012 - Laurel Nakadate, by Lemon
6. 2/9/2012 - 10 Websites For Looking At Pictures All Dayby Riese
7. 2/10/2012 - LTTRby Jessica G.
8. 2/13/2012 - Hide/Seek, by Danielle
9. 2/15/2012 - Spotlight: Simone Meltesen, by Laneia
10. 2/15/2012 - Ivana, by Crystal
11. 2/15/2012 - Gluck, by Jennifer Thompson
12. 2/16/2012 - Jean-Michel Basquiat, by Gabrielle
13. 2/20/2012 - Yoko Ono, by Carmen
14. 2/20/2012 - Zanele Muholi, by Jamie
15. 2/20/2012 - The Malaya Project, by Whitney
16. 2/21/2012 - Feminist Fan Tees, by Ani Iti
17. 2/22/2012 - 12 Great Movies About Art, by Riese
18. 2/22/2012 - Kara Walker, by Liz
19. 2/22/2012 - Dese’Rae L. Stage, by Laneia
20. 2/22/2012 - Maya Deren, by Celia David
21. 2/22/2012 - Spotlight: Bex Freund, by Rachel
22. 2/24/2012 - All the Cunning Stunts, by Krista Burton
23. 2/26/2012 - An Introductory Guide to Comics for Ladygays, by Ash

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Comics are literally the earliest memories I have, and some of the most vivid ones. Those stapled together 22 pages of art and dialog were a part of my life way before I realized I liked the girls running around the playground instead of the boys. At the ripe age of three my dad began taking me with him every Wednesday for his comic run, fast tracking me into geek indoctrination. I’d follow him down the aisles that were lined with rows of brightly colored issues, gawking at all the pretty pictures on the covers. He’d pick up his Batmans and Green Lanterns before turning me loose on the more kid friendly section. Hopped up on sheer excitement, I’d race over to get my sticky little hands on Scrooge McDuck, Richie Rich and Beauty and Beast. Then the two of us would head home where he’d read my comics to me in silly voices. It’s maybe inevitable that I’m somewhat fond of the medium.

and to this day I have a thing for femmy brunettes who love books

As I grew up I fell in and out of comics, but they’ve always seemed to be there during the important parts of my life, including the am-I-seriously-this-queer-for-other-chicks? years. There’s no getting around the fact that mainstream comics themselves have had a tumultuous relationship with the LGBT movement, as well as how women are portrayed in general. It seems for every applause for a gay character done right, there’s an outcry for turning a female character into little more than a blowup doll. For a gay female reader it can be a lot of feelings to weather, but we’re here for all the love, right? So let’s get started with a little trip in the way back machine (or Police Box, whichever you prefer).

 

An Extremely Condensed History Of Well Meaning Folks Fucking Shit Up

 

Comics had their heyday in World War II during a period of the industry called the Golden Age. In the issues published during the war, Superman, Captain America and everyone else were constantly beating the ever-loving crap out of Hitler. Much like wearing one feather earring or having Britanna gifs up on your tumblr, this was the cool thing to do. Kids were snatching up issues left and right, and soldiers were getting them in care packages. After the war ended though, there was no need for the the square jawed boys and hourglass shaped gals to run around punching Nazis or telling kids to recycle. Wonder Woman was still around, but the higher selling page turners of the 50’s became the horror and crime genres. Then in 1954 a psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham published a book called Seduction of the Innocent that nearly destroyed the entire industry.

the time honored tradition of scaring americans with unaccountable facts

Wertham was the Sylvester Graham of his time, only with comics instead of flavorful foods, and with nothing tasty coming out of his diatribe. Seduction of the Innocent basically told America that comics were ruining their children, and they were all about to turn into long haired criminals. Wertham claimed via many undocumented incidents that there was all sorts of wild drugs, sex and violence in comics. Not only that, but the very heroes that had been symbols of patriotism during a World War were straight up dangerous to the young, malleable brain matter of America. Superman, a guy whose tagline is “Truth, Justice, and the American way,” was branded a fascist and un-American. Batman and Robin were accused of being gay partners, a label that still fuels many jokes to this day. Finally, Wonder Woman was accused of promoting bondage (although that was kind of a known fact as her creator was a tad on the strange side) and was labeled a lesbian because she was a strong and independent woman.

as we all know the ability to fly your own jet means you love tacos

Instead of being rational, the nation’s level of panic quickly jumped from Huh?” to “Holy shit let’s burn some books.” Comics became taboo, with bans and mass burnings of issues occurring in cities, and the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency having hearings entirely focused on the potential harm of comics books. The industry, rocked by derision and the threat of being censored by the government, formed their own brand of censorship called the Comics Code Authority. The CCA swiftly became to de-facto seal of approval and banned depictions of violence, drugs, gore and sexual innuendo of any kind. Entire publishing companies went under while the few who were lucky enough to keep their head above water scraped by, and for many years the CCA went unchallenged as it hindered good storytelling. It wasn’t until 1971 when Spiderman had an issue about drug awareness sponsored by the US Government that went to print without the CCA stamp of the approval because of the drugs that anyone attempted to sell something without the CCA. After the lack of pieces of sky falling from the Spiderman issue, the CCA slowly lost meaning. However, not unlike like that one straight guy hitting on femmes during ladies night, it just wouldn’t go away. While the CCA was a shell of its former self by the time the 90’s rolled around, it wasn’t until 2011 that the last publishing companies ceased using it and it finally ended.

 

That Was Incredibly Depressing But Let’s Hold Hands And Get To The Happy Stuff

 

With all the crazy self-censorship and fearmongering the entire comic book industry went through (and that a lot of people feel it’s still haunted by) it took a long time before mainstream comics got to taste the rainbow. Underground comics that gave the CCA the finger did whatever they wanted for years which meant same-sex desire was frequently addressed. In the 80’s British writer voted most-likely-to-be-Hagrid’s-cousin Alan Moore had published the queer history centric anthology Mirror Of Love to raise awareness for LGBT rights in England, and then wrote the classic Lost Girls in the 90’s. However it took a lot trial and error from DC in the 80’s (they kind of got hung up on AIDS) and a major leap forward by Marvel in the 90’s (who had a ‘no gay’ policy under Jim Shooter in the 80’s) with their character Northstar coming out of the closet to get gays into what was considered the mainstream. Then, as the early 2000s hit, the market opened up, with Independent Press picking up steam and becoming a larger part of the industry. Creator owned works spanning many genres began garnering more viewers, the internet made everything more accessible and things started getting exciting. Gay and straight writers and artists alike were adding more gay characters, with purpose, and a lot of them were pretty damn good.

someone even thought the world wouldn't end if a couple of them tied the knot and raised a kid

While there have been some fabulous gay men in comics and the X-Men themselves have become a powerful metaphor for gay rights, there are/have been some pretty awesome queer women in comics (as well as ladies in general behind the scenes). As we all know, our patron saint of lesbos in tights and capes is the sexy, smart, Bechdel-test-passing Batwoman. And there are others beyond Kate Kane, more than I’ll be able to remember to put in this article. But let’s start with Kate’s ex-girlfriend Renee.

"No! I'm Boycotting Glee!

Renee Montoya is a good example of a complex gay character. Entering the Batman world in the 90’s, she was written straight for the better part of her existence. However writer and friend to ladygays everywhere Greg Rucka saw Renee differently. He saw her as closeted and engaging in bearding due to her job as a Gotham City Detective as well as her Roman Catholic family (this closeting would be the reason Kate broke up with her). In Rucka’s story lines about the day shift in the Gotham Central comics, Renee was outed during a case and had to come to terms with it professionally and personally. Her family quickly disowned her, and disgusted with the corruption in her job, she eventually walked. Struggling through alcoholism in the beginning of the weekly title 52, she began working with the vigilante the Question to solve crime. Ultimately taking the mantle up herself, she used it to team up with a member of the bat-family named Nightwing to bring down some villains as well as rescue the crap out of her ex-lady love, Kate Kane.

when you're a superhero and your ex is a superhero but you guys celebrated christmas and hanukkah together which led to feelings and she was kidnapped for sacrifice so you need to kick some ass because who doesn't want to be saved by a lesbian

Then there’s Xavin from the Marvel Universe, who a lot of people consider the first transgender superhero. Introduced later on in Brain K. Vaughn’s teenage-shenanigans-with-superpowers classic the Runaways, Xavin is a type of shape shifting alien called a Skrull. Landing on earth, the then male-bodied Xavin announced he was in fact betrothed to Runaway member (and alien of a different race) Karolina. But then this totally happened-

some of her teammates were actually surprised the glittery rainbow girl was gay

However Xavin, being a shapeshifter, did this-

there are no words

Karolina was initially skeptical that Xavin was truly female, but in the end saw Xavin’s female identity as authentic and fell deeply in love with her betrothed. Xavin alternated between male and female genders from time to time, taking advantage of the fact that a male identity was perceived as more intimidating in certain situations, yet generally presenting as female when showing affection to Karolina. Crazy in love those kids were.

The list goes on from there. Over the years the blue-skinned Mystique was with Destiny, while Harley Quinn ditched the Joker to be with Poison Ivy for a spell. Maggie Sawyer, Captain of the Gotham City Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit, is not only uber gay but currently dating Kate Kane. Strangers in Paradise had all the feelings, Y-The Last Man literally had one man running around on earth, and the Buffy-verse is still going strong in print. Queer icons Willow, Tara, and Kennedy all get some page-time, and even Buffy the Slayer’s done some experimenting herself.

yup.

The More You Know

 

There’s way more than what I’ve written about here. The comics industry is a big, crazy, complicated, ever-changing world with a lot of history. If you’d like to know more about comics in general, be it about Our Lady Of Perpetual Queerness Batwoman, the underground comics during the reign of the CCA or more queer comics in general, I’d like to point you in the direct of Prism. Founded in 2003, Prism Comics is a non-profit organization all about the queers and the comics they love. They have a comprehensive history of LGBT comics as well as promote and review LGBT comics from all spectrums of the industry.

in their tuxes

Did we learn a lot? I sure hope we did. Here’s Kate & Maggie.

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Ash has written 5 articles for us.

33 Comments

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    While all this is fantastic and wonderful and holycrap I love comics, I am very disappointed to see that Strangers in Paradise (or really, anything by Terry Moore… Not Alan Moore, though he’s excellent too) isn’t mentioned at all. D:

    Seriously. Look into it. Amazing comic with lovely queer girls and feminism and all that other lovely lady stuff. Please? Please please please?

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    i want to buy the batwoman comics. any good place to get my hands on them over the internet? where should i start also. i’ve been following act-i-vate comics as the update. do that its great.

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      If you want to buy the individual comics as a digital download there is the comiXology website at

      http://www.comixology.com/Batwoman-2011/comics-series/6650

      or you can buy the paper version of Batwoman: Elegy (collecting her first appearances in Detective Comics) at Amazon. Use the Amazon vendor link on the right hand side of the screen and Autostraddle gets some of the cash you spend I believe. You can also pre-order Batwoman: Hydrology (issues 1-6 of her series) that isn’t do out until June.

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    Runaways comments:

    I loved that series, but I came into their storyline part ways through it. This lead to not really understanding that Xavin was a gender-shapeshifter. So after a few issues, Xavin was being presented as a guy.

    So I was getting annoyed with Marvel because come-on Karolina was a lesbian, it was clearly part of the story… why did they go and try to retcon the storyline. Then I bought some older issues.

    Then I finally understood what was going on.

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    YAY! Runaways! I could always relate to Karolina. Who doesn’t fall for their straight Asian friend?

    I love when the Runaways did a crossover with the Young Avengers. Aww. Billy and Teddy!

    But Runaways has been on hiatus for years now.

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    Oh my god, this is the greatest. I just finished Batwoman: Elegy and ordered the hydrology arc from my local comic store, and I CANNOT WAIT for it to come in. And I can’t wait to lock myself into my room after midterms and fall into a comic coma. You guys are the bessssttt!

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    I am *so happy*! This month, I managed to get hold of a copy of AARGH! (a politicomic that Alan Moore’s triad published, and which ‘The Mirror of Love’ was originally published in).

    I only ever read it once before, when it came out in 1988, and it blew my mind. I’ve been wanting to read it again ever since. Of course, Clause 28 is long gone now, but it was a brilliant political act at the time.

    (My word, there was a heck of a fuss when my dad found it at the time. My sister had left it on the coffee table without thinking, and he came back home early. He was only talked out of destroying it because she pointed out that it was not hers: she had borrowed it from her boyfriend.)

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    Hey, what about this girl, Dani Baptiste (The Angelus) from the Witchblade universe? She’s into girl-on-girl bussiness while she kick some ass with her superpowers.

    I don’t know much about comics for ladygays, but I’ve read plenty japanese manga about… too much y/u/ri. They’re fun, but the plot is [SPOILER ALERT]always drama, drama, drama, drama, I almost kinda like you, drama, drama, yeah I like you, drama, drama, drama, oh btw I like you the end.[/SPOILER ALERT]. Japan is kinda crazy about it, but I guess it’s the cultural differences that makes it, um, unique.

    I started with Sasameki Koto, it describes a weird, sweet and funny lesbian friendzone. The anime was a nice one.

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    Great intro to ladygays in superhero comics! AS some other posters mentioned, there are some great indie comics out there about and by lesbians as well. I just wanted to mention that along with Prism, the non-profit that helps gay creators publish their work, there is also Northwest Press, also founded by Zan Christenson. They’ve published some great comics so far, unfortunately no female-focused ones, but it’s not for a lack of interest. Fantagraphics also has some great stuff!

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