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Third Queer Panel Report From Comic-Con! "Writing Queer" Moderated by Justin Hall!
by David Stanley, posted July 24th, 2010
[Print-ready Version]

My third queer panel on Thursday of Comic-Con was the Prism-sponsored “Writing Queer: Creating and Writing LGBT Characters” panel moderated by Justin Hall (True Travel Tales, winner of the Queer Press Grant for Glamazonia: The Uncanny Super Tranny, and Prism’s Talent and Industry Relations Chair) who could easily have enough to talk about on his own, but was joined by some of the biggest names in both mainstream and indie comics: Gilbert Hernandez (Love and Rockets), Greg Rucka (Detective Comics), Gail Simone (Wonder Woman), Judd Winick (Pedro and Me), Paige Braddock (Jane’s World), and Howard Cruse (Stuck Rubber Baby).

I mean, really. Who gets this kind of line-up? It’s pretty amazing. But these creators are very supportive of Prism Comics and LGBT issues.

Gail in particular is one of our most ardent supporters, always generously agreeing to appear on our panels and at our booth to sign. And this year, she apparently got into a bit of a dust-up with the Westboro protestors who are embarrassing themselves across the street from the convention. In fact, Gail got on the local news. I didn’t see it, but all I can say is that Gail is Fierce!

Moderator Justin did a terrific job in keeping the questions flowing to all the panelists (usually, someones gets left out due to flow of conversation and lack of time) and got some great and unique anecdotes from each. Although it my seem the conversation seems disjointed, it's probably due to my poor notetaking. But again, I think I got the essence of the discussion.

Gail, God love her, started the conversation by saying that she doesn’t understand the negativity towards gays and lesbians in general, but especially in comics. She said that all of the creators on the panel have had to take “crap” for writing gay characters into their work (and I know that she personally has). But she says it’s not about the sexuality, it’s about telling good stories. She’s more concerned about getting the reader to care about the characters and relate to them than about what’s supposedly acceptable.

Moderator Justin asked Howard Cruse about his strategy in writing the gay characters in Stuck Rubber Baby. Howard says that he was aware that his graphic novel would be different from his strip Wendel and his other work in that it would reach a broader audience than just gay people. Because of this, he created situations that would give the readers an awareness of what it was like to be gay and in the closet. And an awareness of how straight people act when confronted with gay issues.

Building on this, Justin then asked Paige Braddock about Jane’s World, which was the world’s first syndicated strip with a queer main character, if she was trying to appeal to audiences outside the usual gay media world, meaning gay newspapers, gay bookstores, etc. Paige says she describes her strip as “Gay-Lite”. She says she has always tried to focus on interpersonal relationships, as opposed to Big Gay Issues. She wanted to show that we all deal with the same issues: jobs, girlfriends, roommates, etc. At that point in the comic strip world, strips were pretty much 1940s, G-rated in content. Her syndicate didn’t have a problem with her main character being a lesbian—until the infamous shower scene. Paige was never told this directly, but apparently she showed too much frivolity in a shower scene in her strip. So suddenly, a style guide appeared that banned shower scenes.

Gilbert Hernandez related a story of how after the first few issues of Love and Rockets, he started the Palomar stories, despite the fact he was told they wouldn’t sell. And apparently they still don’t sell, Gilbert joked. But he wanted to bring a sense of naturalism to gay relationships in his comics because he wasn’t seeing it in movies and TV, where gays were a novelty. Gilbert said making characters LGBT adds another color to them but in a human way and not just as a way to shock. But he’s very careful in the way he portrays them, not in a PC way, but to make sure it’s truthful and engages the reader.

When Judd Winick created Pedro and Me, his approach to portraying the characters was very much influenced by Stuck Rubber Baby. It showed him a way to tell the story. And of course, he was influenced by Pedro Zamora in the way that he lived and communicated his message. At the time that Pedro appeared on “The Real World: San Francisco”, the portrayals of People With AIDS was as victims. Pedro said he was living with AIDS, not dying of it.

Greg Rucka told about how he does a lot of research to get characters right. That’s the way to get to the truth. In one particular instance, he did some research via the internet and was referred to Lt. Dan Choi before the soldier became a household name via the “Rachel Maddow Show” and through his efforts against DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t tell). Greg spent several hours talking to Dan, later realizing that instead of him using Dan, it was really the other way around. Greg emphasized that Dan Choi is a very brave man, having led combat troops in Iraq, and having graduated from West Point which prides itself in creating leaders which is what Dan is—he’s become a leader in the fight for what’s right.

Gail was asked about the character she created—Scandal Savage, who first appeared in Villains United #1 as the daughter of Vandal Savage. Gail knew from the beginning that Scandal would be gay. There was a scene where Scandal was writing a love letter and Gail knew that the audience would assume it was to a man. But Gail had a definite idea from the beginning that the letter was really to a woman.

Paige was reminded that some of her early worked appeared in Gay Comix (which Howard Cruse edited). Paige looked at her work recently and thought it was “so” bad. She said the reason it was bad because she was scared to be honest. She figures that it comes from being from the Deep South and that it took a long time for her to shake off her cultural baggage.

The Q&A section began at this point, which turned into a mini-Master Class. One question involved how to portray people dealing with homophobia without it coming off as clichéd. Howard said that one key is to not just make characters up. That you need to connect them a real person, whether it be yourself or someone you know. He said that for Stuck he included some African-American characters and he had to hear the voices of people he knew in his head in order to write them. You can’t just go from your gut because we all have blind spots. He also didn’t know anyone who had AIDS, so he went out and talked to real people and it was revelatory, he said. He wrote differently because of this.

All of the panelists were asked if there was any value in engaging in gay stereotypes. Gilbert said he likes to write colorful characters so sometimes he uses stereotypes. Paige says she makes fun of them. She says the common wisdom is that lesbians are very good at relationships, but one of her characters just does not understand relationships at all and is always having problem getting one, while another has a breast phobia. So she likes to take stereotypes and turn them on their head. Judd Winick added that some of our favorite people are snap queens, so of course. We couldn’t and shouldn’t exclude them. Take that, Snap!

That concluded my last panel of the day! Whew! But I wasn’t out of the woods, because I couldn’t get even get across the street. It took me and the boyf half an hour to leave the convention center with 100,000 of my closest friends, as we all attempted to squeeze through a space as tight as Glenn Beck’s butthole (i.e. smaller than the eye of a needle). Comic-Con, I love you, but you’ve got to put your foot down and get the city to build some walkways over the road, train tracks and trolley tracks that make everyone’s lives hell. Especially when we’ve got full trolleys and Westboro protestors waiting for us on the other side.

But don’t get me started.

Until next time. I’ll have a report on the fabulous LGBT creators presenting new books at the Con.


David Stanley is Prism's Co-President & PR Chair and working on stuff, you'll see.

Prism Comics promotes the works of the LGBT community in comics. It does not implicitly endorse any other material or products associated with those works. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s).


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