I haven’t been so excited to share a discovery since I found out about pioneering Hungarian gay activist Karl-Maria Kertbeny.
Founded in 2003, Prism Comics is a not-for-profit organization that supports LGBT comics, creators and readers, through education, promotion and resources for publication. They operate a full-featured website with profiles of 390 comics creators, Webcomics–a collection of featured series, forums, and a shop where you can purchase hundreds of titles.
LGBT-themed comics have been around for quite awhile, at least on the spicy fringe, vis-a-vis Tijuana Bibles and Tom of Finland. But the mainstream industry has a long history of censoring queer content, and adding to a homophobic climate via negative portrayals, or killing queer characters off in violent, degrading ways.
According to Prism Co-President David Stanley, attitudes towards LGBTs have been slow to change, and controversy still comes up when queer characters and storylines are introduced.
For example–in 2009–Marvel Comics’ X-Factor series revealed a romance between teammates Shatterstar and Rictor. Former Marvel writer Rob Liefeld, who created the Shatterstar character 18 years ago, vociferously opposed the storyline, saying: “Shatterstar is not gay. I can’t wait to someday undo this,” and insisting the move was “contrived” and “bad for fans.”
Stanley and others—including current X-Factor writer Peter David—interpret Liefeld’s response as homophobic, and liken it to a parent’s refusal to accept the inevitable development of his child’s autonomy, in this case coming out as bisexual or gay. Shatterstar started out as sexually ambiguous, and the awakening of his feelings for Rictor was a reasonable progression—and one that many LGBT fans can relate to—since sexual confusion and repression frequently precede acknowledging a queer identity.
Moreover, defenders of Shatterstar’s coming out ask: isn’t there a double standard here? Comics heroes are frequently handed down from writer to writer—including many of Liefeld’s other creations—and there isn’t an outcry when a hero discovers his non-gay leaning. Stanley feels Liefeld’s reaction to Shatterstar’s evolution amounts to a belief that warrior-type heroes can’t be gay.
Ironically, Shatterstar is modeled after ancient Spartan soldiers, of whom there is widespread acknowledgement of homosexuality.
While industry giants like Marvel and DC have very gradually become more inclusive of LGBT themes, it’s heartening to see the LGBT comics community thriving due—in large measure—to the growth and freedom of e-publications. Prism Comics is a portal to an astoundingly diverse world of talented queer comics. Their interests and styles run the gamut—political commentary, everyday sarcasm, superheroes, anime, erotica and many more.
Beyond its website, Prism participates in ComicCons with booths and panels. Refreshingly humble about his organization’s influence within the industry, though passionate about it, Stanley says having a presence at these events fosters a more welcoming climate for LGBT writers and fans alike.
“We create a space for creators and fans to feel comfortable being themselves amongst their fellow comic book geeks. I think it’s a bit comforting to know you can go to a convention and find one booth where there are openly gay people selling books with LGBT characters or subjects.”
Here’s some of the artwork/strips at Prism that caught my eye…