Comic books have always been an exciting way to escape reality and delve into fantastical worlds. But for many, they are also a means of representation and a platform for marginalized voices. The LGBTQ+ community has long been present in comic book culture but was not always visible or treated with respect. Today, we celebrate the best gay comic books of all time and the trailblazing creators who made these groundbreaking works possible.
A Brief History of LGBTQ+ Representation in Comics
Queer representation in comic books has come a long way since the days of censorship and homophobia. The very first comic book featuring an openly gay character was “Gay Comix” in 1980. This independently produced comic book paved the way for many to follow and gave birth to the “Underground Comix” movement. Soon, other independent creators started producing their comics with LGBTQ+ themes and characters.
The Early Days of Queer Characters
One of the first openly gay characters in mainstream comics was Northstar, a Canadian superhero who came out in 1992. His coming out was a significant moment in comic book history and paved the way for other characters to follow. In 1993, DC Comics introduced Extraño, a Hispanic superhero with gay tendencies. While not explicitly gay, the characters of Rictor and Shatterstar were heavily implied to be romantically involved in the X-Force comics in the late 90s.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for LGBTQ+ characters in the early days. The Comics Code Authority, a self-regulatory organization that censored comic books, prohibited any portrayal of homosexuality in comics until 1989. This meant that any queer characters had to be heavily coded and their relationships implied rather than outright stated.
The Rise of Independent LGBTQ+ Comics
As the 2000s rolled around, more LGBTQ+ creators made names for themselves producing comics that spoke directly to their communities. “Love and Rockets” by the Hernandez Brothers, “Dykes to Watch Out For” by Alison Bechdel, and “Strangers in Paradise” by Terry Moore are just a few examples of the groundbreaking works of art that were produced. These works shifted the focus from the heroics and superpowers of mainstream comics to everyday life, relationships, and societal issues that LGBTQ+ people face.
These independent comics gave voice to LGBTQ+ creators and readers who had long been ignored by mainstream publishers. They tackled issues such as coming out, discrimination, and the AIDS epidemic with sensitivity and nuance, paving the way for more representation in the future.
Mainstream Comics Embrace LGBTQ+ Themes
Today, it is refreshing to see mainstream publishers embracing LGBTQ+ themes and characters. Marvel has made huge strides in recent years with “Young Avengers,” featuring the young couples Wiccan and Hulkling and Miss America and America Chavez. And in 2017, Marvel premiered its first queer lead character, Iceman, in his solo book. DC Comics has also been embracing diversity with the addition of the Batwoman series in 2006.
However, there is still work to be done. Many LGBTQ+ characters are still relegated to supporting roles or are only included as a token gesture. And while there has been progress in terms of representation, there is still a lack of diversity within the LGBTQ+ community itself. Transgender, nonbinary, and asexual characters are still few and far between in mainstream comics.
But overall, the future looks bright for LGBTQ+ representation in comics. With more and more creators and publishers embracing diversity, we can look forward to a time when queer characters are no longer a rarity but a regular part of the comic book landscape.
Iconic Gay Comic Book Characters
Representation matters, and the world of comics has some iconic LGBTQ+ characters that have been revolutionary in their own ways.
Northstar: Marvel’s First Openly Gay Superhero
Northstar was introduced to the X-Men in 1979 as a member of the Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight. He consistently defied stereotypes and was eventually able to come out in 1992 as the very first openly gay superhero in Marvel Comics.
Batwoman: A Lesbian Icon in the DC Universe
Batwoman, aka Kate Kane, first appeared in 2006 and has quickly become an icon in the LGBTQ+ community. She is an out lesbian and an ex-soldier whose motivation for being Batwoman is personal and political. She breaks down the barriers of traditional gender roles and has shown that women can be strong and powerful heroes too.
Wiccan and Hulkling: A Groundbreaking Superhero Couple
Wiccan and Hulkling are members of Marvel’s “Young Avengers” team. Created by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung, they aren’t just token gays thrown in to satisfy demographic needs; they have a compelling love story that has become one of the most important LGBTQ+ relationships in comic book history. They are not just side characters but lead superheroes in their own right.
Celebrating Queer Creators and Their Work
LGBTQ+ representation is not limited to the characters on the page. The comic book industry is home to some incredible creators who have used their platforms to challenge heteronormativity and tell their stories in a way that empowers the LGBTQ+ community.
While the mainstream comic book industry has historically been dominated by straight, white, male creators, there are a growing number of queer voices making themselves heard. These creators are using their work to push back against harmful stereotypes and to provide representation for those who have been historically marginalized.
Alison Bechdel: Creator of “Dykes to Watch Out For” and “Fun Home”
Alison Bechdel is an American cartoonist whose work has focused primarily on LGBTQ+ themes. She is best known for her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” and her graphic novel “Fun Home.” These works have propelled Bechdel to the forefront of queer comic book culture and have earned her countless accolades.
“Dykes to Watch Out For” was a groundbreaking comic strip that ran from 1983 to 2008. The strip followed the lives of a group of lesbian friends and was one of the first depictions of queer life in mainstream media. The strip tackled issues such as coming out, discrimination, and same-sex marriage.
“Fun Home” is Bechdel’s memoir and tells the story of her childhood and her relationship with her father, who was a closeted gay man. The graphic novel explores themes of sexuality, family, and identity and has been adapted into a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical.
Gilbert Hernandez: Co-Creator of “Love and Rockets”
Gilbert Hernandez is a legendary comic book artist who, along with his brother Jaime, created “Love and Rockets.” The comic book series initially featured a cast of Mexican-American characters but eventually expanded to include LGBTQ+ characters and themes. Hernandez’s work is known for its unique storytelling and diverse representation.
“Love and Rockets” has been in publication since 1981 and has amassed a devoted following. The series has been praised for its depiction of queer characters and its exploration of gender and sexuality.
Mariko Tamaki: Award-Winning Writer of “Skim” and “This One Summer”
Mariko Tamaki is a Canadian writer who has made waves in the world of comics with her work. Her graphic novels “Skim” and “This One Summer” have both been critically acclaimed and deal with themes of sexuality and coming of age. Tamaki’s work is an excellent example of how comic books can be used as a medium to express complex emotions and experiences.
“Skim,” tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to find her place in the world. The graphic novel explores themes of sexuality, bullying, and mental health. “This One Summer” is a coming-of-age story about two young girls who spend their summer vacation at a lake. The graphic novel deals with themes of friendship, family, and growing up.
Mariko Tamaki’s work has been praised for its honesty and its ability to capture the complexities of growing up. Her graphic novels are a testament to the power of comics to tell deeply personal stories and to provide representation for underrepresented communities.
Exploring Queer Themes in Graphic Novels
Graphic novels have become an increasingly popular medium for storytellers in recent years. They allow creators to delve deeper into characters and themes, creating an immersive experience for the reader. One of the most exciting aspects of graphic novels is the way in which they can explore themes of identity, including sexuality and gender identity. In this article, we will explore some of the most compelling graphic novels that explore queer themes.
“Blue is the Warmest Color” by Julie Maroh
“Blue is the Warmest Color” is a French graphic novel by Julie Maroh that explores the coming of age and sexuality of its protagonist, Clementine. The story is told from Clementine’s point of view and follows her as she navigates her first love with a blue-haired girl named Emma. The graphic novel has been praised for its honest depiction of lesbian relationships and the complexities of coming out. It has since been adapted into a critically acclaimed film, which won the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
The graphic novel is notable for its beautiful artwork and the way in which it captures the emotional turmoil of adolescence. Maroh’s use of color is particularly striking, with the blue hair of Emma serving as a symbol of the freedom and passion that Clementine is searching for. The novel also explores themes of class, with Clementine coming from a working-class background and struggling to fit in with Emma’s more privileged social circle.
“My Favorite Thing is Monsters” by Emil Ferris
“My Favorite Thing is Monsters” follows the story of Karen Reyes, a girl growing up in Chicago in the late 1960s who is obsessed with monsters and horror movies. The graphic novel is presented as Karen’s diary, in which she sketches the people and events around her. The novel deals with themes of sexuality and coming of age, as Karen begins to explore her own identity and navigate her attraction to other girls.
The graphic novel is notable for its intricate artwork, which is presented in a style reminiscent of old horror comics. Ferris’s use of cross-hatching and shading creates a sense of depth and texture, making the novel feel like a living, breathing world. The novel also explores themes of race and class, with Karen coming from a working-class family and struggling to fit in with the wealthy kids at her school.
“The Prince and the Dressmaker” by Jen Wang
“The Prince and the Dressmaker” is a heartwarming and critically acclaimed graphic novel by Jen Wang. It follows the relationship between a prince who secretly dresses in women’s clothing and his dressmaker. The story is set in a fictionalized version of Paris in the late 19th century and explores themes of acceptance, owning your true identity, and being true to yourself.
The graphic novel is notable for its beautiful artwork, which captures the opulence and glamour of Paris in the late 19th century. Wang’s use of color is particularly striking, with the prince’s dresses standing out against the muted tones of the rest of the world. The novel also explores themes of class, with the prince struggling to reconcile his desire to wear dresses with the expectations of his royal family.
Overall, these three graphic novels demonstrate the power of the medium to explore complex themes of identity and sexuality. They offer a unique perspective on the queer experience and provide a space for readers to explore their own identities and experiences.
The world of comic books and graphic novels has always been a creative space for those who are marginalized, and the LGBTQ+ community is no exception. From the early pioneers to the current trailblazers, these creators have opened up the doors for representation and visibility. The comic book industry still has a long way to go, but with a rich history and passionate creators, we are on the right path to celebrating diversity and inclusiveness.
What are the best comic books of all time?
The comic books that have sold the most amount of copies over time include Maus by Art Spiegelman, the Batman books by various authors, and the superhero comics including Superman, Spiderman, and The Flash, written predominantly by Marvel comics and DC comics.
What are the best comic books with a gay protagonist?
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Stone Fruit by Lee Lai, Heartstopper by Alice Oseman, and Blue is the Warmest Color by Jul Maroh all feature engaging and endearing gay protagonists.
What are the best gay romance comic books?
The Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman has become one of the most popular LGBTQ+ romance comics, following the release of the television series.