Comics Are So Gay

A History of LGBTQ+ Representation in Comic Books

Kevin Keller, a gay character, was introduced into Archie Comics in 2010. Fernando Ruiz/Archie Comics

Superman has a boyfriend!

Superman’s son, Jon Kent/Kal-El, grabbed a sleek, updated version of his father’s costume and began fighting crime. He took his father’s mantle when Clark Kent, the original GOAT, was presumed dead in a space battle. On October 11, 2021 (National Coming Out Day), DC Comics revealed that the newest Superman was bisexual. When Jon met a journalist and online activist, Jay Nakamura, he developed feelings for the pink-haired boy, who is also a superhero named Gossamer. They shared their first kiss in issue five of “Kal-El: The Son of Superman.”

Tom Taylor, the comic book’s author, said, “When I was offered the job. I thought, ‘Well, if we’re going to have a new Superman in the DC Universe, it feels like a missed opportunity to have another straight, white savoir.’”  

He added, “I’ve always said everyone needs heroes and everyone deserves to see themselves in their heroes and I’m incredibly grateful DC and Warner Bros. share this idea. Superman’s symbol has always stood for hope, for truth and for justice. Today, that symbol represents something more. Today, more people can see themselves in the most powerful superhero in comics.”

Representation matters. Comics lagged behind most other mediums in LGBTQ+ representation.

Back in 1982, Captain America met up with a friend from his old neighborhood, Arnie Roth (Captain America #268). In a surprising turnabout, Arnie outs Cap when he realizes that his friend Steve Rogers is also Captain America, considering that Steve looks decades younger than Arnie does (because Captain America was trapped in suspended animation). Arnie reveals that he has a boyfriend named Michael who was kidnapped and in need of Captain America’s help. The red, white and blue superhero realizes that one of his best friends was gay. Of course, Cap saved Michael without question or hesitation. He continued to show up as a supporting character in Marvel Comics for years until the character was killed off in 1995 (succumbing to a battle with cancer in his advanced age).

While Arnie Roth only showed up in a handful of Captain America comic books, he played a significant role. He was one of the first – if not the very first – gay comic book characters, who was out and proud. He wasn’t a cape-wearing superhero, though.

A whole decade later, after years of hinting around about it, Jean-Paul Beaubier, the Canadian superhero known as Northstar (first appearing in X-Men #120, 1979), came out of the closet (in Alpha Flight #106, 1992. Eventually, Jean-Paul met Kyle Jinadu and married him (Astonishing X-Men #51, 2012), another milestone at Marvel.

The issue where Northstar came out was a best-selling comic book issue. His wedding issue had record-breaking sales. More and more creators were adding LGBTQ+ characters to their pantheon.

Now there are a slew of LGBTQ+ superheroes and supporting characters from A to Z, or, more precisely, from Marvel’s Angela (Thor’s Asgardian stepsister) to indie hero Zsazsa Zaturnnah (a Filipino graphic novel about a gay beautician who turns into a female superhero).

Last year (June 2022), Marvel Comics debuted Escapade, a trans superhero, in a special Pride issue, “Marvel Voices: Pride.”

While DC Comics had several LGBTQ+ characters appear on their television shows, including an entire series about Batwoman, a lesbian crimefighter who patterns her costume on Gotham City’s most famous vigilante, there is a rumor that Wiccan, a magic-wielding superhero, will make his debut in “Agatha: Coven of Chaos,” making him the first out hero of the MCU (the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a distinct and separate place from the comic book versions of the heroes). Joe Locke will allegedly play the hero. Locke is best known for another graphic-novel-turned television series, “Heartstoppers.”

Pittsburgh cartoonist and cartoon historian Joe Wos said, “Comics, like all great literature and art, provide us with a look at the possibilities, the greatness we are all capable of, but it also provides us with a mirror held up to society to show – not only our flaws but our strengths. The things that make us human. That mirror needs to reflect all of society to show us who we really are. Diverse in a myriad of ways.”

Wos believes that it’s important to show that everyone is capable of being a superhero in the comics, not just the mostly straight white men and a few white women that dominated the industry for decades. He added, “We all need to not just feel seen and represented – but be empowered! In some ways, comics shouldn’t be a mirror, but a prism. When we look into that mirror we see all of the colors, all of the diversity, all of the genders, all of the orientations, all of the rainbow.”

A prism, a nonconvex polyhedron used to refract or disperse a beam of light, creating rainbows, is an apt metaphor. One not lost on Ted Abenheim, President & Events Chair of Prism Comics, an organization that has been championing LGBTQ+ diversity, visibility and inclusion in comics for twenty years.

Abenheim said, “It started with a group of dedicated comic book aficionados founded the Gay League in 2003, back when comics characters, stories and creators were still marginalized.”

Abenheim added, “It’s rewarding to see how far comics, graphic novels, films and television have come since then – to see the numbers of positive, diverse LGBTQ+ characters and stories today. It’s amazing to see how queer creators have been embraced and how the opportunities for independent creators to tell their stories have expanded with webcomics, crowd-funding and self-publishing. It’s gratifying to have more young people and their families, more teachers and librarians come to our Prism Comics booths at conventions in the last half-decade than ever before.”

Abenheim believes that the LGBTQ+ community has come a long way in comics but admits that the work is not done yet. He said, “In the face of the growing reactionary backlash against the LGBTQ+ community, it’s more important than ever for readers of every age, background and identity to see themselves represented in the popular medium of comics. Several young people have told us that reading comics with LGBTQ+ characters actually saved or changed their lives. That means everything. Words and pictures can change lives and minds. We look forward to queer and queer-friendly comics voices continuing to be loud and strong, telling stories in every color of the rainbow – gay, lesbian, transgender, asexual, bisexual, polyamorous, questioning and gender queer.”

Find out your favorite new LGBTQ+ superheroes and their creators at prismcomics.org.

Michael Buzzelli is a stand-up comedian and sit-down author. As a comedian, he has performed all around the country, most notably, the Ice House, the Comedy Store and the Improv in Los Angeles. As a writer, Michael Buzzelli has been published in a variety of websites, magazines and newspapers. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant,’ Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine. He is also a Moth Grand Slam storyteller and actor. His books, "Below Average Genius," a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column in the Observer-Reporter, and his romantic comedy,  “All I Want for Christmas," are on sale at Amazon.com. He is working on a LGBTQ romantic comedy called, “Why I Hate My Friends.” You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. (He / Him / His)