The latest issue of Gay Times has run a series of interviews with comic book creators, associated with gay-friendly books. Interviewer Joe Glass has offered Bleediing Cool the unexpurgated versions. First up, Gail Simone, writer of books including Welcome To Tranquility, Secret Six and Birds Of Prey.
Joe Glass: What do you feel is DCs stance on LGBTQ characters and issues appearing in their comics? Or if there is an official line, would you be able to comment on it?
Gail Simone: Oh, I don't think there's an official line. I've never been asked to shy away from the topics, and there's some LGBTQ content in every book I do. I know that Dan DiDio specifically told Marc Andreyko, a very talented and openly gay male creator, not to feel he should shy away from gay characters or situations.
DC has had a significant number of gay creators and editors for years. The first time I wanted to create a significant lesbian character, there was some hesitation from DC, and I thought, "Oh, boy, here we go, they're not comfortable with it…" but the response came back, "no, no, no, we just want to make sure it's not exploitative."
So they earned a lot of loyalty from me that day. They wanted it to be done honestly, not as some moronic heterosexist nonsense. That's not to say they have a shining, perfect record, because most media can't say that, and neither can comics. There was a lot of giggly bullshit, and a lot of well-intended eye-rolling characterization for a long time. But I think that tree has been shaken at this point. There's certainly no obstacle that I'm aware of, it's just that we need more creators to be thinking inclusively.
JG: When DC has published stories with prominent gay characters in a leading role capacity, they seemed to get nervous about any attention the characters got, and would back away from the character. I'm thinking like how Batwoman received a lot of attention when she appeared in 52, and there was supposedly going to be a solo book for her. This seemed to get shelved, and she only much later materialized as the lead in Detective Comics for a while. Could you comment on this seeming nervousness about the attention to gay characters?
GS: I missed most of that, what I've heard is second hand. I'm not sure that's a completely accurate picture, but there may be some truth in it. However, that was several years ago and there's been some considerable regime change since then. And to be fair, when the book came out, it's not like they hid it away in a corner somewhere. Batwoman, an openly gay woman, was given one of DC's best and most popular writers, Greg Rucka. She was given one of the most talented and extraordinary artists in the business, J.H. Williams, AND she replaced Batman himself in DC's flagship title, DETECTIVE COMICS.
So if there ever was any timidity, they most definitely got over it. New characters never get the royal treatment like that, but Batwoman did, and it paid off…the book is simply excellent in every way.
JG: Whilst there has been Batwoman, The Question, and Scandal Savage appearing in a team book, it's hard to find any leading male gay characters. In fact, most gay characters seem to be in a supporting role only. Do you think there seems to be more lesbian characters than gay men in mainstream comics? If so, why do you think that could be?
GS: Well, there are several reasons…DC's had a stronger legacy of powerful, vital female character than Marvel has (with the exception of the X-men, that totally changed the paradigm in a wonderful way). They've had female leads for decades, everyone from Wonder Woman to Lois Lane to Supergirl to Batgirl and on and on. And DC was run by a woman for many years. I think there is a bit more of an openness to female characters of power, and that includes gay women.
But I recently had a big name creator, a hero of mine, ask my help in writing a gay male character. His heart was definitely in the right place, he wanted to get it right, but I think it does show that some straight writers are still a little uncomfortable with the idea of writing gay males. It may be lack of exposure, fear of doing a bad job, it could be many things.
It's something I'm aware of and working on. I've created some gay and bi-heroes, including a recent favorite, Achilles, and I have at least two yet to be outed. Again, it's something we all should be thinking about.
I know there's a feeling that there are more lesbians for reasons of servicing the straight male fantasy, but if you look at the lesbian DC characters, for the most part, they just don't work in that capacity. Batwoman and Scandal Savage are extremely rounded characters, there's no softcore element to their behavior. They're not useful to voyeurs, I suspect.
JG: You've written a number of LGBTQ characters for DC. Which, in your opinion, has been the most successful? And the most fun to write?
GS: It's a substantial list, and most all of them have their fans and supporters. There's a lot of manlove for Aleksandr Creote, a former Soviet Special Operative, and Achilles, the living reincarnation of the hero of Troy. Scandal Savage is much loved in the gay community and quite dear to my heart.
But possibly my favorite to write is a Native American character, RAINMAKER, who has the power to control the weather. I did a lot of research and contacted some gay Native groups, and it's interesting, because many tribes had a great deal of respect for gay people. They were allowed to dress in the traditional clothes of the opposite gender, and work as that sex, and marry. "Two Spirits," it was called.
The one constant is, my characters don't apologize for being who they are. They don't need to explain it, they don't need to hide it. They don't really care what others think about it.
There have been enough crappy stereotypes; no one needs any more token characters. They have to be fun and interesting and kickass on their own merits.
JG: What is your own personal opinion on LGBTQ characters and issues in comics? i.e. do you think it's underrepresented, do you think it has a place etc
GS: Oh, yeah, it's hugely underrepresented. One thing we all run up against is that in mainstream comics, the entire foundation was built in a less enlightened time. The icons, the highways we use to tell our stories, they're almost universally straight and white and male…Superman, Spider-man, the Hulk, Batman, on and on and on. And those are the poles we use to hold the tent up.
So it's tricky to get new characters to 'stick,' to become independently viable. But if we all act NOW, if all we do is throw out the old mythology that the readership is all straight white guys (because it isn't, and hasn't been for decades) and start thinking wider, casting the net farther, then we prevent ourselves from becoming quaint and obsolete.
It's a medium about heroes. Being inclusive and loving is heroic.
JG: Why do you feel superhero comics seem to garner such large LGBTQ audiences?
GS: Man, alive, this is so, so true and thank you for asking. The gay readership is huge, way disproportionate, I believe, to the normal estimates of what the gay readership should be per capita. And they're active and fun and creative and some of the best commentators on the industry. I keep yelling this…but if you go to any major con, you'll see it immediately.
I've asked a lot of my gay friends about it, and again, there's something to the belief in a world where people do things because they're right, where people fight not to protect a bank, but to protect people. The X-men is a wonderful metaphor for human rights, but I also feel deeply that MOST of the great characters present a central idea of selflessness, of tolerance, and an unwillingness to allow innocent people to be hurt. People who say they're just power fantasies are missing the joy, I think.
Wonder Woman and her beautiful island present a world where sisterhood is about love. Superman tells a story about the ultimate immigrant, an illegal alien, a seeker for the truth. Batman tells the story of an orphan who refuses to let anyone else suffer that fate.
I think those stories appeal because they speak to a greater, better world.