Tab Kimpton writes
Ever wanted to write a gay character into a comic book but were scared about how fans would react to boys kissing? Thought transgender issues were just a bit of a stretch for your magical transformation goblin world? Or maybe you're a reader who already loves diversity (and can empathise with characters beyond their own sexulity and gender) who wants to read this link and make "mmmhmmm" noises as they go along. Either way this is the article for you!
So we've been here before- yet another preachy essay talking about why queer characters are important in media, why we need to do more to make work more inclusive, how we need to stop killing off the lesbians] – you get it. We all get it.
I think at the end of the day we know that stories need to expand to include the diversity of the people who are reading them, but people are scared. Writers don't want to shove a token member of a minority group into a story just because they think they should, and artists don't want to draw queer characters in fear of getting it wrong. The idea of having to deal with the backlash from the regular fans as well as the disappointment from the very people they're trying to include overwhelms and it's no wonder things are still the way they are.
With all this negativity knocking around it's no wonder people get put off. It's easy for me, a author who has made a ten year career in writing 'those' kinds of stories to say that including LGBT characters (and all the letters which fall down the cracks) is not the big mission everyone makes it out to be. Because if you do it right, it's actually a lot of fun.
I'm going to trot myself out as an example here. Last month I launched a kickstarter for a comedy fake kids book called Minority Monsters, which funded in under a week and is still going strong. I'm living proof that you can write comics about LGBT+ characters, and go full time on it. Living the nerd dream of writing comics from my house.
So, here's a list of reasons why daring to write something a bit different won't ruin your comic career, and in some ways might even improve it.
-Because people growing up and finding comics need it more than ever.
Millennials are officially the gayest generation of our time. The next generation? Who knows, but with rising tolerance levels more and more people don't have to live their lives in closets. Which means a lot of kids who need heroes and role models to show that other people can be like them.
Comics are often about escapism for people- if you're having a bad time with bullies (as most LGBT teens do) being able to pick up a comic about someone who fights injustice in the world helps you feel like the world can be a better place. If that person has to wrangle both her secret identity and a secret girlfriend, well then things start to get more interesting.
-Because there's a demand for it.
Here's a screenshot of the most popular comic kickstarters in the world on 26th October 2016 . Minority Monsters is there but at the number 1 spot is Letters for Lucardo , a gorgeous looking graphic novel about a sexy immortal vampire and his very mortal aging lover. I'm not saying you all need to go out and write some sexy vampire men kissing but also maybe… you totally should?
Kickstarters, patreon and the indie publishing scene have revolutionised how comic authors get paid. Which means comics that once would have never seen the light of day are storming ahead in digital sales. Fans know what they want and are using their wallets to vote. Only last month a super cute gay comic called Check Please made it to kickstarter's the top 5 most funded of all time in comics. Not bad for a slice of life queer romance about hockey players.
Creators are responding to demand and more and more things are popping up. Back when I started it felt like there was only a handful of us writing this kind of thing, but oh how times have changed. Here's a copy of my latest project- a rainbow road map for this year's Thought Bubble , the UK's biggest Indie and Small press comic show. Of 420 tables over 45 of them are queer identified or making work that involves LGBT characters or merchandise.
(Ready your shopping list kids!)
I'm not saying you should put queer characters in to sell out, but we've gotten past the point where LGBT characters are going to lose you money. Do it right and fans will support you, especially if you have supported something so personal to them.
-Because when you get it right it's the most rewarding thing in the world.
I use LGBT and queer a lot when I talk about my work, but I'd actually say I write about gender and sexuality- something I think everyone deals with, no matter what angle they approach it at. There's something about those topics that gets right down into who we are, what we do and who we love. It's powerful stuff, and as a writer I'm trying to connect with people. One of the best compliments of my work? Someone saying they've never read anything like it and that they loved it.
But how do you get stories like that right?
The short answer is- you can't.
I've been writing comics since I was a nubile teenager and there's stuff I look back on now and just cringe. Even if it's a minority you are a part of, have friends from, a life event you lived through, a conversation you actually had. Someone might turn around and call that offensive.
But that's okay.
You're going to make mistakes. Sometimes what's offensive is just a matter of taste, so it's up to you to look at both sides of the argument, attempt to remove your hurt artist feelings and respond accordingly. If you make a really big mistake, apologise sincerely and work with people who are of that minority to fix it. Listen, take on board and improve.
Ask people who are willing to share about their experiences, read forums, watch movies, read other books on the subject. As an example, before my series Shades of A (which features an asexual protagonist) I asked fans who identified as asexual to email me and help me hash things out. I had a great response, especially from a particular question, which was:
"What are you tired of seeing?"
Sometimes there are tropes that keep turning up that are very hard to see from a different perspective. But with that knowledge, some humility and an open mind you can turn those on their head and have the courage to write a comic series that doesn't rely on the same characters we've been reading about for millennia.
Maybe even something about a Bisexual Unicorn who has a top hat, moustache and blows glitter bubbles out of a pipe.
About the Author.
Tab Kimpton has launched three previously successful kickstarter campaigns with his first series Khaos Komix still ranking in the top 10 funded comic kickstarters in the UK after it's launch in 2013.