Representation in Comics

Okay…

Hopefully this doesn’t come off as insensitive or controversial or anything, because I definitely don’t mean it to be. I’m just asking a question that’s been bugging me a while, and I truly want to understand.

I understand that comics were originally made primarily by young white men (with very few exceptions), and whether intentional or not, they were targeted toward a young white male audience. One would argue that, while strides are being made, to a great extent, they still are.

I understand that it’s important for some readers to see characters that look like them. It’s an empowerment situation, kind of like Whoopi Goldberg’s decision to work with Gene Roddenberry.

Where my question truly comes in, I guess, has to do with the “orientation” type stuff that’s become such a big deal these days. I’ll admit up front that I’m at least getting “old.” I don’t understand all the splintering that’s happened with sexuality of late.

How important is it for us to know the preferences of the characters? Does it affect their ability to perform the duties they’ve set out to perform? Or is it mainly just that it might make the person they’re most concerned with endangering different than the historic traditional? And another: For those characters who’ve been tagged “bisexual,” why is it the only people they’re partnered with happen to be their own sex? Or is it all just like the Whoopi thing: it helps to know there are people like me?

I’ve probably worded this ALL wrong, and I’m afraid it will be taken as a criticism of “non-binary identification,” which is not what I’m intending here. I’m not looking for a flame war here, which is against the board’s guidelines anyhow; like I said, I’m just trying to wrap my brain around it all…

And as always, if this is an inappropriate topic, I’ll gladly take it down.

Here goes…

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I think having a diverse world of Superheroes that reflect the world at large is important. It does appear to have been hard for some fans, though. The sexuality of a person has nothing to do with their performance as a superhero. Where it is important is in character development. What makes many people really fall for a superhero isn’t the fights…it is those slice of life moments. Those moments where we can see them act like a “normal” person and interact with the people and world around them. People get wrapped up in their person flaws, quirks, relationship fails and goofs, frienships, etc…For example, some of my favorite moments in Superman comics is not when he is being Superman, but is being Clark, hanging out with Lois or Bruce and Diana (who can forget the Date Night issue??).
As far as the race issue…as far as I am concerned, it is irrelevant unless race is central to a character’s story/identity…for example, Black Lightening, because of his origin and stories must be a black man who grew up in the US…However, Barbara Gordon’s character doesn’t really change if she is white, black, or asian…her backstory, motivation, skills, purpose, etc., has never had anything to do with her race…her “whiteness”…
The real problem comes when they try to change long established characters that have an established fan base. I can understand why fans are disappointed. They have learned to love a character through the years, and that is the way the character will always be in their mind.
I find the recent controversy about Jon Kent perplexing, as a grown adult Kent IS a new character. He hasn’t been around long, so there is little investment in Jon, the adult (and his huge Super Sons fan base has really little to do with this as it has little impact on his time as a Super Son. Sexuality in children is really kind of irrelevant as they aren’t “sexual” beings yet…they’re kids.)
I don’t know…everyone is going to have their own takes on this, and I respect that…I am willing to take it all, so long as it is a well written story. That may put me in the minority.

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I think it’s important to know because it adds depth to the characters and romance is a key part in comics.

And as far as representation is general I think it’s definitely a good thing and can sell stuff, I mean one of the main reasons I love daredevil so much is because we are both Christian’s and every since I found out he was Christian I’ve taken a interest in the character and bought his comics.

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Comics have been very progressive for decades now. A lot of people seem to think it is a new wave that just started in 2018. If you understand why people want to see diverse characters in terms of looks, I am not sure why it is hard to understand the same thing but for sexual orientation.

Before racial/ethnic diversity what was there? white men everywhere right? But society doesn’t only consist of white men. The same applies to sexual orientation. In fact, we are constantly bombarded with straightness 24/7. We are just used to it. But not everyone is straight. So what does it matter that 5-10% of your comic book characters are gay or something?

Something you said that was very interesting was, “Does it affect their ability to perform the duties they’ve set out to perform?”. Well does being ANY sexual orientation (including being straight) affect that? It was almost as if you didn’t think to reverse it?

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I think it’s important to have diversity in comics, and enjoy seeing new characters of color being created (ex: Naomi, I think she’s very interesting and I hope DC continues to put her in a spotlight).

Regarding a characters sexuality or gender identity, it doesn’t affect how they act as a hero, but it does affect who they are as a person, and I would like to see how these stories play out. In the last Pride book DC put out, I thought the GL story was really well done.

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As I mentioned, I’m not complaining. Really. I’m not trying to be divisive. It just seems that for some reason, it becomes an event when a character is revealed as other than hetero. As well, no one has explained why, when a someone is characterized as bisexual in the books (such as Constantine), seldom do they get paired with an opposite sex partner, but always with same. Just curious.

I’ll explain that with the opinion that this isn’t true. Constantine is matched with both men and women, I’ve very recently seen complaints about how often he’s made the romance partner of Zatanna. Harley Quinn may be paired largely with women nowadays, but really that’s because she has two love interests and she’s moved past the male one. Catwoman is bisexual but she is almost exclusively paired with men, as is Wonder Woman. I believe Hippolyta is bisexual and she both is often paired with Zeus (a man) as well as Phillippus (a woman). Tim Drake and Jon Kent have been paired with one character each since they came out less than a year ago so while yes they’ve only been paired with men that means very little.

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I know it’s mainly all a device to give some more real-world meaning to their private lives (mostly).

One of the biggest reasons I even came up with this conversation topic is because I’m so far behind in my reading, that I don’t know for sure who’s been doing what in so many books. I just know that a lot of people, particularly the media, make such a big deal when a character comes out. Aside from in their non-hero lives, does such a thing really even make a difference, except to prove that, yes, such people exist here, too?

And with each of my responses, I’m probably portraying myself as much more of a jerk than I really am. It’s hard sometimes to put things into words. I debated hitting the “start conversation” button in the first place.

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Hey…better here than in a Facebook group…it gets ugly there real fast…it is a good conversation to have so long as people can be civil.

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It’s why I brought it up here. I figured I’d get a whole lot more level-headed response than anywhere else. I know better than to go to any of the Un-social media. I don’t spend any time there, but I do know that people can be remarkably thin-skinned and want to turn everything into a confrontation.

And I have no problem with the representation, honestly. I’ve got the “Pride” books and have enjoyed what I’ve read in them. I was just wondering, in particular, why so many outlets seem compelled to make a big deal of it when a character becomes non-binary.

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Is it ever really an ‘event’? I honestly think it all depends on what type of media you consume. For example the Jon Kent stuff. I don’t remember DC making an ‘event’ out of it and if they did, it wasn’t nearly as much as the media. With the media, there was outrage from one side and praise on the other.

Also, it seems like you think bisexuality means 50:50… But there are a lot of bisexuals that only go for the same-sex like 10% of the time and vice versa…

EDIT: You say you aren’t complaining but a lot of the stuff you are saying can be interpreted as such. There are a lot of implicit things to the questions you are asking. “why does it have to be an event?” … “If characters are bisexual why are they always shown with the same sex?” … “Does it affect their ability to perform the duties they’ve set out to perform?” … a lot of that can very well be read as “I don’t want to see gay stuff in my comics” just in the form of questions.

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new representation probably is kind of an event for the some people in the community that being represented for the first (or second, or third) time. because so much progress has been made so fast, it’s easy to forget what big strides these are. i can’t imagine how significant it could be for someone who identifies as bisexual and has been a comic fan for decades to finally see their identity reflected on the page, legitimized and accepted by their heroes! especially if they don’t find that acceptance in their immediate environment.

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All mediums of entertainment have some form of Romance. It’s been like that for centuries. :roll_eyes:

The truth is that sexuality hasn’t splintered lately. What’s happened instead is a more conscious effort to articulate the complexities of sexuality that have long existed.

In the 1940s, when most of the original superheroes first appeared in the wake of Superman’s success, homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder by psychologists. The standard APA manual (DSM) regarded it as such until 1974. It’s unsurprising–if unfortunate–that comic book creators avoided controversy on the issue by keeping all of their characters heterosexual.

Since the mid-1970s, we have seen a slow move toward more diversity in regards to orientation and gender identity, but the problem is that so many of the popular heroes in print now were already created by the time that the DSM updated its position. New characters struggle to catch on due to the overabundance of older characters in the fictional universe they occupy. That’s why representation in comics frequently takes the form of new-but-recognizable legacy characters or retcons to established characters.

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And they were the target audience originally although now I wouldn’t say young. Video games and stuff kind of took their attention.

On another note, have you heard of romance novels? It’s meant for straight women mainly from age 30-54 and will never try to change or be more inclusive.

There is view that if a group is mostly one gender/ethnicity/sexual orientation/etc that is bad but if it’s dominated by another thats ok. This is a double standard in many western countries and is why you would see people wanting to change the demographics of comic readers/gamers/people in stem fields/etc but not say nurses and professional athletes.

There has actually been quite a push to see more diversity in romance novels. From racial diversity reports that call on publishers to include more black voices to diversity resources provided by the Romance Writers of America (an organization that itself came under criticism last year for its endorsement of a problematic novel), there’s certainly a needle-move occurring. And if you think I’m focusing too much on race and not enough on sexual orientation, well…

The times, they are a-changin’. :wink:

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There is a lot that can be said on this topic but I’ll start with answering your questions.

As a human being who wants to read stories and see myself in them, it is important to see these characters as more than ‘a half-Kryptionian with a parent from another planet’ or ‘a rich kid in Gotham’. I can’t connect to those ideas. But I can connect to a kid who likes animals and is incredibly loyal to his friends or a kid who loves tech and would do anything for his family.

Obviously, there is more to Jon Kent and Tim Drake then that, but I’m simplifying things because I could write an essay on this and I am trying very hard not to. (sorry if I end up actually doing so.)

Now, those details about their lives outside of superheroing is what connects us to them. Adding in, learning about their preferences in life partners also connects the readers to these characters.

Have you ever started a conversation with a complete stranger, maybe a friend of a friend? You know nothing about them. As you talk you are both bouncing from topic to topic, trying to find one that you both a familiar with. Finally, you find one. A book series you both have read, or maybe a sport you both like, or maybe a mutual crush. Suddenly, you have something in common. Now you can see yourself with this other person. A person you didn’t know before. Finding something common with characters in a comic book is the same.

So, yes, to finally answer your first question, it is important to know the preferences of these characters. Now, I don’t need an itemized list of every comic character and their orientation. But, to have it happen organically within the story is perfectly fine and how it has been happening for years. And not every character needs to have this moment, either.

And your second question. I think that ties into the first question a bit. Yeah, it ties into their ability to connect to their readers. Which, I explained above.

Obviously, there are more characters than Jon and Tim, but they are the two on my mind so they are the ones I used as examples here.

As for your fears about wording things wrong, I have seen these types of questions worded far worse. And you have been responding well and respectfully. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.

And sorry for my rambling essay. I hope this all makes some sense.

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I know a lot of the points I asked could be interpreted as confrontational. I knew that at the beginning. It’s why I hesitated even hitting the button to start this conversation. In fact, I wrote it and sat on it for well over an hour, trying to figure out ways to not make those questions sound like they might for some readers.

And I’m not saying the companies themselves are really making a lot of characters coming out, necessarily, but other outlets certainly turn it into news.

Anybody remember how many mainstream outlets had to announce when Alan Scott was being outed?

It depends on the character. Darkseid’s sexual orientation, for example, is irrelevant - not sure he even HAS an orientation.

Contrast that with, say, Spider-Man whose orientation is extremely relevant, because a big part of his story is his private life including his romantic relationships. If there’s going to be any emphasis at all placed on what the character does when they’re not punching people, then their orientation is going to be relevant to who they are.

I get it. But the wording of some of the questions you asked kind of tells a lot.

Here’s the thing. I think it is safe to say that most of the creators who create these characters and stories are progressive and it’s been that way for a while. Most of these creators even live in progressive countries. Primarily the US. I have a feeling a lot of people might make the assumption that the US isn’t progressive because of the recent waves of conservatism. But if we look at the US for the past 70 years or so, it has been very progressive. Even today, progressive ideas are very popular amongst the current population. Let’s also not forget that comic books and ‘nerdy’ stuff in general, were never really ‘cool’ until recent years. Before then, ‘nerds’ were marginalized. This also plays into why comic books are so progressive.

Let’s get into the media… let’s be real… A lot of those outlets don’t read comics or do much research on them. And nowadays you can differentiate a lot of outlets solely based on their political leaning. Politics is no longer ‘boring’ just as comics are no longer for ‘nerds’. These outlets now have incentives to talk about political stuff. So of course one side will praise Jon Kent for coming out and the other side will say it is the SJ Hollywood Agenda. One outlet will side with Captain America and the other will say Captain America hates America now… as part of the SJ Hollywood Agenda. BOTH sides whether they believe what they are saying or not, are trying to get the bag at the end of the day. This also incentivizes comic-book creators to keep making progressive stories and sometimes pushed the boundaries even more.

Last thing. If this is something that bothers you maybe comics are not for you. I am a very new reader myself(compared to a lot of the people here) and I honestly spend more time reading manga than comics. But of the series I’ve read, it is very hard to not see the progressivism in comics. Like you would have to willingly ignore a lot of it. Sexuality is just another thing.

TL;DR: Comics are progressive, Have been progressive for a long time, are Created in progressive societies, are nowadays are even incentivized to be progressive now that comics are now ‘cool’ and politics is no longer ‘boring’. Comics will most likely always be this way. It is what it is.

*anyone please correct me if anything I said was wrong.