Warning: Although Dark Knight Rises was absolutely phenomenal and Con has now come and gone, this blogazine isn’t without it’s Lost Files. So, here ’tis. Expect extreme schmaltz and sentimentality ahead.
It appears somehow fitting that as I planted myself in a coffee shop to begin writing this article that I was accosted by a bum in search of funds to, reportedly, buy gas to drive back to Santa Monica. I refused him, claiming to have no cash (not true – I always have cash) upon which he thanked me anyway and asked for my phone number. When I, once again, refused him, he began going off on a tirade about Los Angeles, unlike Dallas, being the home to lots of “Queers”, “Gays”, and other more derogatory terms referring to homosexuals. Proudly I responded, “Yes, here we have a very accepting sort of culture.”
An acceptance that prevails amongst the thousands of people who flocked to San Diego for another juicy Comic-Con International. This is not just specifically in reference to people’s attitude towards others’ sexual orientation, but to their respect of their fellow nerds. At Comic-Con, no matter what you’re into, be it the super sexy HBO hit True Blood, all incarnations of the Pokémon franchise, or you just really love Superman, Comic-Con has a place for you. Sure, like any obsessive (read: nerdy) fan, you think whatever you’re most passionate about to be fact, rather than opinion, but just because some idiot think George Clooney was the best Batman doesn’t mean you’re going to publicly belittle him.
At least, not on the convention floor during the day. Once party time hits all bets are off…
On Saturday evening, I had the pleasure of attending the 25th Anniversary of what is fittingly the longest running panel in Comic-Con history: Gays in Comics. Moderated by Andy Mangels, who came out publically not long before he first filled this role at the panel’s debut in 1988, this year’s panel was not your typical table discussion, but instead a celebration of its long history at the convention. At the start of the event, to prove just how long the panel has been running for, Mangels asked the entire audience to stand up. The first group of people (myself included) sat down because it was the first time they had attended the panel. The second because every time they had attended it had been in Room 6A. The third because every time they had been to Comic-Con, attending the panel had been an option. And then there were none.
A brief history of the evolution of gays in comics: Mangels wrote an article in 1988 entitled “Out of the Closet and Into the Comics” which detailed his personal experiences as a gay man and his love of working in the comic industry, but also his struggles with feeling that said industry provided little support or reflection of his own life. Mangels’ article managed to get some “viral” attention from fans (though how this happened without the internet, I have no idea…) and the then 20-year-old writer approached the organizers of Comic-Con and asked them to stage a panel addressing the gay comic book community and creators.
25 years later, gay comics have gone from Trina Robbins’ one-shot comic strip, Sandy Comes Out (Trina, a straight woman, was also the first person to feature a black heroine in her work), to Archie Comics introducing Kevin Keller, and X-Men’s Jean-Paul Beaubier, otherwise better known as Northstar, marrying his boyfriend, Kyle Jinadu.
Some highlights from the evening included:
- Ivan Velez Jr., creator of Tales of the Closet, also celebrating 25 years, sharing the story of realizing he was gay for the first time when he was four and told his mother, “Mommy my pee-pee goes up when I look at Hercules.”
- Eric Shanower, posthumously inducting, a deeply closeted Comic-Con founder who had called his artwork “too gay”, into the Gays in Comics community.
- Paige Braddock recalling how at her first Comic-Con she drove her car downtown, parked right by the water, walked up to a table and obtained a professional pass, simply by truthfully answering “yes” when asked if she was a working professional in the comic industry.
- Everyone blaming his or her encroaching mid-speech tears on Phil Jimenez, who openly admitted to the fact that he was going to cry during his own speech early on in the presentation.
But perhaps the person who best summed up the beauty of the panel, his career, and Comic-Con itself was Joe Phillips. Phillips graced the stage in a very posh overcoat and top hat adorned with ribbons and an opulent array of feathers. And though he talked about his impressive career, spanning everything from illustrating the comic book adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview with Vampire to Captain America, Green Lantern and over a dozen gay titles, his message boiled down to this: he only does him.
He draws what he wants to see, depicting the joy he sees in life through the eyes of a big gay black man. He does what he does, because he can’t be anything but himself. Sure, he may not receive the same amount of press as people who conform to the “mainstream”, even in the decidedly niche comic book world. But by being himself, and celebrating who he is, he has not only achieved a considerable amount of success but also, more importantly, found an immeasurable amount of happiness.
So go forth nerds, be ye gay, straight, black, white, Trekkie, Whovian, or honorary member of Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Who cares if people don’t appreciate your complete collection of Star Wars Vinylmations or get why you shelled out $300 on eBay to acquire the ultra-rare ghost Obi-Wan? Love yourself, and just do you.
Perhaps someday, you too can sit behind a long table, be it in Room 6A, Ballroom 20, or the sacred Hall H, and inspire others to do the same.