Tag Archives: comic books

Archie Comics’ Big Gay Kiss

14 Aug

KellerKissArchie Comics’ first gay character continues to blaze trails for equality. Since his introduction three years ago, Kevin Keller has become one of the publisher’s most popular characters. He received his own title only months after his introduction and his appearances have been instrumental in the updating of life in idyllic Riverdale. Kevin Keller #10 continues this trend with a story that mixes Archie-style hijinks with solid social commentary.

Kevin recently began dating Devon, a young man who ran away from home when his father reacted badly to discovering he was gay. Devon is staying with Kevin’s pal (and frequent Archie love interest) Veronica Lodge. After events of the past couple of issues, Devon decides to return home to reconcile. After a chat at Pop’s diner, he and Kevin exchange a quick kiss.

A woman in the diner responds badly, accusing the couple of trying to corrupt her young daughter. Veronica rushes to their defense, and Pop himself bans the woman from the diner for her bigotry and disruption. Things get wacky (this is a comic book, after all) when Veronica accidentally posts the kiss to YouTube. The story goes viral, threatening to disrupt Devon’s plans and creating a media frenzy.

The blend of social justice and comic energy is perfect. Kevin just wants to be a normal teenager, a theme that helps make his book so charming and successful. Accepting the responsibility thrust on him by circumstance, he agrees to appear on Ellen to discuss the hyperbolic response to a simple kiss.

The issue also takes a poke at the infamous group One Million Moms, the hyperbolically named group that has mounted failed boycotts and protests of many representations of LGBT people. The group went after Archie Comics last year when the series Life With Archie, set in the future, featured Kevin’s wedding to his partner Clay. Using Ellen as the group’s clever foil, the story dismantles their homophobia and hypocrisy nicely while staying true to the characters and overall story.

The pacing is excellent and the characters are strong and believable. Writer and artist Dan Parent manages to convey important messages without being overly preachy. Besides Pop’s stand for equality, Riverdale High Mr. Wetherbee makes a bold statement about treating everyone fairly. Archie and his current African-American girlfriend reflect that their kiss at Pop’s would have created a similar stir not too long ago.

It’s an Archie Comic, so everything works out pretty well in the end. The story rings very true and the characters are strong. Devon’s interaction with his father is realistic but hopeful. Kevin and Devon continue to grow as characters and as a couple. Deftly handled and cleverly written, Kevin Keller #10 gets a full five stars for telling an important story and remaining true to the spirit of fun that readers expect from Archie.

Superman and Nostalgia

10 Jul
Message of Hope or Greed?

Message of Hope or Greed?

Last night, my husband and I went to the movies, something very rare indeed, but the cinema not far from us has a deal of $6 tickets on Tuesdays — great deal.  We decided to see Man of Steel, primarily because we both loved the Christopher Reeve movie Superman (1978) and we both liked Henry Cavill in Stardust.

Sadly, I was exceedingly disappointed. Cavill does a good job, as does Amy Adams as Lois Lane, but the whole movie lacked a sense of humanity. It missed the opportunity to demonstrate how we are all called upon to work for the greater good — a conversation that seems to be in desperate need of life support in the 21st Century.

Man of Steel made me quite nostalgic for the Superman movie with Christopher Reeve. The 1978 version presents a picture of humanity and develops characters that I feel invested in and want to watch. The movie also had a richness of pathos and wit.  Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor was nothing less than brilliant, and Ned Beatty just adds to that brilliance. I would also argue that the 1978 version is very family friendly — there is not a lot of gratuitous violence. Finally, I’m just not convinced that anyone but our Terrence Stamp (Bernadette from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) can play General Zod.

Henry Cavill does a good job of playing Superman and he is certainly easy on the eyes, but his character lacks the humanity that Superman had with Christopher Reeve. Amy Adams starts off as a wonderfully strong and independent woman, but the character loses all credibility as a strong independent woman with the awful awful line: “What if I have to tinkle?”  Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Jor-El is a bit over the top and certainly lacks all of the humanity that Marlon Brando delivered. Alas, I think the worst crime of this movie was the 35 minutes of non-stop gratuitous violence that does nothing to move the story along, nor does it make us feel more invested in any of the characters.  Rather than watching a movie about the plight and hope for humanity, I felt as though I was watching a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.

When I watch the 1978 version of Superman, I leave the movie inspired and hopeful that humans are capable of a transformative experience and that we are dedicated to the greater good for the greater cause.  I left Man of Steel feeling grateful I only paid $10 for my husband and me to see an enormous amount of violence and a rather nasty nationalistic, almost jingoistic message of patriotism.

Wonder Women! Pop Culture and Feminist Role Models

24 Apr

Lynda-Carter-WWAsk someone to name a superhero, and the first answers you’ll get are almost always men. As with much of popular culture, the roles available for women in comics are often sadly subordinate. A wonderful new documentary explores this issue and the relationship between feminism and popular culture.

Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines was directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and produced by Kelcey Edwards and is featured on the PBS series Independent Lens. The hour-long documentary poses an important central question

What are the consequences for women when they are strong and when they are the central actors of their own lives?

The film is centered on one of the oldest and most well-known comic heroines, Wonder Woman. Created by psychologist William Moulton Marston as an antidote to what he saw as the overly violent and masculine world of 1930s comics, the Amazon princess has been a figure of admiration and scorn alike since her introduction in 1941.

Princess Diana has been rebooted and rewritten dozens of times (unlike her male colleagues) but still maintains a loyal following. Her treatment over 70 years has clearly reflected the ups and downs of feminism in this country. As women were driven from the workplace after WWII, so was Wonder Woman reduced to guest star in her own books. The notorious Fredric Wertham, whose book Seduction of the Innocent shut down huge sections of the comic industry, made it clear that a strong woman must be a lesbian and was therefore not a fit model for children. As Second Wave Feminism got rolling, Wonder Woman lost her powers — it’s hard not to see a backlash correlation there. Despite everything the character has been through, however, she remains a strong symbol for millions of people, serving as a nice symbol of the undying spirit of feminism in the face of obstacles.

The documentary features insights from a wide variety of people. Gloria Steinem discusses the importance of strong women role models in all media, and other icons from the Bionic Woman to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Xena are given their due. Riot Grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna takes a keen look at the backlash against feminism and the trivialization of strong women as merely sex symbols as the 20th Century came to a close. Comic historians and media analysts look at the roles of women over the decades, providing some sad and disturbing insights. With 97% of all decision-making positions in media held by men, it’s no surprise that women’s roles are narrow and hard to come by.

The film also remembers the groundbreaking 70s Wonder Woman series, featuring conversations with star Lynda Carter. She is outspoken about the power of the series for girls and women, however light the plots and dialogue may have been. We hear from Portlander Andy Mangels, the writer who created Wonder Woman Day, an annual comic store fundraiser for domestic violence shelters and programs. Given Diana’s mission to spread a message of peace and love in a violent world, that’s a perfect tribute.

Wonder Women! is a significant and fun look at 70 years of popular culture and how it succeeds — and fails — both to reflect our world and to inspire us. It serves as an excellent introduction to some important themes and provides a good jumping-off point for anyone interested in further study. The film is being rebroadcast on Independent Lens based on local PBS affiliate schedules; it can also be watched online at the series website.

Celebrating LGBTQ History: June 7, LGBT Comic Book Characters

7 Jun

In the past few weeks comic books have received a great deal of attention in the broader media, mostly because of two major developments involving gay superheroes. One is the upcoming wedding of long-standing gay hero Northstar (more on that below). The other is the re-introduction of a major DC Hero as gay.

This week, DC released Earth 2 #2, featuring new versions of some of the oldest heroes in the company’s history. (This is part of a complete redesign that started in the fall.) Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, appears in the comic with his long-time (male) partner. For casual comic fans, it’s worth noting that this Green Lantern, introduced in 1940, has a magic ring rather than an advanced alien power ring. (For more on the complicated history of the dozens of Green Lanterns, visit the Gay League.) Alan Scott is a major character, and rebooting him as gay shows DC’s commitment to diversity in its characters. The introduction of his partner was handled beautifully, simply as a facet of Scott’s life. Writer James Robinson indicates that he intends to keep things in that narrative vein.

Openly gay and lesbian characters in comic books are a relatively new phenomenon. The tight restrictions of the Comics Code Authority – which almost wiped out hero comics in the 50s – kept any mention of sexuality out of comics until the 70s. Even as the Code eased through the 80s and 90s, the major comic publishers were reluctant to present LGBT characters in what was still perceived as a children’s medium. Jim Shooter, Editor-In-Chief of Marvel Comics from 1978 to 1987, famously prohibited any gay characters from appearing in the company’s publications. Even with this history, however, there are plenty of great gay and lesbian heroes to celebrate.

Perhaps the most famous is Northstar. Created by John Byrne in the pages of the X-Men in 1979, he was a member of the Canadian team Alpha Flight. He is the first mainstream hero to actually identify as gay, famously uttering the words in 1992. Byrne has said that he always intended Northstar to be gay; the writer and artist also introduced one of the first gay-from-the-start characters (Detective Maggie Sawyer in the pages of Superman in 1987. Northstar is now in a long-term relationship (with a non-hero) and is slated to get married in June. The announcement of his impending nuptials was made on The View, showing just how much press these four-color heroes are getting in the wake of big hero movies like The Avengers.

Another LGBT member of the mutant hero franchise is the villain Mystique. She is a lesbian in the comics, including a rare longstanding romantic relationship with Destiny. This aspect of the character was written out of the films. The Pied Piper is another gay villain. This long-time foe of the Flash came out in 1991 and took on a much larger supporting character role in the series. His portrayal won DC Comics one of the first GLAAD Media Awards for a comic book.

Batwoman is a lesbian hero who survived the DC reboot largely intact. Ironically, the original Batwoman was introduced in 1956 as a romantic foil for Batman to deflect criticism about the supposedly homoerotic nature of his relationship with Robin. When the character was re-introduced in 2006, Kate Kane was an open lesbian from the beginning. The stories are some of the best written and illustrated in recent comics and feature LGBT plotlines including references to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. (Kane has also started dating Maggie Sawyer, pointing out the limited number of women in the DC lesbian dating pool.)

Another famed gay couple are Apollo and Midnighter. The heroes were initially published by Wildstorm, a company that was absorbed by DC in 1999. While not clearly gay from the outset, their orientations and relationship developed over time. They eventually married (the first gay marriage in a mainstream comic) and adopted a daughter.

Many newer LGBT characters are teen heroes. Writers get the chance explore the characters coming to grips with their powers and sexual identities simultaneously. In the case of Hulkling and Wiccan, two members of Marvel’s Young Avengers, the boys were much more concerned with their parents learning they were superheroes. This couple has been very well developed, resulting in two of the best LGBT representations in comics. Fellow Marvel teen Karolina Dean, a member of the Runaways is a lesbian; she’s in a relationship with a shape-shifting, bisexual alien, Xavin. In DC’s latest version of the Teen Titans, another gay teen has recently been introduced, the Mexican hero Bunker. He hasn’t had a major role to play yet, but he has been out since his introduction.

Set 1000 years in the future, DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes has introduced a number of LGBT characters. Most of these have been evolutions of long-standing characters. Heroines Shrinking Violet and Lightning Lass had been published for over 30 years (and had both had superhero boyfriends) when they began a relationship. Still going strong as a couple in the latest Legion series, they are one of the longest-running pairs in comics. Element Lad was long believed by fans to be gay when he gained a girlfriend in police officer Shvaughn Erin. A few years later, it was revealed that Shvaughn was really Sean, a man who took a drug to become a woman to be appealing to Element Lad. When Sean settled into life as a man, Element Lad stayed with him. This was one of the first bisexual and transgender storylines in comics. Recently, trainee heroes Power Lad and Gravity Kid were shown to be a couple and implied to be married.

Special comic book notice should go to Kevin Keller. While not a superhero, Kevin is another character who was introduced as gay. He is also remarkable because he is published by Archie Comics. He’s one of their most popular characters and was awarded his own comic title only a year after his first appearance. He also celebrated his wedding in a “possible future” Archie series, Life With Archie, a very sweet ceremony.

Perry Moore, author of the great gay superhero young adult novel Hero, wrote an analysis of the fate of LGBT characters in comics. While costumed crimefighting is hazardous in general, he maintained (rather convincingly) that gay and lesbian comic characters suffer more disfigurement and death than their straight counterparts. A prime example is Freedom Ring. One of the rare Marvel heroes introduced as gay, he appeared in 2007. He was a complex character who’s sexual orientation was a simple fact rather than a plot point. Only a few issues after he first appeared, however, he was gruesomely murdered.

Despite this treatment of some LGBT heroes and villains, there are many active in the pages of today’s comics. Queersupe and the Gay League are great resources. Even with the introduction of new characters (and outed old ones), however, equal treatment of the affection between LGBT heroes is still not as visible. Comics are making great strides and the fans seem very supportive of Northstar, Batwoman, and the new/old Green Lantern. Let’s hope that these celebrations of the best in the human spirit continue to grow, better reflecting the vast diversity of people.

Hero of the Week Award: March 2, Archie Comics

2 Mar

Hero of the Week

Today we are pleased to honor the continued commitment of what was once a surprising player in LGBT equality, Archie Comics. The company has a reputation as being conservative and traditional, bolstered by an ill-advised 70s partnership with a right-wing evangelical publisher. Over the past few years, however, the Archie brand has been surprisingly successful at re-inventing itself and creating a relevant, safe place for young comic readers to see how everyone really can get along.

Last year Archie Comics made a great move toward equality by introducing their first gay character, the loveable Kevin Keller. Creator Dan Parent made Kevin a realistic, complex character. He happens to be gay; he’s also a teen in Riverdale, so he has his share of typical misadventures but also knows everyone loves and supports him. It’s a great message for LGBTQ youth and their allies and families. While previous diversity characters have been given short shrift after their initial introductions, Kevin has quickly become an Archie mainstay. After taking over Veronica for four issues (and exploring coming out, dating, bullying, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell), Kevin was given his own title which debuted last month. It’s off to a promising start and Kevin looks to be a vital part of the Riverdale community.

The company took equality even farther last month. In the Life With Archie series which shows the life of the characters as adults, they celebrated Kevin’s wedding to his partner, Clay. In typical Riverdale fashion, no-one bats an eye at true marriage equality and the wedding is a marvelous, supportive event. They are also a bi-racial couple, adding to the “everyone belongs” message. That issue alone was almost enough to earn the company HWA. But this week they did even better.

The American Family Association’s One Million Moms project noted the presence of Life With Archie #16 in Toys ‘R’ Us stores and started another boycott attempt. The extremist hate group objected to the presence of a loving same-sex couple on the cover of a comic book. So far Toys ‘R’ Us has not replied (perhaps not wishing to waste time debating with lunatics?). Archie Comics, on the other hand, came out with a strong, wonderful statement issued by CEO John Goldwater.

We stand by Life with Archie #16. As I’ve said before, Riverdale is a safe, welcoming place that does not judge anyone. It’s an idealized version of America that will hopefully become reality someday. We’re sorry the American Family Association/OneMillionMoms.com feels so negatively about our product, but they have every right to their opinion, just like we have the right to stand by ours. Kevin Keller will forever be a part of Riverdale, and he will live a happy, long life free of prejudice, hate, and narrow-minded people.

Way to go Archie Comics. Let’s hope your efforts speed the pace by which all of America becomes a bit more like Riverdale when it comes to inclusion.

Black History Month 2012: Matt Baker

13 Feb

Today we honor and celebrate a man who broke through the color barrier in publishing, artist and cartoonist Matt Baker. Born in 1921, some of Baker’s early work was published in the 30s. He was hired by Eisner and Iger, a company that created work for a variety of comic book publishers. Baker’s work for the studio was published by Fox Comics and Quality comics in 1944, the first known published comic book art by an African-American.

Baker was a master of “good girl art” a style that focused on female beauty and glamor across all genres of comics. He worked in all genres as well, publishing work at several companies in romance, western, science fiction, and supernatural. His most lasting contribution to comics was the reinvention of Phantom Lady. This super-hero was created by Iger employees for Quality Comics, who dropped her after a few issues. Fox Comics picked up the feature but asked for a complete redesign. Baker created a whole new look for Phantom Lady which ran for a few years. The hero has been absorbed by DC Comics and worked into their historical cannon of WWII heroes.

Matt Baker was also the artist on one of the first known graphic novels. Called a “picture novel”, It Rhymes With Lust was published by St. John’s Publications in 1950. It was a clear forerunner of the long-format comic that became a staple of the industry 30 years later. Matt Baker died at the very young age of 37 of a heart attack. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2009.

My Solipsistic Year

12 Aug

The 3 Faces of the Solipsistic Husband

When my husband started this blog a year ago, I didn’t really know what to expect. We were both interested in exploring social networking and online communication and Michael had some observations about the world he wanted to share. We set up a simple blog (Thank you, WordPress!) and he got started. After a couple of weeks, I was so enjoying his posts that I got the urge to write something myself. The rest is history.

While it is very much Michael’s blog and vision, I have enjoyed the opportunities to contribute my thoughts. Over the past year we’ve spent some productive and enjoyable time bouncing ideas off each other and learning about the world around us. Contributing to The Solipsistic Me has noticeably improved the quality of my writing. I’ve also had the chance to apply the research skills I’ve developed as a librarian to different topics and more journalistic inquiries.

To celebrate the first Solipsistic Birthday, I’ve picked ten stories I wrote that I feel best represent my contribution to the blog.

The First Amendment, Hypocrisy, and Bias: Juan Williams as Case Study (Oct. 23): This fairly early post involved a great deal of research and several rewrites to get my words to match my thoughts. It arose from my steadfast defense of free speech and my frustration with people who fail to understand the subtleties of that concept.

Words Matter – or – Why I Won’t Be “Tolerated” (Nov. 18): I had written a handful of short posts about the hypocrisy of homophobia, but this post brought all my threads together in one cohesive piece. Tolerance is never enough when one is discussing common humanity.

Black Friday: Don’t Buy Your Sweater Off the Back of the Poor (Nov. 24): Every holiday season I become more disgusted at the reprehensible “special sales” that start at 4:00 a.m. (or earlier). What horrific consumerism and abuse of workers! Last Thanksgiving I had a platform to voice my dismay in this post.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service – Civics Made Practical (Jan. 17): It is important to remember the origins of our national holidays. MLK day isn’t just another day off, it’s a challenge to engage in improving our communities. I really enjoyed researching this piece and finding resources to help our readers volunteer.

A Blow to Censorship: The Comics Code Authority Fades Away (Jan. 22): This post merged my opposition to censorship with my life-long fondness for comic books. I’ve always found the CCA to be oppressive and arbitrary; it was delightful to celebrate its overdue end.

Learning How to Learn: An Homage to My Grandfather (Feb. 14): I used a lot of tissues writing this post. My grandfather was a powerful, positive influence on my life and it was a true pleasure to celebrate him.

The Most Challenged Books of 2010: Proof We Need Our Libraries (Apr. 15): Another anti-censorship post, this time from my perspective as a librarian. I also did a series for Banned Books Week in the fall. This post closed out National Library week and provided a nice overview of the ongoing challenges faced by our libraries.

Oregon Librarians Visit Congress (May 13): A slightly more solipsistic post, this recounted one of the highlights of my career so far, participating in my first National Library Legislative Day. As publicly-funded entities, libraries have complex dependencies on laws and funding from the local to the national level. I appreciated the opportunity to spell out some of the key issues and to celebrate my wonderful colleagues.

Books For Charity or Scam For Profit? (May 22): My personal favorite of my more journalistic stories, this post arose from some local concern about those big blue bins that offer to swallow up second-hand books for charity. I truly enjoyed digging up the truth and raising public awareness. This was also one of my most re-posted stories, which was very gratifying..

Women In Comics: Everything Old Is New Again (Aug. 1): This very recent post is a testament to patience. I had wanted to write about Gail Simone’s Women In Refrigerators project for months but never found the right thesis. One day the critical piece dropped into my lap and the story came together very quickly.

I hope you enjoyed this snapshot of this wonderful world of TSM (and proof of my propensity for subtitles). Regular contributor Lex Kahn has also celebrated the anniversary with his Wednesday Word of the Week and Michael will weigh in as the Editor-in-Chief. It’s been a fun, informative, and engaging year participating in the blog and watching it grow. I look forward to seeing what the next year brings. Big thanks to my wonderful husband for making me a part of his online world, too.

The Power Within: Anti-Bullying Comic Project Beats Its Goal

28 May

The Power to Stop Bullying

Regular TSM readers will remember the wonderful Power Within project, an effort to produce copies of a powerful anti-bullying comic to distribute nationally to LGBT youth centers. Creators Zan Christensen and Mark Brill set up a Kickstarter page to raise $3,000 of the approximately $4,200 needed to fund the project. Thanks to the generosity of caring people like you, the project not only met its goal, it raised more than the $4,200, fully funding the printing. Christensen notes on the Kickstarter page:

Thank you to everyone who pitched in and brought us not only to our $3000 minimum, but to our $4200 total printing bill! I’ve been in touch with the printers and am scheduling the print run now; we will be able to produce more than 3000 full-color copies of the book to distribute to at-risk kids. I’ve launched http://thepowerwithin.org with a link to submit your info for your local youth organizations that would like to get copies of the book. There will be more news as we determine the date that the book will be available. Backers will be the first to see it!

If you know of an organization that could benefit from copies of The Power Within, please identify it using the link above. A big thank you to everyone who helped make this project a reality.

Hero of the Week Award: April 29

29 Apr

Hero of the Week

This week’s heroes are Zan Christensen and Mark Brill, creators of the anti-bullying comic The Power Within. Christensen is the Publisher of Northwest Press, a publishing imprint devoted to providing the highest-quality lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender graphic novels and comics collections. He has dedicated his career to creating and compiling comics and graphic art for and about the LGBTQ community.

In October 2010, Christensen and Brill came up with a project for 24-Hour Comics Day, a comic industry activity where creators design a whole comic in a single day. Because of the rash of teen suicides due to anti-gay bullying last fall, they decided to focus on the issue of bullying. The Power Within is the story of Shannon,

who gets picked on a lot at school because he is smaller, quieter and more “artistic” than the other kids. His dad and his teachers think the other kids wouldn’t tease him if he just “fit in” more. Their advice is for him to hide, or he’s bringing it on himself. Faced with all this, Shannon has created a super-powered alter ego that he can escape into whenever he’s in a bad situation. Pretending he’s a powerful hero helps him stand up for himself. But will the power within be enough to save him?

This week, Northwest Press announced its plans to do a full print run of the comic (originally distributed only at conferences from a small printing) for wider distribution. Says Christensen,

In addition to sharing a great story, our goal is to get copies of the book into the hands of young people through youth centers, gay-straight alliances, and teachers’ groups. Printing the book in a large print run will help us distribute free copies of the book to people who need to hear its message.

You can help Northwest Press meet its funding goal by contributing to their Kickstarter campaign for The Power Within. The total goal is a modest $3000 and even a small contribution will help.

Bravo to Zan Christensen, Mark Brill, and Northwest Press for creating a powerful and important story and for working to get it into the hands of the kids who need it most.

Archie Takes Gay Character Seriously

29 Mar

Kevin Keller: Out in Riverdale

Regular readers of The Solipsistic Me will recall our posts about Kevin Keller, the first gay character published by Archie Comics. The company has just released a teaser of the first issue of Kevin’s own mini-series, due in June.

According to the publisher, these four issues will address important and relevant topics, including Kevin’s struggles with coming out to his parents and bullying. It’s impressive to see the commitment to making Kevin a real character in Archie’s world, not just a placeholder stereotype. As quoted in the New York Post, Archie co-CEO Jon Goldwater says, “This is the most important book this company has released in 70 years.”

We’ll see how the series shapes up this summer, but things look very promising for Kevin and for all the kids — regardless of their sexual orientation — who get to learn from his adventures in Riverdale.

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