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As with Tom Spurgeon and Dirk Deppey (scroll down, it’s at the halfway point), I found myself thoroughly irked at Ranker.com’s incredibly superhero-heavy list of the “10 Most Important Gay Moments in Comic Book History.”
It’s not that the list focuses exclusively on DC and Marvel’s cape-and-Spandex output — that’s fine, so long as you’re willing to add a qualifier or two in your heading and introduction. What truly rankles is author Eric Diaz’s attempt to claim that this list is definitive, i.e. the “most important” moments evar, even though it conveniently ignores any comic that wasn’t published by DC or Marvel (and I’m sorry, but jokes about Batman and Robin’s “special relationship” don’t count). The best comparison I could make would be writing a post entitled the “Best Movies of the 20th Century” and then only including action films. Directed by Michael Bay.
Had Diaz gone outside his reading habits and taken five minutes to do some research, or at least done a Google search for “lgbt comics,” he would have found an large number of books, graphic novels, comic strips and what have you that carry more cultural weight than Rictor swapping spit with Shatterstar.
But rather than howl at the winds I thought I’d attempt to respond by offering my own simple list. This by no means meant to be a definitive or authoritative (or even necessarily matches my own reading tastes and preferences). Rather, I just looked at my bookshelves and quickly pulled off six gay- or lesbian-themed comics I thought were either more influential or aesthetically pleasing than anything Diaz came up with. It really wasn’t very difficult.
1. Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel. Really, how you can even attempt to put together a list of definitive, influential gay comics and not include Bechdel on it is beyond me. This is pure speculation on my part, but I think if you polled people in the LGBT community and asked them what comic resonated with them, they’d pick this one over that issue of Alpha Flight. Regardless of whether you care for her work or not, if you don’t have this strip or Fun Home (To quote Dirk: “Wouldn’t you say that Fun Home being chosen Time Magazine’s book of the year was the teensiest bit more important than a romantic relationship with a fucking Skrull?”) on your list, you’ve immediately lost all credibility with me.
2. Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse. Another obvious example. Cruse’s seminal tale of a young man’s self-discovery during the Civil Rights era was one of the most lauded graphic novels of the 1990s, and should easily come to the top of any respectable list, especially since a new edition is coming out (from DC no less!) in the next month or so.
3. For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnston. Easily one of the highlights of Johnston’s lengthy run on this daily comic strip was when elder son Michael’s best friend Lawrence came out of the closet. Johnson handled the story with tact and sympathy at a time when few mainstream comics, if any, were attempting to even go near the subject. The strip raised a bit of a kerfuffle and a number of papers dropped the comic for a while, but that, I suspect, only added to the strip’s influence. How many people read Young Avengers? I’m willing to bet Johnson has a larger audience, even now.
4. Doonesbury by Garry Trudeau. Oh look, another extremely popular and well-regarded daily comic strip! Trudeau was one of the first (if not the first) newspaper cartoonists to tackle gay issues with the character of Andy, who eventually succumbed to AIDS. He then had major cast member Mark Slackmeyer out himself over the radio waves and closely followed his attempts at love as he married (and eventually divorced) a fellow political pundit. His commitment to discuss these issues openly and with such good humor and respect for his characters speaks volumes in my mind about his integrity as an artist.
5. Ricca ‘tte Kanji by Rica Takashima. This one’s a bit obscure, I admit, but Takashima’s cute, minimalist tale of a budding lesbian and her fumbling attempts at romance with a more, ahem, experienced woman is just too cute (in a good way) for me to ignore it.
6. Pedro and Me by Judd Winick. I’m not the biggest fan of Pedro by a long shot, but Winick’s memoir about his friendship with the late Real World star has more earned emotion and empathy for its subject than anything on Diaz’s list (OK, I’ll make Rucka and Williams’ work on Batwoman the only potential exception). Considering that Winick went on from this to pen books like Titans and Green Arrow, I’m kind of surprised this book didn’t hit Diaz’s radar. But then, maybe that’s me expecting too much again.
Also worthy of consideration: Love and Rockets X by Gilbert Hernandez, Likewise by Ariel Schrag, Vellevision by Maurice Vellekoop, anything by Fumi Yoshinaga, and lots, lots more books than I have time to list here.