Comics Scholars Survey Results, November 1995

compiled by Peter M. Coogan

E. Gender

As under H. (Superheroes) below, Donna Barr raised a methodological issue, "Why are gender issues to be questioned more specifically than other issues? And why do 'gender issues' seem to be narrowed, at least in the survey outline, to topics dealing mainly with gay/lesbian issues?" Gender seemed to me to be an important issue, so I included it on my original questionnaire in a general sense (E.1.). The gay/lesbian focus represents the responses that have come in. In this survey I am not trying to shape the polylogue, but to report on it. I welcome the expansion of the topics and the discussion in the survey.

E.1. What work needs to be done on gender issues?

The respondents' answers broke down into three categories, economically summed up by Joseph Witek: 1) Why "comics are so strongly male-oriented and the consequences of this ideology and cultural attitudes this suggests 2) the thematic treatment of women in the comics generally 3) women in the comics industry, including the feminist response of the underground comix." Luca Somigli noted the lac k of places in which to address comics as a cultural formation as part of the problem. Barb Rausch would like to see comics marketed toward children and youth to be responsible about perpetuating negative stereotypes.

E.2. Gay and Lesbian issues.

Anne Tracy, the staff member at MSU's Special Collections responsible for gay/lesbian materials noticed the omission of gay/lesbian issue in my original questionnaire, and her suggestions have been incorporated into the survey.

E.2.a. What gay/lesbian comics are there?

Kathe Todd gave: the Gay Comix series, the Meatmen collections (and noted the pornographic like nature of this collection, instead of overall views of gay and lesbian issues), the solo work of Roberta Gregory, Alison Bechdel, Howard Cruse, Von Frick, and Andrea Natalie's "Stonewall Riots" newspaper strips.

Barb Rausch mentioned the limited range of comics by/for/about gays and lesbians that she is acquainted with, most notably Donna Barr's The Desert Peach, Tim Barela's Leonard and Larry, Leanne Franson's mini-comic Lilane, and the 1989 Gay Comics anthology (from New American Library), besides the creators mentioned above. She also mentioned P. Craig Russell's work, specifically his opera comics, as an example of non-gay oriented material by gay creators. She also noted that adult material is usually labeled as such so that it can be responsibly retailed, but that a certain amount of institutional homophobia in the business has impacted on the distribution a nd critical acknowledgment of comics work equal in quality to any being done today.

Craig Russell mentioned his adaptation of Oscar Wilde's work--both the fairy tales and Salome--which is not gay themed, but obviously gay related.

E.2.b. What about gay/lesbian professionals has been and needs to be done?

Kathe Todd mentioned that Andy Mangels has reported discrimination as a writer by mainstream comics editors due to his sexual orientation, and she would like the mainstream companies , "where all the money is," to establish policies to prevent this type of discrimination.

E.2.c. How have gays and lesbians been portrayed in comics?

Kathe Todd remarked that the portrayal of gays and lesbians in comics has been as varied as gays and lesbians themselves are, "and just about as true to life, in some cases, as the portrayals of straight characters--that is to say, not very." She continued by stressing the importance of alternative and underground comix for gay characters with any resemblance to real life given the pressures mainstream companies, with major sales to minors, face from the homophobic Religious Right, and the difficulties portraying gay characters as a good person (perceived as "selling homosexuality to the kids") or as a villain or a tortured person with emotional/mental problems (politically incorrect).

Barb Rausch echoed this understanding by noting that the range of portrayal runs from highly sensitive portrayals such as The Desert Peach to what she has heard are irresponsible stereotypes in mainstream comics that are inappropriate for material aimed at impressionable youth audience.

Back to the Introduction and Survey Outline