NYCC 2013: 'NY Times OUT and Geeks Out LGBT & Allies in Comics' Panel

The lights dimmed on a packed hall Thursday night as the New York Times OUT and Geeks Out present LGBT and Allies in Comics panel opened with various interviews from fans, critics, and creators polling them on who their favorite LGBT comic book characters are from those heroes and supporting cast members who are openly gay to others whose representations are interpreted as such. When the lights came on, the discussion started all moderated by New York Times book review staff editor, Jude Biersdorf, and included Dan Parent (Kevin Keller), Marjorie Liu (Astonishing X-Men), Dan Ketchum (Uncanny Avengers)and Rich Bernatovech (Sentinels), and Greg Pak (Action Comics).

Dan Parent started off the panel discussing his work on Archie Comics title, Kevin Keller. Following the uproar from conservative groups over the character, Parent pointed out "we poked fun at that controversy," referring to the Million Moms March that protested the controversial direction of his comic. Parent expressed a desire to cover "things that happen in the media," but he wanted to make the point that "they're still just Archie stories." Biersdorf then steered the discussion to Marjorie Liu who first wrote the story surrounding Northstar's marriage – the first homosexual character participating in the first same-sex marriage in comics. When asked what her greatest challenge was in writing homosexual characters, Liu responded how "each character was a great opportunity…to explore them as human people… to make them live for others in ways that are realistic as they can be in a comic book." She further pointed to things writers take for granted: "female victimization, race, and sexuality…the best way to combat that" she stated was to engage it directly – a point that drew a noticeably positive response from the crowd.

Rich Bernatovech spoke about his experience as an independent creator and his desire to break from the standard tropes of comics and tell stories of characters "who come from different places in the world"—in ways more than just in their geographic origin. Meanwhile, Greg Pak talked about his experience with Extreme X-Men. Pak joked about his family's experience watching television years ago and seeing an Asian person on the screen: "Look! There's an Asian" he exclaimed. "And everyone would crowd around excitedly," alluding to the desire of many groups of underrepresented people to find representation in comics and media as a whole. Pak also spoke about his depiction of the alternative versions of Wolverine and Hercules, both of whom were homosexual: "They were adorable together."

Daniel Ketchum, Marvel editor, spoke to his experience handling various characters' sexuality and how instances of homosexual heroes would have to "go from senior editors, like Nick Lowe, to the editor in chief, and sometimes all the way to Dan Buckley." He further discussed how characters like Wiccan and Hulkling "were heavily scrutinized about kissing on camera." "Now," Ketchum asserted, "there are options." Greg Pak also piped in with a response to an audience question over transgender representation and brought up Alpha Flight's Sasquatch who switched genders as one such example of transgender heroes in comics.

Biersdorf then raised the controversy regarding DC Comics' decision and asked about the panelists' opinions about whether or not superheroes can or cannot enjoy happiness in the context of marriage – of either the heterosexual or same-sex variety. Liu contended that these relationships could be sources of conflict worth exploring calling it "lazy storytelling." Greg Pak – writer of both Action Comics and Superman/Batman for the company under the moderator's bullseye – believed "Majorie is right…it comes down to a character to character basis on where the character should go." Pak further addressed the issue of "the model minority trope" and the need to "avoid the stereotype…and make him real" as a writer. He also spoke to the need for more characters who resist and embrace social norms: "We should be creating tons of characters, so no one character has to be everything" to every reader.

Biersdorf then asked the panel who their "dream teams" for same-sex coupling. Pak reaffirmed his decision with Howlett and Hercules, but then followed by stating, "There are a lot of Lord of the Rings characters I'd like to pair up!" to which the crowd erupted in laughter and approval. The panel then concluded with a brief question-and-answer session, which largely centered on the problem of changes in representation of marginalized demographics of readers happening slowly. Dan Ketchum offered one practical solution to end on by saying, "Vote with your dollars."

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