People have been discussing homosexuality in comics since the day superhero comics were introduced in 1938. Everyone, from parents to members of congress, was terrified of homosexuality in comics influencing their children into being gay. A psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham even published a book in 1954, titled “Seduction of the Innocent”, that blames comics for juvenile delinquency and accuses comics and comic companies of “seducing the youth” by romanticizing taboo things like violence, BDSM, and homosexuality. “Seduction of the Innocent” was taken seriously at the time and motivated parents to campaign for censorship.
Not very long after “Seduction of the Innocent” was published and affected society, the Comics Magazine Association of America published the Comics Code Authority, in an effort to avoid the government getting involved. The CCA banned graphic depictions of gore, anti-authoritarianism (especially against the police), and sexual innuendo of any kind, which included homosexuality. Over time, the code was updated to become more lenient, and advertisers eventually stopped deciding whether or not to advertise a comic if it didn’t have the CCA approved stamp in the early 2000’s.
The relaxation of this code opened the way for LGBTQ+ characters to appear openly in mainstream comics, which was a huge win for visibility. The first superhero to come out was Northstar (see image, left), from Marvel comics. While one of his creators, John Byrne, always intended him to be gay, he was only allowed to drop hints of Northstar’s homosexuality for thirteen years. In 1992, Northstar became the first character in mainstream comics to say “I am gay”, and 20 years later married his husband in the first same-sex wedding to be shown in Marvel comics (see image, right).
Northstar opened the way for other queer characters in mainstream comics. Existing out in the open is something that members of the community are still afraid to do. LGBTQ+ people are still harassed and prejudiced against and abused and killed for existing. From 1954 until the early 2000’s, the very existence of LGBTQ+ people was seen as immoral and harmful to children. Adding queer characters in popular media like comics won’t change the real problems in the world, but that representation has been shown to positively affect queer youth.
It has been shown in studies such as this one that queer representation gives LGBTQ+ youth positive role models and has been shown to increase the self-esteem of youth in the community. Having LGBTQ+ superheroes especially helps in youth seeing themselves as being good and worthy of love, even more so if they’re a high profile character. Luckily, main characters that are part of the community are becoming more and more common in comics.
The world is changing, and it shows in both reality and in media. The queer community is existing more and more freely, as are LGBTQ+ characters in comics. The fight to exist and love openly is working, and hopefully future queer youth will be able to see themselves exist in media and know that their existence is normal and valid.
– Paige Rowland