Creator Comics and Queer Representation
Welcome back to our post-millennial analysis of the current state of fandom. Today we examine a superhero comic where each character is based upon a gay/queer archetype. The Pride and its efforts at satire may sometimes land flat, but its exploration of diversity and acceptance makes it worth the read.
Editor’s Note: When this series began, Zee Bowditch identified as a queer femme nonbinary woman. Today, Zee stands proud as a queer nonbinary trans genderfluid individual. We at The Unconventional are proud of Zee living his truth, support him completely, and will continue to do so in the future.
Let’s be honest: mainstream comics don’t have the best track record of representing queer characters. You’ll get thrown the occasional minor gay or lesbian superhero, often with some tragic, pained queer plot line attached to them. If you’re bisexual you’re usually a villain (or an anti-hero, depending on your opinion on Catwoman); if you’re trans you get to be Batgirl’s roommate or a tasteless and uncomfortable one-off cross-dressing fake Batgirl (Batgirl #37) [ 1 ]. It’s as bad as it sounds.
To say I was desperate for queer representation as a budding comic book fan was a bit of an understatement. I’ve always kept my ear to the ground when it comes to independent work revolving around queer characters and stories and that’s when I heard about Joe Glass and his comic The Pride [ 2 ]. Joe is a gay writer out of Wales in the U.K. and The Pride was exactly the sort of comic I was looking for. It revolves around a lone gay superhero named FabMan—Tomorrow’s Fabulous Man, Today—who struggles to find a place for himself in the superhero community while also navigating the world as an openly gay man. Embracing his fellow queer superheroes such as Angel, Bear, Frost, Sapphire, Wolf, Cub, and Twink, FabMan tackles real-world issues layered under a veneer of superhero drama.
Comics have to speak to such issues to resonate with me. I’m neither a superhero nor a knight in shining armor when I’m at home, so finding stories that can still maintain a certain amount of magic while touching on something about the world we live in is important to me. As a comic, The Pride accomplishes this.
An excellent illustration comes from the very first short story anthology, included as the second half of a teaser for both of Glass’ indie pieces. Upon hearing that a young boy is about to be outed, FabMan swoops down and sits with him and, instead of helping him with some melodramatic display of superpowers, provides a comforting shoulder and some practical advice in the form of phone numbers for counseling and group support. It’s a moment that overlaps the real and the fantastic and represents some of the best storytelling in the title.
The Delicate Balancing Act
FabMan’s story is about finding a way to be himself without losing a place and community. The driving force behind the creation of The Pride for FabMan is to combat the fear of being reduced to a token, if he is accepted at all. By creating a group where he can be himself and play to his strengths, he can feel supported and safe while doing good deeds as a superhero. This narrative is never more parallel to the found family struggles of the queer community than in this moment, nor is it more representative of the delicate balancing act that LGBTQ individuals have to play in their private, personal lives.
The entirety of the comic is about the power of community, and how it can alleviate feelings of isolation. It’s fitting that sharing this would also be considered an act of heroism. It’s exactly these beats of honesty that keeps this comic from slipping too far into either schlocky wish fulfillment or cliché melodrama. While the title does fall into traditional, lighthearted-classic superhero banter and the over-the-top-antics you expect from a superhero comic, Glass never loses sight of the real people underneath it all. Moments like these are sprinkled throughout the story and help to provide a grounded tone as well as demonstrate genuine care towards representation and support for its target community.
If I had to levy one complaint at The Pride, it’s that it relies too heavily—and problematically—on its tropes. Every main superhero is based loosely (or not so loosely) on a queer archetype. Some of these are obvious tongue-in-cheek jokes (Bear is literally a humanoid bear), but some of them are less satirical and more of a parody. For example, Angel, the transgender woman of the comic, is sometimes presented as trans, yet other times she is depicted as a drag queen. Such an inconsistency provides uncomfortable echoes of real-world prejudice. Trans women are often dismissed as “men in dresses,” and while drag often does provide space for gender-variant people (myself included), it’s a bit upsetting that the only trans character in the group is not clearly separated from her drag persona. Instead, our introduction to Angel is her sitting in front of a mirror assuming her “drag” identity as a superhero and performer. At other points, Angel insists that FabMan recognizes her as trans when forming the acronym of their newly formed superhero group. This blurring of drag performance and trans identity is problematic, given that many drag performers deliberately distance themselves from trans and gender variant identity. One example of this is famous drag queen and RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Willam Belli’s recent dismissal of trans identity on Twitter [ 3 ]. This characterization of Angel feels a bit lazy, and is often difficult to stomach, despite the fact that the character is otherwise compelling and fun.
There’s No ‘I’ in Team
However, each of The Pride’s characters are distinct and multifaceted rather than just a flat stereotype. They are all, at turns, gruff and insecure as well as heroic, witty, and clever. While the writing can rely too heavily on tropes at times, its strengths are apparent in that every character gets a turn in the spotlight, both in terms of having stories dedicated to their pasts and the roles they play in resolving the main plot conflict. This really is a comic about a team—something from which the “Big 2” of Marvel and DC could learn a thing or two.
Two of my favorite examples of the title’s positive team dynamics are in the characters Wolf and Muscle Mary. Both are obviously nods to various established comics characters, namely Wolverine (with a dash of Batman) and Wonder Woman, but they get a really great twist in the hands of Glass, who uses the basic archetypes of “gruff loner” and “princess of the Amazons” to tell a new story about queerness and identity.
Princess Sapphire, known better by her codename Muscle Mary, came from an all-female tribe called the Sapphons, who had been separated from mankind for hundreds of years before facing invasion. These invading men killed Muscle Mary’s mother, and the orphaned princess honored her mother’s last wishes by showing the invaders mercy. Learning about humanity from these invaders instead of killing them, Muscle Mary decided to delve into their world to serve as a force for good. One of the most interesting choices regarding Muscle Mary is that she and the Sapphons are dark-skinned, whereas their invaders are all depicted as white men. Not only is it meaningful to show a big, strong, black character choosing to show mercy versus being just a thug, it’s telling as a metaphor, for colonization and exploitation are what drives Mary into a world where she feels isolated and alone, forcing her to find herself.
Meanwhile, not all of the stories here are as straight as Wolf’s in terms of the classic gay struggle. However, the narrative’s framing is both unique and resonant. Orphaned at a young age, Wolf trains himself to the peak of physical and intellectual prowess in order to protect himself and others. This brings him to the attention of the Justice Division, one of the most famous and well-regarded teams of superheroes in The Pride’s comic universe. However, because Wolf was closeted, he still felt isolated, even as a member of the group. That was when he struck up a friendship with FabMan. However, because of the press and exposure of the Justice Division, the media quickly began to speculate that Wolf and FabMan were romantically involved. This speculation eventually made it back to the Justice Division, who asked Wolf to leave, claiming that the Division’s reputation as a “family friendly” and “safe” group would be jeopardized if Wolf was gay, or even if there was speculation that he was. Given the choice between resignation and being fired, Wolf retreats from the outside world and becomes a recluse, so hurt by his experience that he chooses to remove himself from the Superhero life until FabMan recruits him for The Pride.
Ripped from Today’s Headlines
Anyone who’s ever paid any attention to the news around the issue of queer rights knows the very real framing that is going on here. At the time of this article, 16 states in the United States don’t have any protection for queer employees and only 20 have laws in place that protect both gender and sexuality [ 4 ]. On top of that, it was only in April 2017 that a federal judge codified that federal housing laws require equal protection for queer people, though housing discrimination still occurs [ 5 ]. On a very real note, my now ex-girlfriend and I had no choice but to stay closeted in order to live in New Hampshire due to the difficulty of finding housing as a couple.
To be told that who you are is somehow inherently perverted or unsafe is a common struggle across the queer spectrum and often more so for trans people and queer people of color. It seems fitting that at least one character represents that real-world struggle in their characterization between the pages of The Pride. However, Wolf’s character arc provided him, after joining The Pride, an avenue to rediscover his own talents and use them to support his new group. He represents a recovery and a reentry into society that supports him and allows him to forge new connections even after suffering rejection and pain.
The art itself is superb and Glass has even enlisted the talents of artists like Kevin Wada to work on the books. It has a bubblegum brightness that suits the superhero stories it’s trying to tell. There is no so-called “grimdark” aesthetic here, just optimism and vibrancy even while tackling difficult issues. The character design ranges from hilarious (Bear being an actual bear and FabMan’s hot pink leotard) to very on the nose (you could have ripped Angel right out of an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race). Yet every character is visually distinct and immediately recognizable, never feeling chunky or rushed. This creates an iconic look for the comic, which is very much to its benefit. The nods to and Easter eggs of other iconic looks are also enjoyable. Just as Muscle Mary and FabMan are obvious visual allusions to Wonder Woman and Superman, characters like Frost—a nod to villains like Mr. Freeze—and Wolf’s fun blending of a Batman-style mask with the gruff, mountain-man aesthetic of Wolverine, add layers of meta-reference that enhances a reader’s enjoyment. Additionally, while these characters are in many ways obvious homages to their genre, they stand out as visually distinct on their own.
My main impression of this comic is one of fond charm. The comic reads like what it is: a passion project from a talented amateur who was able to get a rotating team of solid artists to bring his vision to life. Fans of the project need to be patient—perhaps only a single issue comes out a year—but it’s clear that a large part of the reason for the slow release schedule is due to a desire for high quality in terms of art, writing, and even production. It’s also important to remember that Glass doesn’t have a publisher and every penny the comic earns goes right back into producing the next one.
A Shameless Plug
While this article series was never intended as a marketing platform, the nature of this project and my respect for the creator’s vision makes me encourage readers to give this title a try. At the most basic level, it’s a series you’ll enjoy if you, too, are interested in queer representation in popular culture. On a broader level, the promotion of content by queer creators featuring queer characters is a key issue, and one of great importance: as a community, we need to be telling our own stories. Unless those stories start paying the bills, this will continue to be difficult.
Single issues of The Pride, and a collected volume, are available digitally through Comixology [ 6 ]. Additionally, you can buy some issues directly at https://www.joeglasscomics.co.uk/ You can keep up with development through Facebook, or by following Joe Glass on Twitter @josephglass.
With the increasing legislative pressures against trans folks happening in the United States, this message feels more and more relevant. As backlash increases towards queer and especially trans folks in America and across Europe, stories of healing and community are even more vital for the queer community. Having an opportunity to return to a fun queer superhero story felt very cathartic, and now more than ever I echo my original suggestion that people pick this series up, and thanks to Comixology it’s easier than ever.
In 2019 Comixology invited Joe Glass to be part of the Comixology Originals program, designed to support independent comics artists by providing exclusive digital benefits and platforming, and through this program a second series of 6 Pride comics in that year, as well as developing a publishing imprint Queer Comix, which Glass has used to produce and publish two more works. These include Acceptable Losses, a superhero political thriller, and Glitter Vipers, a more adult queer comic in the vein of exploitation and revenge cinema focusing on a group of queer people gathering together to defend their community after a homophobic hate crime. All of them are available through Comixology and many issues are still available through his website in physical form as well.
- TreorchyWales.jpg “Joe Glass’ native Treorchy, a town in Rhondda Fawr valley in Glamorgan, Wales.” https://wikishire.co.uk/wiki/Treorchy
- The-Pride-Season-Two_01_Cover.jpg “Having built momentum, the Season 2 cover of the book exemplifies the assembly of the ensemble cast.” https://www.comixology.com/The-Pride-Season-Two-comiXology-Originals-1-of-6/digital-comic/783171
- JS85644442.jpg “Issue #3’s Iconic cover has made the rounds on most prior commentaries on the comic, with good reason.” Pride, Season 1, Issue #3. Joe Glass.
Zee has shape-shifted across several genres, as a lover of all things geek. They’ve been a shop-assistant and sales rep for Steampunk props and accessories company Gartisan Works and a writer for Feminerdity. A recent graduate of Salem State’s English Bachelor’s program, Zee’s extracurricular and academics indicate a bright career in education. Since their recruitment to Steam-Funk Studios in 2016, they’ve transitioned from the core writing team to senior creative staff over just four years.
- Wheeler, Andrew. “‘Batgirl’ #37 Criticized For Transphobic Content; Creative Team Apologizes.” ComicsAlliance, 15 Dec. 2014, comicsalliance.com/batgirl-37-criticized-for-transphobic-content-creative-team-apologizes
- Kamen, Matt. “Comics Corner: Meet ‘The Pride’—Comics’ First LGBTQ+ Superhero Team.” Gayming Magazine Online, 3 June 2020, gaymingmag.com/2020/06/comics-corner-meet-the-pride-comics-first-lgbtq-superhero-team
- Bollinger, Alex. “‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Contestant Willam Goes on a Transphobic Tirade.” LGBTQ Nation, 30 Sept. 2017, lgbtqnation.com/2017/09/rupauls-drag-race-contestant-willam-goes-transphobic-tirade
- Miller, Susan. “‘Shocking’ Numbers: Half of LGBTQ Adults Live in States Where No Laws Ban Job Discrimination.” USA TODAY, 8 Oct. 2019, eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/10/08/lgbt-employment-discrimination-half-of-states-offer-no-protections/3837244002
- Chibbaro Jr., Lou. “Study Reveals LGBT Rental Housing Discrimination.” Washington Blade, 3 July 2017, washingtonblade.com/2017/07/03/lgbt-rental-housing-discrimination
- “The Pride (ComiXology Originals).” Comics Store, comixology.com/The-Pride-comiXology-Originals/comics-series/132956. Accessed 12 Apr. 2021.