A Brief History of LGBTQ+ Representation and Comics

by Ashley Kronsberg

While comics have embraced lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) themes and characters, historically this content was intentionally omitted due to censorship and notions that comics were only for children. With homosexual content banned by the Comics Code Authority between 1954 and 1989, mainstream comics portrayed only subtle hints regarding any character’s sexual orientation.

While not an official government entity, the Comics Code Authority functions as a private organization that governs acceptable content for comics. Publishers were not legally obligated to follow rules set up by the Comics Code Authority; however, newsstands and other retailers stocking comics at the time were less likely to support a comic without the Comics Cod Authority’s approval. Much of the controversary has been traced back to research and publicity facilitated by psychiatrist Dr. Frederic Wertham dictating that comics could corrupt American children. Due to his reports, the Comics Code Authority added the following restrictions:

  • “Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at or portrayed. Violent love scenes, as well as sexual abnormalities are unacceptable.”
  • “The treatment of love-romance stories shall emphasize the value of home and the sanctity of marriage.”
  • “Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.”

It wasn’t until 2013 that Professor of library and information science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Carol Tilley found Wertham had falsified and altered data to support his claims.

Despite the restrictions placed on comics, the 1970s served as an era of LGBTQ+ creators taking their autobiographical stories and raising awareness of political issues for their communities through independent publishing. It was during this era that the first openly gay characters in American comic strips began to emerge with Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury with the introduction of fictional character Andy Lippincott who was faced with an HIV diagnosis.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that LGBTQ+ themes became more prevalent in mainstream American comics; however, a lack of censorship paved the way for European comics to be more inclusive from an earlier date, including comics from France, Belgium, Spain, Germany and Britain. Despite similar challenges in the East, Japanese manga also saw an increase in LGBTQ+ content at an earlier date through sub-genres now referred to as yaoi and yuri manga.           

As acceptance was gained, comics content reflected the shifts in both mainstream and independent publishing. The latter had a different sort of portrayal of LGBTQ+ culture as characters didn’t need to make grand proclamations or call any press conferences about their sexuality. For characters like Maggie and Hopey in Jaime Hernandez’s Maggie the Mechanic, their status as outsiders came first. Intimacy and labeling sexual orientation were distant topics of interest. Similar to most self-published comics of the '80s and '90s, their relationship portrayed realistic LGBTQ+ relationships without calling attention to it in the overarching story.

Today, the comics industry is stocked with diverse representation across the sexual spectrum. The importance of LGBTQ+ creators and characters only grows as the interests of readers shifts with time.

Keep an eye on PREVIEWSworld.com's TwitterFacebookYouTube, or Instagram for more! And, if you're interested in more LGBTQ+ comics, check these out... 

(W) Phil Jimenez, Cat Staggs, Steve Orlando, Dennis Cowen, Paul Dini, Ming Doyle, Brian Michael Bendis, Emma Vicelli, Ed Luce, Kieron Gillen, Various (A) Phil Jimenez, Cat Staggs, Steve Orlando, Dennis Cowen, Paul Dini, Ming Doyle, Brian Michael Bendis, Emma Vicelli, Ed Luce, Kieron Gillen, Jay Edidin, Various (CA) Elsa Charretier
The comic book industry comes together to honor those killed in Orlando this year. From IDW Publishing, with assistance from DC Entertainment, this oversize comic contains moving and heartfelt material from some of the greatest talents in comics - - mourning the victims, supporting the survivors, celebrating the LGBTQ community, and examining love in today's world.
All material has been kindly donated, from the creative to the production, with ALL PROCEEDS going to the victims, survivors and their families via EQUALITY FLORIDA.
Be a part of an historic comics event! It doesn't matter who you love. All that matters is that you love.
•   Featuring an introduction by the project's organizer, Marc Andreyko!
•   Featuring contributions from some of the biggest names in comics!
In Shops: Dec 28, 2016
SRP: $9.99
PREVIEWS Page #177

(A) Hazel Reed Newlevant, Joey Alison Sayers, Maia Kobabe, Matt Lubchansky, Breena Nunez, Sasha Velour, Shing Yin Khor, Levi Hastings, Mady G, Bianca Xunise, Kazimir Lee (CA) VARIOUS
The dream of a queer separatist town. The life of a gay Jewish Nazi-fighter. A gender reveal party that tears apart reality. These are the just some of the comics you'll find in this massive queer comics anthology from The Nib. Be Gay, Do Comics is filled with dozens of comics about LGBTQIA experiences, ranging from personal stories to queer history to cutting satire about pronoun panic and brands desperate to co-opt pride. Brimming with resilience, inspiration, and humor, an incredible lineup of top indie cartoonists takes you from the American Revolution through Stonewall to today's fights for equality and representation. Featuring more than 30 cartoonists including Hazel Newlevant, Joey Alison Sayers, Maia Kobabe, Matt Lubchansky, Breena Nuñez, Sasha Velour, Shing Yin Khor, Levi Hastings, Mady G, Bianca Xunise, Kazimir Lee, and many, many more!
In Shops: Sep 02, 2020
SRP: $24.99
PREVIEWS Page #168

(W) Gabby Rivera (A/CA) Celia Moscote
For fans of Bloom and Spinning, critically-acclaimed writer Gabby Rivera (Marvel's America) adapts her bestselling novel alongside artist Celia Moscote in an unforgettable queer coming-of-age story exploring race, identity and what it means to be true to your amazing self. Even when the rest of the world doesn't understand.

Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn't sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan to figure out what it means to be Puerto Rican, lesbian and out. And that starts with the perfect mentor - Harlowe Brisbane, a feminist author who will surely help Juliet find her best self.

There's just one problem - Harlowe's white, not from the Bronx and doesn't have the answers. Okay, maybe that's more than one problem, but Juliet never said it was a perfect plan...
In Shops: Nov 25, 2020
SRP: $14.99
PREVIEWS Page #186

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