The intersection of gays and fanboy culture has been growing steadily for years, but it truly hit the tipping point in 2012, with the emergence of high-profile gay characters in comic books, sword-and-sandal epics, genre novels and more.
That explosion is clearly evident at Comic-Con International, going on now in San Diego. The largest pop-culture powwow in the world, Comic-Con sees thousands of fans gathering to get a look at the latest in toys, comic books, blockbuster movies, video games, cards and anything else that fits under the ever-widening geekdom umbrella.
But instead of being relegated to underground-comics publishers, queer content is flourishing at Comic-Con. That’s thanks in no small part to the inclusion of gay storylines at Marvel (X-Man Northstar’s marriage to hit boyfriend, Kyle), DC (Green Lantern Alan Scott being revamped as gay) and even Archie Comics (the arrival of out teen Kevin Keller to Riverdale).
The effects of such publishing milestones are palpable at Comic-Con, which is seeing more gay-themed panels, parties, signings and off-site events than ever before, notes Justin Hall, author of the just-released No Straight Lines,” a retrospective of LGBT comics.
“Queer fandom is absolutely galvanized by seeing more accurate representations of ourselves,” he says. “There’s a snowball effect.”
“It’s always been going on under the surface, but now there’s a real queer presence,” adds Love Ablan, a self-described pop culture nerd who’s bisexual. “Even among non-queer fans. My super-straight guy friend is totally into this comic about queer bears.”
The emergence of openly gay genre actors like George Takei (Star Trek), Zachary Quinto (Heroes) and even Jim Parsons (geeky sitcom Big Bang Theory) has helped boost the queer quotient to Warp Factor 9. And gay and lesbian storylines or subtexts have emerged on everything from Game of Thrones toSpartacus.
Of course LGBT fans at Comic-Con flock to mainstream booths and screenings—and gawk at stars like Jessica Biel, Seth MacFarlane, Colin Farrell and Anna Kendrick—like everyone else. But now they can find more that speaks to their queer nature than ever before:
* Prism Comics, which has a prominent booth at the con, is a nonprofit dedicated to highlighting gay characters and creators. It’s hosting various signings and discussions throughout the weekend and has published The Gay Agenda, a handy guide to LGBT-interest retailers and events at Comic-Con (including the eighth annual Heroes and Villains Party held Friday night).
* Hall’s anthology, No Straight Lines, is getting its own panel. The author recalls that not long ago gay comics “lived in a parallel universe to the rest of the comic-book world.” But the dimensional walls have deteriorated. “Every Barnes & Noble has a gay section these days,” he says.
* Other LGBT creators—from indie comics legends like Alison Bechdel (Dykes to Watch Out for) and Howard Cruse (Stuck Rubber Baby) to graphic designer extraordinaire Chip Kidd and comics writer Marc Andreyko (Manhunter) are doing signings and portfolio reviews throughout the festival.
But perhaps most notably, Comic-Con’s Gays in Comics panel is celebrating its 25th anniversary today. Founded by Andy Mangels, one of the forefather of modern gay comics-fan culture, it’s the oldest seminar in the convention’s history. And one of the largest, too: “In the past, we struggled to fill three rows of seats,” former DC editor Joan Hilty told the L.A. Times. “Now it’s in one of those huge screening halls—and it’s standing-room only.”