LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) characters have had a hard road in the comic book world. Forced to keep them in supporting roles, writers had to dance around content restrictions for decades. Finally, 1987 brought mainstream comics its first openly gay superhero in Extrano from DC Comics. More recently, books like Birds of Prey and Secret Six from Gail Simone of DC have pushed sexuality into the limelight. Some would argue that the pioneer of sexually ambiguous characters was Krazy Kat, star of an American comic strip that ran from 1913-1944. The cat’s gender was never defined, and was often referenced to as both male and female. As time went on, homosexual characters began to crop up, but they were always under the radar.
The Comics Code Authority, which was comparable to the MPAA, was invoked in 1954. It was a strict self-censorship law that was quickly applied to avoid government interference. While the code had no legal authority, most places would not carry a comic unless it had the CCA stamp. This forced creators to mold and fit their creations to the CCA’s approval. The code became less strict as the years past, but still made sure that comics did not have nudity, excessive violence, or language that would have been inappropriate for television. As the code became less relevant, there has been a substantial increase in Marvel and DC’s gay supporting characters and heroes. Although the code never specifically stated that LGBT topics were forbidden, they would have been included under the term ‘sex perversion.’
Archie Comics recently introduced their first gay character, Kevin Keller. Having a new personality appear in Riverdale is, in itself, a big event. What is interesting about the new arrival was that there was no pomp or circumstance given to the fact Kevin is gay.
Tim Fish, a popular writer of LGBT comics, has worked with both Marvel and Archie comics in the past. Despite the fact that Marvel’s Northstar has been openly gay since 1992, the character was never seen with a boyfriend until Fish wrote one in last year. Fish is on the advisory board for Prismcomics.org, a treasure trove of information about LGBT comics, characters and creators.
Regarding Kevin Keller’s announcement he remarked: “I was nothing but excited when I heard the news that Archie was introducing a gay character, as the early press was favorable. I know some people were upset that Kevin’s sexuality was used for a bit of a laugh, but overall, the story struck a very “accepting” tone.”
Archie Comics had previously shaken up the gang in recent months with the death of a beloved character. Priding itself on keeping with the times, Archie feels that it is important to represent all aspects of life in Riverdale. Fish commented: “I recall growing up, Archie licensed off its characters to a religious publisher…there was a whole line with a religious right moral message… considering the direction the company could have gone, I am happy to see a typical out gay teen in Riverdale.
With the CCA finally eradicated from comic books, this could be the beginning of a new era. Although there will always be restrictions on crime, violence and sex, shunning LGBT topics is a thing of the past.