Spoiler Warning: Check Please!, Paranatural, and Ava’s Demon
For nearly two decades, webcomics have become a rising force in the world of graphic novels and comics. Becoming more popular in the early 2000s, webcomics have become more and more common as the public focus shifts from physical copies of comics to digital ones. These webcomics have become so popular that many are being printed and sold to the public, even reaching best sellers lists. Some would say that during this time as well, LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) people have made more of an appearance in comics. While big name companies like Marvel and DC have been producing more content including LGBTQ characters in the last few decades as the demand has increased, webcomics have had a history of including LGBTQ characters from the beginning. One of the most famous early webcomics featuring LGBTQ people is Allison Bechdel’s Dykes To Watch Out For (DTWOF), made in 1983. But why is it so popular for these kinds of comics to have queer people, and how are they incorporated? What is the point to having them in these stories?
As Lindsey M has written in a previous post, part of the appeal to webcomics is the freedom that the medium gives to artist. Instead of being restricted to what the publishers rule as appropriate and not, or not being allowed to draw as they want or about what they want by their project managers, webcomics allow artist to draw what they want about what they want. Even more so, it allows people who are LGBTQ to create content about themselves.
This gets into one of the reasons that these characters in webcomics are important. Because these creators are essentially free to create as they wish, they are able to incorporate and talk about issues felt by the LGBTQ community. This is usually the focus of webcomics focused on real life or telling stories in a real life setting instead of one filled with fantasy or science fiction elements. Two examples of this are the webcomics Rock and Riot by Cheriiart and Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu.
Rock and Riot is a webcomic set in a 1950s high school and about two rival gangs. While more light-hearted and fun than it sounds, the major conflict for the majority of the comic is not if the two gangs will fight, but finding a community and acceptance as an LGBTQ person. Every main character is a member of the LGBTQ community, from the main two couples (a lesbian couple and a gay couple), to trans and non-binary characters, to an asexual appropriately named Ace. Through these characters readers get to see the struggle of feeling comfortable in one’s sexuality and the different anxieties that come with it.
Check, Please! is another webcomic that takes place in real life, focusing on Eric “Bitty” Bittle’s college life and his joining of the hockey team. This is the main focus for the first couple of chapters until the story begins to focus on the main plot: Bitty’s coming out story and his feelings for the team’s captain Jack Zimmerman. Other issues shown are the anxieties of coming out to parents (with a focus on parent’s from the South as Bitty is from Georgia), coming out in general, the homophobia that is in the NHL, and much more. It shows the varying response and is able to connect them in a way that resonates with the LGBTQ reader that a cis-gender heterosexual reader can also understand.
Another reason these characters are important is because they allow LGBTQ people to see themselves in setting where they are either considered non-existent or they are stereotypes that end up being more harmful than helpful representation. This kind of positive representation can be seen in many science-fiction or fantasy webcomics. In these webcomics, instead of seeing themselves represented as villains, stereotypes, or side characters, LGBTQ people are able to see themselves as heroes who are well-developed. Some examples of this are Zach Morrison’s Paranatrual andMichelle Czajkowski’s Ava’s Demon.
Paranatural is a supernatural comedy webcomic about a group of middle schoolers who fight against ghosts in their hometown. While there appeared to be no LGBTQ characters in the beginning of the story, in recent years more characters have come out, such as Dr. Zareri, a more recent character, and Mr. Spender, the teacher and mentor of the main cast. Within recent updates, the creator, Zach Morrison, has even used the webcomic as a way to inform readers on the non-binary community shortly after Morrison themselves came out as non-binary.
Ava’s Demon is a science fantasy series set in space, focusing on the life of Ava Ire, a girl who is haunted by a demon who was once a world conquering empress. Unlike Paranatural where most characters were speculated as LGBTQ and only revealed later, Ava’s Demon shows their LGBTQ characters early on. In part it is hinted at in the narrative, as well as by the creator of the comic early after the comic’s beginning. The main character, Ava, is bisexual, and other LGBTQ characters include Crow (a lesbian), Strategos Six (non-binary), and with the most recent update (2/8/18) two of the demons are confirmed as bisexual. All these characters are dynamic, treated as characters and not tokens or side characters to be thrown away.
Webcomics allows for artist and creators to have freedom to talk about LGBTQ characters and issues in any way they see fit. Unlike working for a major cooperation who has stricter rules and s standard creators must follow as not to reflect negatively on the company, the freeness of webcomics allows creators to hit on harder issues that connect with LGBTQ readers like dealing with homophobia while in the closet, or accepting yourself in general. Webcomics allow for characters that can be defined by their queerness or to have it be a part of them yet doesn’t make up their whole, allowing for Queer people to see themselves as actual characters and heroes, which can be rare. Representation is important and being able to see oneself represented in a positive way can be relieving, especially when usually you get barely any representation at all.