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Comic Strips and the LGBTI Community

Comic strips have dealt with issues as far and as wide as simple humor to social commentary to loss of a loved one. Recent story lines have included the economic melt down which saw the grandparents of the perpetual toddler Marvin move in with his parents, and Kell’s cousin loose her job in Kevin & Kell; government bail outs via Rudy Park; the loss of a beloved wife via Funkey Winkerbean; the slow decline of the newspaper in Candorville and Ink Pen; and same-sex marraige also in Candorville.

Over the years, minorities have gained in representation in the comics. A number of comic strips center around women

Doonesbury (musical)Image via Wikipedia

including Cathy, Tina’s Groove, 6 Chix’s, and Safe Havens. Many women write and illustrate their own comics too. There are several comics centered on the African-American community including Jump Start, Candorville, and Curtis. Some comics bypass the usual minorities and go for the furry audience with anthropomorphic animals including Kevin & Kell and My Cage. However, gays, lesbians and transpeople are only slightly represented in the comics, usually as supporting characters.

The first gay character that I’ve been able to find is Andy Lippincott. He was introduced into Doonesbury back in 1976. Andy disappeared after a short stint in the strip where he was the romantic obsession of Joanie Caucus. He returned to the strip in 1982 as the organizer of the Bay Area Gay Alliance, and returned again in 1989 after being diagnosed with AIDS. He died listening to the Beach Boy’s Wouldn’t It Be Nice. His final appearance was when he returned as an angel to reveal to long time main character Mark Slakmeyer that Mark is gay. Lippincott was given a rare honor for a cartoon character in that he has an AIDS quilt panel with his name on it.

Mark has continued on the strip. He remains the only gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender character in a main role. Going well back into the strip, Mark rarely had any relationships with women. For a while, he was in a serious relationship with Chase Talbot III, only to break up over major differences over politics. He is currently a commentator on NPR.

For Better or For WorseImage via Wikipedia

The comic strips Kevin & Kell and 9 Chickweed Lane have supporting characters who are gay, lesbian or trans. Kevin & Kell is set in an alternate world full of anthropomorphic animals, the strip centers around Kevin, a six-foot tall rabbit; his wife Kell, a wolf; his adopted daughter from his first marriage, Lindesfarne; Kell’s son from her first marriage, Rudy; and Kevin and Kell’s daughter Coney. Among the supporting characters are Bruno Lupulin and Rachel Einhorn. Bruno is a trans-dieter. In this world, the bigger issue is that of diet and not gender. Bruno, a meat eating wolf had surgery to become an herbivore. Many of Bruno’s issues parallel those of a transsexual in our world. Rachel Einhorn is a lesbian rhino, and no one cares. While both are side characters more often discussed in the supporting blog that goes along with the site, they are still there.

9 Chickweed Lane has featured Seth Appleby and his boyfriend Mark for some time. Seth is a ballet dancer and good friend of one of the main characters, Edda Burber. Seth and Mark’s relationship is not always easy. Recently they broke up and got back together.

For Better or For Worse, which ended original strips in September ‘08, also featured a gay character in the form of Lawrence Poirier, Mike Patterson’s life long best friend. FBFW highlights the controversy that has

Commemorative Comic Strip ClassicsImage via Wikipedia

always surrounded the coming out of a particular character in a comic strip. The controversy over Lawrence’s coming out was costly for Johnston. She lost many readers who objected to having an openly gay character in a family strip, and several newspapers chose to cancel the strip or refused to run the arc. Three years later, Nick, Lawrence’s boygriend, came into the strip and caused a slightly smaller outcry. Johnston worked for two years hammering out the arc concerning Lawrence’s coming out. In an interview from around that time, Johnston stated that she knew that Lawrence was gay when she introduced him to the world in 1979. Johnston, on her site, includes a five page overview of the entire process which both she and her character Lawrence went through including several key strips. Johnston has gone back to the beginning of her strip and we are getting to see Lawrence grow up all over again.

Comic strips do not necessarily need a gay, lesbian or transperson as a character to be friendly to the LGBTI community. Darrien Bell’s Candorville is one such strip. Set in a sort of alternate Los Angeles, Candorville has strayed into the political quite often. In November ‘08, Bell ran a three part arc in the strip called Pride and Prejudice about Prop 8. He has continued to address the rocky and difficult relationship between the LGBTI and African-American communities.

The funny papers are changing. Not only are they becoming more inclusive, they are also becoming, well, paperless (I subscribe to three different comics sites and read five pages of funnies per day). Perhaps, some day soon, we will see a mainstream comic strip that centers around a gay, lesbian or trans character.

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3 Responses to Comic Strips and the LGBTI Community

  1. Mick Age

    September 12, 2009 at 3:49 am

    Panel 3. A hint of things to come? :)