Hello humans. One of the benefits of going to comics studies conferences is that you get to see, hear and meet lots of interesting people, both scholars and artists, and sometimes both at once.
One such human is the artist previously known as Sina Evil . I’ll let Sina’s Flickr bio do the work:
I am over 21 years of age. I am a queer cartoonist and graphic artist. In the early 1990s I self-published various queer comix zines including the seminal queer teen zine Concerned Muthers and the highly acclaimed, intensely personal autobiographical mini-comic BoyCrazyBoy, and contributed to queer zines such as Boy Trouble, Holy Titclamps and Hormone Frenzy. My strips have appeared in The Book of Boy Trouble and The Book of Boy Trouble Vol. 2, both edited by Robert Kirby and David Kelly and published by Green Candy Press. I am also currently working on my PhD, a history of queer alternative cartoonists.
You can check out Sina’s art over at Flickr and his blog boycrazyboy. Lots of good stuff there but most interesting for me are his superhero pictures in the collection Man-Gods of the Homoverse . These illustrations have a curious primal force to them. They also make explicit what was already implicit in superhero comics. Not as subtext exactly, but as potential. That all those muscles rippling beneath skin-tight spandex were always, on some level, about sex. As Scott Bukatman noted, “superhero bodies have always been naked bodies”. As such they have always been troubling for some commentators.
Perhaps most famously Dr. Fredric Wertham, in his book Seduction of the Innocent . Long before ‘reading against the grain‘ became a popular postmodern past-time, Wertham performed what Robert Lendrum describes as:
one of the first queer readings of Batman and Robin, stating that their life in Wayne Manor “…is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together” (Wertham, 190). His main criticisms focus on Robin in which he emphasizes two key aspects. He points out that the sidekick is positioned in the traditionally feminine role of “damsel in distress” and he highlights Robin’s attire, the bare legs and green underwear, as a signifier of homosexuality
Wertham feared that “The Batman type of story may stimulate children to homosexual fantasies.” Elsewhere in his book he argued that Wonder Woman’s strength and independence marked her out as a lesbian.
Closer to the realm of resistive readings than Wertham is Marc Kipniss, who finds the battles found in the pages of Superman are presented in “violently homoerotic terms” (157). For Taylor, this observation gives new meaning to a scene in Justice League of America where the villain Protex asks Superman, “can you feel me filling you up?” takes on new levels of meaning.
However, it is not my intention here to get embroiled in a discussion of the legitimacy or not of such theoretical approaches to the superhero body. We don’t need to look beneath the surface necessarily. LBGT characters have been increasing in number in mainstream superhero comics for some years. Alpha Flight’s Northstar, created by John Byrne in 1979 for Uncanny X-Men#120 was planned to be gay from his debut, although was not explicitly revealed as such until 1992 in Alpha Flight#106. Also notable is that Northstar never actually got round to (or wasn’t shown to) kiss a man until Alpha Flight‘s 2011 relaunch.
Debuting in 2005, Young Avengers has from the beginning featured two gay teenager major characters, Hulkling and Wiccan. While at the ‘edgier end of the superhero spectrum are the Superman/Batman analogs Apollo and Midnighter, who were a married couple in the original incarnation of The Authority. Peter Milligan‘s and Mike Allred‘s X-Statix featured several gay characters in various sates of openness including Phat, Vivisector, and Bloke. Milligan also wrote the brilliant 1993 Vertigo series Enigma which deals directly with the confluence of homosexuality and superheroes, albeit outside of any mainstream continuity (why Enigma isn’t name-dropped in the same breath as Watchmen, The Invisibles or Dark Knight Returns remains a mystery and a post for another day).
Of course the fact that these characters exist within mainstream comics universes means that there are limits on what can be depicted. Sexuality is one thing, carnality quite another. Just as underground comix generally were more open in their depiction of sex (witness Crumb for instance), so too queer cartoonists focus, as Edward Sewell points out, not on “assimilation into a dominant culture, but rather on the creation of a thoroughly queer culture that often is in opposition, if not direct conﬂict with, the dominant heterosexual culture’’. Or as Palmer-Mehta and Hay put it, “Queer cartoonists create a world that is mostly inhabited by queers, and the characters are truly distinct from their heterosexual counterparts, thinking and acting differently.”
Enter Sina, stage right. His Man-Gods of the Homoverse series suggests an entire alternative comics universe populated by queer super-beings.
Now I can make no claims to any knowledge about queer comix zines or cartoonists but that is all the better. I dig Sina’s work because it seems (literally) balls-out alien to me. In the best possible way. These are lusty, homo-day-glo transmissions from a planet of rare and strange beauty. Wet fever-dreams of brick-shit house gods and superheroes with cocks to match.
Here’s the thing, anyone can draw a superhero with his willy out. Indeed, any school-boy worth his salt probably has. But that’s not all that’s doing. It’s not about the cheap laugh, although the picture are undeniably humorous. But these fantastical creatures and their fantastical penises are both a come-on and a challenge. Not just a representation of homosexual desire but desire itself unchained. These are images of crazed sexual potency, a libidinal drive that transforms men into supermen, into bizarre hybrids of animal and human. Into heroes and gods. These are images that are terrifyingly arousing, the stuff of Doctor Wertham’s most Freudian nightmares. One can barely imagine what the full length comics that would feature these characters might be like. In short, their ace.
A few examples down below. Be warned though, there are penises ahead. I f you are of a sturdier and less puritanical disposition you can find the full set, and more of Sina’s art, here at flickr or here at facebook.