Opinion: Comics Are Better At Queer Representation Than TV Shows

Andre Demorias, 2019

Comics, as a medium, do not have to rely on acting, music, or editing in a scene to convey emotions to the audience.

The only things readers need in a comic are the text and the illustrations. Not only is there a far more intimate connection formed than one through a screen, but there is more freedom to create experimental stories.

TV shows are often cancelled before the full story is told, leaving loose plot threads and infamous cliffhangers at the end of season finales.

Although it is much easier for comics to tell a story, some television shows are just massive disappointments when it comes to queer representation.

The LGBTQ community was hyped for season seven of Voltron The Legendary Defender as they were under the impression that one of the main characters, Shiro, was going to be in a relationship with a guy named Adam from his past.

But Adam and Shrio’s relationship was shown only through a brief flashback in the season premiere (it showed them breaking up too). Shiro later finds out that Adam dies, and he is only given a minute to grieve over his deceased lover.

Can you blame us for being upset? In fact, Adam and Shiro’s “relationship” was so talked about that one of the show runners felt the need to issue an apology.

Want another example of failed representation? In the first season of CW’s Riverdale, there was excitement over a scene where the two female leads shared a passionate kiss. Two bisexual main characters! That would have been cool!

But nope, we couldn’t have that; the in-universe reason the characters kissed was because they were trying to convince the cheerleading team to let them join. The kiss just seems to be a gratuitous, overly sexualized make-out scene.

Enticing queer audiences , according to Bustle, with the possibility of your characters being gay is manipulative and it starves us of the more overt representation we will always need. Having queer side-characters is fine. But show creators shouldn’t be scared of making a main character queer.

From what I watch, I only know of a handful of currently airing shows with obvious portrayals of queer characters in the main cast. One is Steven Universe—a trailblazer for representation that showed the first lesbian wedding in a show targeted at kids—and the other is The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which has a paxnsexual male in a relationship with another male.

While Steven Universe and the new Sabrina are both great, we still have to deal with the bad representation that airs alongside them.

For every Ambrose – a joy of a character whose pansexulaity is portrayed as just a normal part of his life – there is a Kevin, a character from Riverdale who is written as the “gay best friend” in the first season and comes off as more shallow than his portrayal in the Archie comics.

The comics wrote Kevin like a normal person, not as a walking archetype whose only purpose is to be an accessory. Why is this so difficult for some television writers to understand?

Riverdale’s show staff could not even bother to subvert audience expectations for Kevin by introducing him as shallow early on only to reveal a more complicated character.

The Netflix show Sex Education does have someone serving the “gay best friend” archetype in the form of the character Eric. In fact, he even has the same flamboyant air as Kevin.

But we see depth from Eric. He has a difficult family. He struggles at school because of bullying. And he faces a traumatic event halfway through the first season.

Eric is not the protagonist of Sex Education. But his character arc is leagues above the shallowness that Riverdale offers.

For every Ruby and Sapphire – a developed relationship that shows them grappling with the ideas of individuality, grief, and betrayal – there is a Shiro and Adam.

At least Voltron The Legendary Defender is not on the same level of flaming hot garbage as Riverdale because Voltron gave us a decently-written, albeit rushed, lesbian couple in seasons seven and eight with Zethrid and Ezor.

And if Joaquim Dos Santos’ apology for how his show portrayed Shiro is evidence of anything, it’s that the Voltron staff cared about the queer community. They even attempted to make amends by having Shiro get married to a man in the show’s last episode, even if it does not excuse the wasted potential.

I had originally planned to discuss other instances of queer baiting and killing off queer characters, but that sort of thing is easier to find on a TvTropes page. Plus, writing about all that negativity is difficult for me.

Instead, I want to talk about how comics manage to do queer representation better.

I don’t mean superhero comics like Marvel or DC; I am talking about comics that tackle queer themes head on: As The Crow Flies, Shoot Around, Check Please, Gunnerkrigg Court, Steven Universe, etc. For the sake of accuracy, I am only going to talk about what I know.

One of my favorites is Check Please by Ngozi Ukazu. It’s a webcomic that follows the story of a gay male, Eric “Bitty” Bittle, who joins the hockey team at his new college. There, he falls in love with Jack, the captain of the team.

Jack and Bitty start out at each other’s throats, unable to get along before eventually becoming friends, then partners. This is a really clever subversion of the “bitter sports rivals” trope. It also subverts the toxic fraternity trope by making Bitty’s hockey teammates genuinely chill people.

The Steven Universe comics continue the show’s queer themes. Not every comic deals with such matter. But the ones that do are doing pretty well. Like issue number two where the non-binary character, Stevonnie (who is coded like a woman), has to deal with telling the character Kiki that they only want to stay friends.

Speaking of the Steven Universe comics, Melanie Gillman was a writer for a handful of the earlier issues. Her name is significant because prior to working on the SU comics, she created the previously mentioned webcomic As The Crow Flies, which follows a shy, lesbian, African-American girl who is encouraged by her parents to join a Christian group’s hiking trip.

From what Gillman has released so far, her comic tackles themes of both homophobia and the racial tensions created when the protagonist realizes that she is the only non-white person on the trip.

This comic is also notable for being done by traditional colored pencils. The result is a rougher but very unique visual style that other comics lack. The look also helps to emphasize the arid summer environment the story takes place in.

I’m not going to say that all tv shows are doomed to have bad representation; I mentioned three shows that do it well.

However, I do want to salute the wonderfully queer world of print comics and webcomics. The freedom they offer have allowed artists to produce either the most dramatic of dilemmas or the sweetest of stories.

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