The legendary LGBT writer and artist, Phil Jimenez, appeared this month at the Paradise City Comic Convention in Miami. Jimenez is noted for writing and drawing Wonder Woman for DC Comics, lending his artistic talents to characters such as Aquaman, Superwoman, Green Lantern, Justice League of America, Batman, and Superman.
He has also lent his talents to the more mature line of comics, Vertigo, and done work for such titles as the Invisibles, the Fairest, Books of Magic, and his own creation, Otherworld.
Prior to the convention Jimenez shared his thoughts on his rise to work for major publishing companies, LGBT role models in today’s media, and the future of LGBT comic characters.
Jimenez grew up in Sacramento, California as a gay child of a latch key mother. His mother greatly encouraged his drawing and he loved to watch TV shows and recreate the shows by drawing them as sequential art. But as a closeted gay youth he longed to be away from California and move to New York City and work for one of the two major comics publishing companies, DC Comics or Marvel comics.
This came to be in the mid 1980’s. Jimenez moved to New York City and enrolled in the School of Visual Arts. He graduated with a BA in 1991. During his tenure at this art school he made contact with Karen Burger, then an editor at DC comics. Recognizing his artistic talent she referred him to Joe Orlando who gave him his first job, that of inking a line of ads for girl dolls.
Fate and fortune soon befell him when he was placed under the auspices of Neal Pozner, another editor at DC comics. Pozner was one of the first comic editors who was out as a gay professional in comics. Jimenez was greatly taken to Pozner due to his professionalism [he was a talented writer, editor, and art designer], and his good looks.
They started dating which soon developed into a relationship. Pozner and Jimenez had the same artistic and design sensibilities which made their relationship stronger. He taught the rising artist innovative ways to see things that evolved his work very quickly. They stayed together for a number of years till Posner passed away in 1994. Jimenez wrote the comic Tempest in honor of his partner, and at the end of the story, wrote a touching tribute and came out in the pages of a comic book.
At the time Jimenez arrived in New York City there was a creative explosion of gay and LGBT comic story writing. Ivan Velez published Tales from the Closet, a hard, but accurate collection of stories of what it is like coming out as a gay man or woman. Mainstream comics published a line of diversity characters under their Milestone logo.
Created by black, Latin, and gay writers and artists, these books highlighted the superhero in a new light. Most notable was Blood Syndicates, who featured Fade, a modern masculine character of color with super abilities. This was followed up in greater fashion with Midnighter and Apollo, a gay parody defining the question of what if “Superman” and “Batman” were gay men and lovers.
When interviewed, Jimenez stated that LGBT characters are best expressed when their sexuality is not overt but subtexual. It is clearly presented but not forced. The reader can find the meaning if he or she looks. He further stated that when initially introduced, the gay characters of Midnighter and Apollo were meant to be parodies and were too cartoonish. This was because, when created, they were written by straight writers.
Their strength also came from violence, which as he sees it, is not a positive characteristic to be put forth for gay characters. Gay characters written in this era also suffered from the “romantic triangle effect.” This refers to the fact that when LGBT characters are introduced in comics they are quickly married off, stripping off any romances. Whereas Superman could go through many levels of feeling affection and love for Lois Lane and Lana Lang, gay characters were quickly wed off ending possibilities of mature realistic plotlines. Thankfully, many gay writers and artists came forward and corrected this problem. Currently Midnighter is written by a talented gay writer, Steve Orlando, who presents the character in a gay positive realistic light.
Jimenez asks what should we expect from mediums such as comics, TV, and movies that were never intended to include LGBT characters in the first place? Comic book and TV mediums now interject women as strong characters, people of color, LGBT characters, but these worlds were never designed to tell their stories. We forced our way in, much like the world at large.
There is a general fear, and frustration, in the LGBT publishing community that the stories being told are not reflective of the gay experience. This could be a man writing a lesbian character or a woman writing a transgender character, or straight writers telling stories with a gay perspective. The fear is a lack of authenticity. What will help is not just creating these characters but inviting people who are like the characters to write the material. Jimenez points to the example of the new comic book “America.” This Marvel book is written and produced by a strong latin lesbian writer. That, he suggests, is creating transformative writing.
But there looms a new problem.
As Marvel and DC comics have embraced diversity and created many books with gay, lesbian, and women of color and race, they are now pulling back. Midnighter with a strong male gay character is canceled. Iceman, with a strong male gay character has been canceled. America, with a strong female Latin lesbian character has been canceled. And it not only affects gay characters. Ms. Marvel, whose main character is a Muslim teenage girl has been canceled. Jimenez is saddened by this but feels there is a positive side too. The books got a chance and were published and readers got exposed to these characters. He states that publishing is a reactive business. He postulates how many consumers at DC Comics and Marvel want gay characters? How many will show up to buy these issues? What these companies discovered is that there is a huge number of gay fans and readers but a far less number of gay consumers. They are of a young generation and read the product online and do not purchase it. Sales drop on books, publishers panic, and the result is canceled books.
So what does the future hold for the publication of LGBT characters? One solution he points out is to look outside the big two publishers, DC and Marvel. Each year New York City host Fun Con where the breadth of LGBT written and drawn material is amazing. This is all LGBT work that exists outside the mainstream. Further there is a great deal of gay material surfacing online. Jimenez’s current work project is a streaming story produced by Warner Brothers containing LGBT characters. The story concerns the plights and problems of a Latin family living in Los Angels with gay siblings.
The future of LBGT characters in these mediums will flourish. But, as Jimenez points out their success lies with gay writers and artists being emotionally invested in the characters.