UPDATE: As my (newly) faithful readers have pointed out, Jamie’s first lady relationshipish thing was not with Erin but with Angel (maybe?) and then definitely with Thea. Thanks for setting me straight…err, right!
Marginalized communities talk a lot about representation, why it matters, how it gets done when it gets done poorly or when it is done well. This conversation and an awareness of it has even entered the mainstream. Shows like South Park, known for ironic humor and sarcasm, have their infamous black character, literally called “Token”, emphasizing one of the main gripes that marginalized people have about representation when it falls flat.
Showing marginalized characters in ways that don’t tokenize can be tricky business and I’m sure each one of us can think of a number of characters in our favorite shows or comics that are painfully tokenizing or limiting (every “lesbian” relationship EVER that happens during sweeps week, for example). And of course no community is ever in complete agreement about what “good” representation is, and what is offensive.
One place where I’ve seen excellent queer characters, ones who are interesting, complex, an integral part of the storyline – and not there to be the “diversity” – are webcomics. Specifically Girls With Slingshots and Questionable Content – two comics I’ve been reading for shit seven or so years. In this article I’m going to discuss the characters of GWS is loving detail and in my next installment I’ll delve into QC story lines and why I like them so much.
So on to GWS.
GWS has a cornucopia of richly developed queer characters, as well as many other characters that break the normative mold of straight, white, and able bodied.
There is Thea and Mimi, newly married and dealing with Thea’s not so accepting mother. The current storyline is focused on Thea’s father reaching out and accepting her and Mimi in contrast to Thea’s mother who refuses to acknowledge them. Thea is an accomplished editor who has worked for a sex magazine while Mimi is an erectile disfunction drug rep and badass roller-derby player. Another recurring character is Thea’s sister, Maya, who is a single mother and cancer survivor, rocking some seriously fantastic jewelry in every scene.
Then, there is Jamie (bisexual) and Erin (asexual); Jamie works in a flower-shop while Erin is a scientist by day and a fabulous treat baker by night. When Jamie and Erin first begin to date Jamie hasn’t been with a girl before or an asexual person, and a significant portion of the comic storyline deals with Jamie learning to understand asexuality and how to treat Erin with respect. There is also time spent on them negotiating relationship boundaries so that they are both happy (they have an open relationship).
Also, there is Darren, a recurring gay character known for his very fabulous drag persona and love of the local bar. This character flirts with being stereotypical,but I think that Daniella (the comic author) managing to walk that line very well with him. Giving him a voice that feels real, authentic, and a persona that is beyond gay window dressing.
Clarice is another one of my other favorite characters, she is a librarian by day and a dominatrix by night. However, she is closeted to many in her life about her other job, leading to awkward, comedic situations when she claims that her secret job is really that of a dancer. But, contrary to the way I have seen BDSM displayed in other places, her job and struggle to tell people in her life what she does isn’t trivialized, nor is she presented as someone who needs to be fixed or someone who is broken in some way. Much to my delight her storyline has continued to develop around a romantic interest for her and how she chooses to tell him about being a dominatrix (spoiler alert: he doesn’t try to change her or act as though what she does is deviant or wrong).
There are many more characters like this, each with their own complex backstory. Danielle takes a lot of time with her characters, talking to the communities her characters are a part of to make sure she is getting it right.
That kind of careful representation matters to me, not only because I am queer and seeing other queer characters is refreshing and affirming, but also because seeing many characters who are different from me helps me to learn and appreciate different communities and the people in them.
Next up I’ll be looking at Questionable Content. And please share your favorite comics in the comments!