The television show, The Boys, just ended its second season with an explosive finale (don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything). Known for subverting many superhero tropes, the show’s main premise is that the superheroes are not the good guys, they do not have humanity’s welfare in their hearts, and they certainly do not sacrifice themselves for the greater good. It’s a show for adults and not one for those faint of heart.
Ramzi Fawaz, the author of The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics, explains that comics give the opportunity for artists to draw anything they want. Comics, through the artwork, words, colours, and even the layouts, allow for the exploration of cultural and social norms, as well as the subversion of them. In essence, comics open up possibilities for different realities. In this way, comics can be considered queer. Here it is good to talk about the word queer. It is a word that has different meanings and that is often contested. Historically it has been a derogatory word for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, 2-spirited, and asexual people. But it has also been reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community. I use the second meaning, the reclaimed meaning, within this writing. Queer also refers to the idea of subversion, social disruption, activism. It is now a widely used theory for critical analysis within LGBTQ+ studies. Queer theory, like comics, opens up possibilities for new ways of being.
Comics have a queer history, dating all the way back to 1913 with the works of George Herriman, who created the Krazy Kat comics that featured gender fluid characters. Mainstream comics, however, often reflected cultural attitudes of homophobia and sexism that prevented the inclusion of queer superheroes. This has been changing. In 2012 the superhero Northstar married his boyfriend, in 2016 Wonder Woman officially joined the queer community, and only this summer the Marvel Young Avengers Hulkling and Wiccan were married. The Boys have also embraced the queerness of comics – but like I said, no spoilers here.
There is, however, one superhero trope that is not subverted in the show. All the superheroes are fit, muscular, and embody the dominant cultural ideas of beauty. The men are big and muscular while the women are thin and lithe. Comics, however, can be a way to challenge and subvert the meanings of bodies within society. My research suggests that the act of creating comics about body image is a way for queer men to discuss, challenge, and subvert social and cultural gender and body norms. But it can be also be more personal. This was certainly the case with many of the artists within Rainbow Reflections: Body Image Comics for Queer Men. Their experiences suggested that the act of creating body image comics was a reflective process that allowed them to create spaces for other bodies and other ways of being. Their creative process gave them the opportunity to reveal themselves and by doing so disrupted and challenged body ideals that limit bodies to only a few types.