There was this armchair I liked upstairs near the travel section of my local Borders Books. I would grab a stack of comics from the handful of shelves they’d devoted to GRAPHIC NOVELS AND MANGA, and curl up in that chair for hours, desperately looking for something. I didn’t know what I was looking for, really. Mostly I had just discovered a wide world of comics I had never heard of, and I wanted to know everything about them. But deep down I knew part of it was a search. An investigation. I was trying to find myself somewhere in those pages, and I always came up short.
I mean, I could find the pudgy, geeky white guys. Typically they were the ones who got bitten by radioactive spiders or what have you, but what I couldn’t find was anything that gave meaning to the intense battle rattling though my mind. I knew what a young man is supposed to do when his best friend’s dad throws his girlfriend off a bridge, but I didn’t know what happened when that young man started feeling a little too strongly for his best friend. Or what happens after you “accidentally” kiss one night at his lake house and he has to go sleep in his parents’ bedroom because he’s so freaked out, leaving you alone with a spinner rack of Green Lantern books and a head spinning with so many questions that sleep on your part is unfathomable. I basically figured partway through that night that the answers might actually be sitting there, up on the rack, so that’s where I had started. I learned what happens when an alien warlord destroys a city, and what happens when a military supervillain stuffs your girlfriend in your refrigerator, but my bigger questions were still pretty much unanswered.
I think a lot of people who love comics come at it in waves. There’s that initial glee when you’re a young kid, and you flip through a few comics, and watch every episode of every cartoon… But then, mostly because you’re a kid and you’re not wholly in charge of what kind of media you get to take in, you slowly drift away until something brings you back. What brought me back was the fact that this really super cute actor guy who I had somehow tricked into becoming my friend liked comic books, so I was going to like comic books, too. I got back in hard, knocking back comic after comic after comic, re-ingratiating myself into the world that I hadn’t lived in since I was a child, and I found it such a bigger, more fascinating world than I’d really ever remembered. I’d go over to his house, and he’d teach me about all the old Green Lanterns from before Hal Jordan became Parallax, and each of their histories. I remember there being a huge Green Lantern folder on his desktop that he’d use to help show who he was talking about, with subfolders for each Lantern. One time I took control of the laptop and opened a folder named “TOMAR RE,” before he realized what I was doing, and it was filled with half-naked images of very attractive men (mostly pulled from Underwear websites). He blamed it on his brother.
We’d end up going to different schools the next year, after a few more incidents like the one in the lake house, and I was left with a whole lot of confusion and very few outlets, except for comic books. I’d be thrilled every single time there was a little half-hearted nod to a character being gay… And I even took victory in stupid moments when straight characters were jokingly gay, or just a bit overly chummy. And a vaguely effeminate male supervillain? I LOVED THOSE (and still do to this day, even though they’re absolutely an offensive trope). I wanted to see myself reflected in the books I was reading, and there wasn’t much of anything that spoke to me.
In Manga, there was this strange flirty gay romance in the Shounen-Ai books that were just starting to get published, but there was a strange distance in those stories. They felt more performative, “look at the pretty boys kiss,” rather than something real that I could hold on to. There were lots of webcomics that were starting to deal with gay issues that meant a tremendous amount to me… One in particular, BOY MEETS BOY, which was basically just a gay sitcom as a daily comic strip, I read constantly. But my real passion as a fan was for the mainstream comics that were failing me in virtually every way. Honestly, a run that I know is extremely derided but meant a lot to me during that era was the Chuck Austen run on X-MEN… Northstar was in love with Bobby Drake, a straight man. I had NEVER seen that in a comic before, and I experienced that kind of attraction EVERY SINGLE DAY at my all-guys catholic high school. It felt revelatory and strange, and it meant everything for me, because I finally EXISTED in the fictional world that I was always escaping to.
Seeing your own life play out in fiction is validating in such tremendously powerful ways. More than validating, it’s important. Something I don’t see discussed a lot that I just want to lay out for people who aren’t queer, is the fact that in the key science fiction epics from the last 50 years… Gay people basically don’t exist. And that creates a very strange, disturbing distance in your head when you look at the screen or the page, and you realize on some level that to the creator at hand… You do not exist 100 years in the future. 1000 years in the future. A million. Sure, the creator might say, of course homosexuality EXISTS in this world, it’s just not a part of THIS story… But there’s a distance created in those moments that takes you away from the work, and from the world inside of it, which this creator has decided not to leave open to you. I made myself a promise in high school, that I’d always share my worlds. Not that they would all be gay stories, or bi stories… In fact, I’m not sure I’d use that descriptor on any of my work… But they would be stories that a young gay James would be able to pick up and find himself somewhere in the pages.
MEMETIC is not a story about sexuality. It’s a story about evolutionary memetics, and the internet, and the end of the world, and a very strange picture of a sloth… But it’s a book I would have liked to read back in the day. And frankly, young James would have a tremendously huge selection of books that speak out to him in the current market. You can see it in all the nominees for the category of OUTSTANDING COMIC BOOK this year, and far beyond it, from superhero books to creator owned to literary graphic novels… Comics are becoming a pretty queer world and it’s fucking phenomenal, and I could not be prouder to be a part of it… But then again, Comics have always been a queer thing for me. So I always knew they had it in them.
I could not be more honored to have been nominated for the Outstanding Comic Book category for the 2015 GLAAD media awards. Just the nomination has already been award enough. I know my artist, Eryk Donovan, and I have been pretty much freaking out about it all week. Frankly, I don’t know what to say about it other than that, because the whole thing has just completely blown me away. But if you support queer representation in comics, please pick up a copy of MEMETIC! And while you’re at it, grab some LUMBERJANES, RAT QUEENS, HAWKEYEs and SAGAs for your stack, too.
2014 has been a great year for queer comics, and here’s to an even better 2015.
James Tynion IV is the writer of MEMETIC, THE WOODS, THE EIGHT SEAL, BATMAN ETERNAL, and much much more.