Why is the ‘T’ of LGBT+ still silent in comics?

Representation for the trans community in comics has made some strides over the last several years, we’ve even discussed the newly introduced trans character in the latest run of Batgirl! However, when taking a peak at the superhero rosters for Marvel and DC, two of the most well known and beloved publishers of comic books, it’s easy to feel as if trans characters are being pushed to the background, rather than being allowed to don a hero’s cape like everyone else.

It’s an incredibly big deal that trans characters aren’t being as well represented within comics. As comics are a part of media, they too have an impactful influence on the world through their readership. Comics can create meanings about sexuality (or sexual orientation), which can play an important role in the way readers understand the roles sexuality plays all across our lives.

Trans visibility with trans characters and trans themes is on the rise in media following the massively popular Orange Is the New Black and Transparent. Advocates and celebrity faces like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox have each worked to put the trans movement on the A-list track with hoards of magazine covers, and talk shows clamoring to keep up with the conversation. In a day and age where the trans community is catching fire in media attention, it’s so disappointing to see that the major comic publishers aren’t rolling with the times.

Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox
Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox

While major comic publishers have been limited in their representation, there are countless webcomics as well as independently published works are picking up the slack- standing up and speaking out about the trans community and transgender themes with a wide range of stories and characters. Two personal favorite webcomics of mine that feature trans representation are Witchy, and Cucumber Quest.

Witchy, written and illustrated by Ariel Ries, takes place in the the witch kingdom Hyalin, where the strength of a witch’s magic is determined by the length of their hair. In a recent update, the comic took the focus off the main character Nyneve, and shed a bit more light on Nyneve’s classmate Prill as the two waited for a physical examination.  


Witchy- copyright Ariel Ries. Panels from Page 65
Witchy- copyright Ariel Ries. Panels from Page 65

Ries explained in an interview why it was important for her to include Prill in her work, stating “I’m invested in the representation of characters that you rarely see in media, and while I was writing Witchy in 2012 and 2013, I saw a lot of posts from the trans community on Tumblr expressing a desire to see trans characters in fantasy or sci-fi settings, and trans characters not defined by their transness, and I thought Witchy was a good opportunity for me to include a character like this (or, several characters). Prill’s story is not about her struggles, and it was never going to be. It’s about her triumphs. I wanted Prill to be a character that my trans friends, and trans people everywhere, could relate to in a positive way.

Cucumber Quest, written and illustrated by Gigi D.G., follows a crew of bunny kids traveling on adventures, having fun, and trying to save the world along the way! The most recent villain the crew of bunny kids had to face off with was the fashionable Rosemaster, who no longer adhered to the famous legend surrounding her status as enemy of the kingdom.

Cucumber Quest copyright Gigi D.G. Panels from page 540
Cucumber Quest copyright Gigi D.G.
Panels from page 540

Rosemaster’s introduction I found incredibly interesting as a reader, since throughout the entire comic- Gigi has stressed the theme of going against what has been foretold. The hero of Cucumber Quest- Cucumber, acts the exact opposite of how the hero of legend should act in order to save the kingdom. So why not introduce Rosemaster as a villain who’s forging against the legend that has set her up to be someone she has never felt comfortable as?

While there has been progress forward in mainstream comics to include a better representation of the current world today, there are still major shortcomings that some of the largest comic publishers just aren’t keeping in time with. We’re fortunate we live in a day and age where publishers no longer limit the stories artist share and the importance readers can put on such works- as countless webcomics and independently published works that feature trans characters and themes. These independent works more than handily make up for trans absences found in major publishers rosters. With continued focus in other facets of media on the transgender community there is great hope that these major publishers will take the hint, and continue to progress further in order to better represent the world around them.

  4 comments for “Why is the ‘T’ of LGBT+ still silent in comics?

  1. holyguava
    September 6, 2015 at 9:03 pm

    Why do you think Trans haven’t been shown into the big comics as much? I have seen more gay heroes in comics but they aren’t front and center either. Do you think people are afraid of misrepresenting them? It’s good to see web comics putting more of these characters. Do you think it will be something that will change with time?

  2. Grant
    September 6, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    This is a grand article! I actually wrote an article about a transgender mainstream DC hero a while back: http://graphicnovel.umwblogs.org/2014/09/12/of-the-unsung-shining-knight/

    There’s also the relatively new character Porcelain in Secret Six who’s well worth checking out.

  3. knewell2
    September 28, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    I really found the comic strip from Witchy you included in this article to be very telling of where our society is at in regards to “concept” of transgender in general. With the recent supreme court decision on gay marriage it appears as if the US is finally starting to become more accepting, but in retrospect how our society as a whole has been responding to people like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox shows that we still have quite a ways to go. And I think what is represented in our current society is often reflected in comics, so I think just like how marriage equality was a hard fought uphill battle, transgender acceptance and equality will unfortunately be won in a similar fashion.

  4. lricciar
    October 9, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    I agree with you that there need to be more representation in comics. Transgender individuals are apart of our population and need to be represented as such in the media. I am hoping that this trend in independent comics starts making its way into more main stream media. I also like in the examples from the comics, that the authors chose not to focus on the ‘coming out’ story, or the intimate details that people in real life try to get revealed. Its about understanding that there are different types of people in the world, and that our expectations of others need to grow and change. The only way to cure ignorance is with knowledge and representation, and I can only hope this is the start of an upwards trend.

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