As we type, Harrogate Pride in Diversity was last weekend. A fantastic celebration of the diversity of human experience held in the Valley Gardens. We were proud to be there with our gazeebo and a selection of comics which either featured characters who were LGBTQI+ or which were created by people who were LGBTQI+. As always, it was a hugely fun day.
So, as Pride Month passes the half way stage, we thought we'd shine the spotlight on some of the great books that have LGBTQI+ representation.
I guess it makes sense to start with the well known characters - so we'll kick off with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, who are both bisexual, and have been in a relationship for some time.
It's a mainstream DC book, and it rarely if ever actually addresses issues head on, but representation is important, and for that alone having two popular high profile characters in a very visible and acknoweldged relationship (none of that "are they, aren't they?" nonsense) is hugely important in and of itself.
And it's the importance of representation that earns Wonder Woman a mention here. There have been mutterings - in a "wink wink, nudge nudge" kind of a way - about Diana's sexuality for many years, after all Themyscira, the Paradise Island that is home to the Amazons is famously a man free zone. But it's only relatively recently that her bisexuality has been acknowledged as canon, and although as with Harley and Ivy her comic rarely addresses LGBTQI+ issues directly, having a character with such a long history and such an iconic status be recognised as part of the community is a very positive thing.
Of course, accepting that established charaters may be gay or bisexual can be difficult for some people - there has been negative comment about "political correctness" and a "gay agenda" with regard to all three of the aforementioned characters sexual orientation, and it is unquestionably true that they were not presented to the reader as such initially.
But of course they weren't. Wonder Woman was created in 1941 for goodness sake. There was no way a character was going to be allowed to demonstrate non-conforming sexuality back then. But it is worth noting that her creator, William Moulton Marston was pretty sexually non-conforming himself, living as he did with two women, his wife Elizabeth and his polyamourous life partner Olive. Both women were clear influences on Wonder Woman, and it really isn't difficult to imagine that he would have considered her to be bi.
Besides, anyone who has ever had a friend come out will know that sometimes learning the true sexual orientation of somebody you've known for a long time can be surprising - but they didn't start being gay when they told you they were, they were always gay, you just didn't know. To my way of thinking, it's much the same with the likes of Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn and Iceman.
You already know about these guys though. Let's take a look at some of the less well known books out there.
First up, Alters, from the fine folk at Aftershock. Chalice is a young woman dealing with some serious changes and struggling not just with her new found superpowers, but with her identity in general.
So far, so unremarkable - there are any number of comics that explore the same themes. There is a crucial difference though.
Chalice is a Trans woman at the very start of her journey through transition. Her parents don't know, and at home she still presents as a boy.
Suddenly, this is a very different reading experience.
The series has taken some criticism because the writer, Paul Jenkins is cis-gendered and some in the trans community have questioned his right to tell their story. In some ways, though it's Jenkins' clear acceptance that he is swimming in waters he does not - and can not - fully understand that is the strength of the writing here.
Every issue featured an essay written by somebody who did have relevant life experience. Given that the majority of the readership is likely to be cis, Jenkins' example - demonstrating that there are life experiences we don't have and should take some time to learn about - seems powerful. That said, as yet another cis gendered middle aged man, I'm not going to take particular issue with the book's critics or tell them they shouldn't feel the way they do about it.
There are currently two trade paperback collections available - we will leave you to draw your own conclusions regarding whether the work is good or not...
There is no such controversy about the impossibly gorgeous Heathen from Vault.
Aydis is a young Norse woman, cast out of her clan because she dared to love a girl.
Unwilling to accept the consequences of remaining with her family (marry a man or be put to death) she sets out on a quest to release a Valkyrie from a volcanic prison, and then embarks on further adventures.
Written and illustrated by Natasha Alterici this is a triumph on several levels:
for a start - and most importantly - it's a good story with characters that are above everything else, relatable.
Given that the cast includes a talking horse, two talking wolves, a Valkyrie and a goddess, that's no mean feat.
Then there's the art. Alterici's delicate, almost spidery line is almost heartbreakingly beautiful in places, and even though the character design involves a fur bikini - usually something of an automatic "no" for me, but Alterici just makes it work.
The first story arc is available as a collected edition, with volume two coming as soon as it's ready. (The first part of volume two is available in single issues, with the rest due out shortly.
Finally (for this edition at least) it would be crazy not to mention Love is Love in a piece like this.
Concieved as a recation to the terrorist outrage at The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, this is a book with a very simple mission. To answer hate with love - a mission which it accomplishes with grace and style.
Essentially it's a collection of short graphic stories written and drawn by some of the biggest names in comics, and featuring some of the best known characters.
Published by IDW it had the support of all the major publishers and was one of our favourite books of 2017.
At times hilarious, at times heart breaking, we can promise that you will laugh more than once and (unless you have a heart of literal flint) you will cry more than once. But in the end the feelings that this book leaves you with are hope and joy - it's the kind of book you keep handy to read when you've had a bad day. For something of such joy and beauty to come as a response to an event of such hatred and ugliness can really strengthen your faith in humanity.
It makes be proud that this was the response of the comics making comminity - and in Pride month, that seems appropriate, doesn't it?
Happy Pride, folks - we'll be back next week with some more examples of books to take pride in.