There has never been a better time to start reading comics if you are after LGBTIQ+ content. And by time I mean this Saturday. Every year on the first Saturday in May it is akin to Christmas for comic book lovers as the world goes into a frenzy for Free Comic Book Day (FCBD). Yes, that is correct – free comic books!
Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, this event has involved comic book publishers distributing millions of special edition comic books worldwide for free. The purpose for this event is to introduce everyone, regardless of age, to the joys of reading comics, to call back former comic book readers, and to thank current comic book buyers for their continued support that includes the reprinting of milestone back issues and teasing readers with preview content.
Bernard Caleo, the 2016 Platinum Ledger Award winner (basically the equivalent of a Gold Logie in the Australian comic book world) describes comic books as a medium that “subverts text writing, in the way that words can become a bit stuck about issues, and comics (are able to) come at it from a different angle”.
Australia is certainly embracing comic book culture, with 27+ venues across the country registered for FCBD on Saturday 7 May, and each are busy preparing for the onslaught with cosplay competitions, show bags for children and special guests.
All Star Comics (Melbourne, Victoria), winner of the prestigious Spirit of Comics Retailer Award at the 26th annual Eisner Awards, are expecting to see 2,500-3,000 people queue around the block for their free comic hit. The staff fully embrace the day in their cosplay best, and have at the ready over 10,000 comics to give away, with any leftover titles being donated to school libraries they sponsor throughout the year. All Star Comics are also hosting an “artist alley” with 50 local artists showcasing their talent, selling their wares and providing free sketches.
Sydney comic fans are also in for a treat with Kings Comics celebrating their 30th anniversary and Kinokuniya showcasing their own artist alley featuring the talented Queenie Chan, who is a strong advocate for equal representation in the comic book industry and is striving to make comic book selling easier for Australian creators with an online sales initiative called The BentoNet – due to launch June 2016.
Now to what we are to expect with respect to queer content this FCBD. We are fortunate to see increasing LGBTIQ+ representation in comic books today and it is great to see many queer characters showcased in this year’s FCBD.
First and foremost, the winner of the 27th Annual GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Award for Outstanding Comic Book, Lumberjanes is a tale of an all-girl adventuring scouting group that features in the FCBD compilation Boom Studios 2016 Summer Blast (Boom/Archaia). Those of you still mourning the passing of David Bowie can also enjoy a tale from Labyrinth in this issue.
Another 2016 GLAAD nominee, Harley Quinn, the loveable yet psychotic bisexual DC Comics anti-hero is soon to grace her way to our big screens in the August release film Suicide Squad (Warner Bros.) and has continually been one of the bestselling comic book titles in her namesake comic title series. Harley will feature in two free DC comics: Suicide Squad #1 and as a girl in the all-ages title DC Superhero Girls.
While Archie (Archie Comic Productions) himself does not identify as LGBTIQ+, one of his pals, Kevin Keller, first appeared in Veronica #202 in 2010 and became the first openly gay character in the Archie world to have his own book series. Archie has undergone a reboot (and a bit of a facelift by the looks of it), launching with its FCBD entry Archie #1 providing the perfect start for those wishing to lead up to Kevin’s series return in June 2016.
While many avid comic book fans may not have heard about the quirky Love and Rockets (Fantagraphics Books Inc.), it is also worth mentioning, particular those seeking an alternative to the superhero genre and classic punchline based strips with strong female characters.
It is not surprising to see strong female representation, as US and UK data suggests that female comic book readership may actually outnumber male readers, and this year’s FCBD showcases many strong female protagonists in titles such as Assassin’s Creed (Titan Comics), Lady Mechanika (Benitez Productions), We Can Never Go Home/Young Terrorists (Black Mask Comics) and Worlds of Aspen (Aspen MLT).
Mitch Davies, co-owner of All Star Comics, states that “currently some of our highest ordered titles are ones with diverse characters or books with female leads, which is fantastic. Of course books like Batman and the Star Wars line are extremely popular as well and most likely will remain that way for a while, the fact that the quality of some of the books with diverse characters/stories and female leads are so high, it means people will continue to gravitate to these titles and they will continue to increase in sales.”
All Star Comics’ bestselling female lead books currently are the Marvel titles The Mighty Thor and Ms Marvel, both of whom are sure to play major roles in the much anticipated Civil War II event that commences with the FCBD issue Civil War II/All-New All-Different Avengers (Marvel).
Unfortunately some of the bestselling titles with LGBTIQ+ themes, such as the Image titles Saga, The Wicked + The Divine and Sunstone do not feature this year at FCBD, though each are equally worth checking out nonetheless. Other notable exceptions include Marvel’s pansexual anti-hero Deadpool, and X-Men, with one of the original characters Iceman the newest mutant to come out the closet (was very tempted to say freezer), in both younger and older versions of himself in the series All-New X-Men and Extraordinary X-Men.
DC also missed a golden opportunity to provide a more fitting farewell to its answer to Deadpool, Midnighter, with its last issue this month also seeing the cancellation to the only mainstream gay male lead comic book title series.
The 2016 Free Comic Book Day takes place on Saturday 7 May. For more information, visit: www.freecomicbookday.com for details.
Words: Jimmy Twin