THE WASHINGTON POST
Jon Goldwater was riding his New York commuter train, just two weeks into his new job as co-chief executive of Archie Comics, when a fellow passenger tossed off a remark that blindsided him. The fresh executive had an Archie folder on his lap, Goldwater recounts,”when a woman sitting near me turned and said:’They still make those?!’ ” “It. Freaked. Me. Out,” Goldwater continues. “I almost got sick to my stomach.” Yet he also took home the underlying message from the encounter several years ago: “If we didn’t change Riverdale, we would risk becoming irrelevant.” Led by Goldwater, the creative minds at Archie Comics decided to”update”their characters. In 2010, Archie Comics entered the current century by introducing Kevin Keller, Riverdale’s “first openly gay character.” The result: headlines and turned heads that culminated in its Marriage of Kevin Keller! issue selling out this year.
To comics fans, none of this is new and surprising after decades of gay characters and relationships from mainstream publishers. But in the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama’s newly stated support of gay marriage, current examples of gay romance in comics have stepped into a klieg light of broader cultural resonance.
Last week, Marvel Comics announced the proposal and same-sex nuptials of Northstar, its first gay superhero, in Astonishing X-Men No. 50 and No. 51 (it’s a June wedding). And just days before, DC publisher Dan DiDio said at London’s Kapow comic convention that a major DC character would soon become “one of our most prominent gay characters.” “It was only natural that when New York legalized gay marriage last year,” says Marvel’s Tom Brevoort, editor of the Astonishing X-Men project, “our thoughts would turn to what impact this might have on Northstar and his ongoing relationship with his partner, Kyle. The story grew organically from there – and the zeitgeist at the moment gives it even greater relevance.” Is 2012, then, a flashpoint for depicting gay relationships in mainstream comics, or is this just an editorial blip made brighter by the glare of electoral politics?
Tom Batiuk, an Akron native, Kent State graduate and Medina resident, is an Ohio man through and through. So it struck particularly close to home last year when he read about a parents’ group in the southern part of his state protesting a high school’s “tolerant attitude”toward gays.
“I still go out to my old high school,” says Batiuk, who was a classroom teacher before launching his syndicated comic strip Funky Winkerbean 40 years ago.
Batiuk knew then that somehow this picketing would make its way into his school-set strip, which has dealt with such non-traditional “funny page" issues as teen suicide and pregnancy, alcoholism and capital punishment.