Thoughts on queer representation

Close up photo of a variety of fruits.

In order to encourage inclusivity and a sense of belonging, the company I work for hosts an informal zoom call once a month where individuals give short presentations about passion projects outside of work.

I was encouraged to take the plunge and do a quick demo of my comics. I was terrified since, as you may have noticed, my comics are very queer and very adult–quite literally NSFW. And yet, there I was discussing them at work.

They loved it. What’s more, the theme of queer representation emerged as I was preparing my presentation. I included it, briefly, since it’s so central to my storytelling. Having a mere 10 minutes I didn’t spend much time on it. With your indulgence, I’d like to do so now.

My motto: don’t include straight characters unless the story needs it.

If you feel I’m being a tad ironic there, you may be right. Though I do center on the queer and let everything else move to the periphery. The inverse of what happens in most mainstream storytelling. There’s no real process here. It’s intuitive, even unconscious, as I work. Up to this point, I haven’t set out with then intention of building a queer world in my comics, but that does seem to be what’s emerging. Over time, as the stories come and go, worlds built and sent off to live in readers’ imaginations, this will likely morph. I won’t try to predict how. Better to simply observe.

Just like process over product, think creator over creation.

While it’s tempting to focus our attention on the work itself when discussing representation, that’s actually secondary, in my opinion. It’s the creators, not content, that should be the focus of our efforts at improvement. When you widen the breadth of who’s telling the stories, you’ll find more wholistic, novel, genuine, and organic representation. True equity comes from range of creators telling their own stories, and being able to take control of their work and its dissemination. Achieving better representation will necessitate a paradigm shift towards plurality and collective decision making and away from rigid hierarchies controlled by a small (usually white, cishet-male) in-group.

Let’s wrap up with some baby steps.

Creators: engage in collective action to lift each other up. I’ve had the honor to participate in collectives of different shapes and sizes over the years and can say, with confidence, that a committed group of people sharing a vision and resources can move mountains.

Consumers: Kickstarter has become the world’s most interesting comic shop. Dive in and support the creators there. You know where your dollars are going and you can form direct, lasting connections to continue your support beyond a single project.

Cover photo by Joshua Hoehne.

Published by eddy

Writer and artist Edward Ficklin (he/him) focuses on illustration and visual storytelling using traditional media. He loves exploring the many facets of queer identity and representation in his stories and images. He's also written for the stage. His major works include Antinous and Hadrian (music by Clint Borzoni), an opera about the ill-fated love affair of a Roman emperor and unknown youth from the stix and The Context of Love Lives, a music-theater work based on the lives and writings of Elizabeth Bishop and Oscar Wilde.

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