Masked Men and Mutants: The Golden Age

Superheroes and comic books have been an important touchstone in my life since I saw Tim Burton’s Batman when I was not even five-years-old. From there I moved on the Bruce Timm’s Batman Animated Series and later to the mid-1990s X-Men cartoon. I grew up from a wee fangirl to an assistant manager of a comic shop when I left high school, where I stayed for nearly five years. This is where I eventually transitioned, surprised but pleased to find fellow nerds could readily accept someone growing tired of juggling dual identities.

The two managers of Lone Star Comics, back in 2008? Maybe?

During my years of slinging comics, it was non uncommon for me to give presentations about the history of comic books and their cultural relevance to American Arts. Comic Books, Cinema, and Jazz (among all other Black-Created “American” music styles), are some of the only American claims to cultural fame. And being American, comic books have an entangled history with many forms of our cultural expectations, as well as struggles against oppression.

From their birth, comics and their predecessors, pulp novels, were looked down upon for the people reading them (children, non-english fluent immigrants, and less-literate working class), which meant the views of people creating them weren’t much better. The comic book industry in its infancy mirrored many other problems in industries of that era. With little oversight or regulation, plagiarism and theft and non-payment for creators was extremely commonplace. Workers had little to no rights whatsoever about their creations or intellectual property. Writing for comics might be seen as a humble stepping stone to more lucrative copy work, but certainly not something any creator should actually aspire to.

A panel from Will Eisner’s “The Dreamer” a semi-autobiographical work about his early days in the Comic Book industry.

While this might have put off more socially privileged writers from joining the medium, it unwittingly created something of a haven (or maybe a trap) for minority writers who might not otherwise be able to get regular work. Black creators, Jewish creators, immigrant creators, women creators, communist creators, and queer creators all became the soul of American superheroes under the guise of “who cares it’s just harmless kids stuff”. They wrote about what they knew and experienced. They wrote about tenements and slum lords and wicked bosses and exploitation of the Little Man. And they created heroes who would listen to them and defend them. Perhaps the most notable example is a certain white-passing immigrant raised by Americans to believe that he too could stand for Truth, Justice, and the American Way, created by two young Jewish immigrants.

The cover page for Action Comics #1, the debut of Superman

In Part 2, I will begin discussing the intertwined history of queer subtext and comic books, starting with Masked Men and when staying in the closet was the noble thing to do.

Masked Men and Mutants: The Golden Age
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2017

I’ve had a rough year.

I realize we all have.

I’ve survived toxic relationships, abusive situations, and physical recoveries. I’ve witnessed political despair, queer-antagonistic massacres, and state brutality with the rest of the world.

However I also got a new nephew and started antidepressants for the first time, and I have even started to become active in queerlesque and found the time and space to develop other new talents and hobbies. (Such as renovating tiny houses for plastic people.) Despite the struggles, there were also small comforts. Time makes fools of us all. Perhaps especially the worst of times.

I primarily focused on survival in 2016, rather than living. Which is one of the reasons my writing has dribbled to a stop in my usual history of being a somewhat reliable, if not prolific, writer. When struggling with self-worth and executive function, it can be hard to believe my voice or my words have any reason to exist. That anyone would want to read what I have to say. This is a lifetime struggle for me as a writer, an activist, and a person fighting for their right to exist in a hostile environment. But this is a time for marginalized voices to speak out and create, not yield.

I realize that new year resolutions, and apparently even the concept of breaking time into manageable-socially-agreed-upon yearly increments, has fallen out of favor recently. But I want to do everything I can to not just survive 2017, but to fight for the space for myself and people like me to create. To communicate. To share thoughts and frivolity and pain and questions and observations. I will not let the antagonists of the world restrict my creativity.

So I’m promising myself and my readers that this year will have a lot more angry rants. A lot more queer dystopian escape fantasy. A lot more retorts to poor representation. A lot more snark. A lot more outrage. I do this with the trust that those who wish to read my writing will do so, and others will see themselves out.

Like many of you I am still tender. I am still recovering. I am still grieving.

But I am here with you now. And I promise to be with you more in the coming year.

2017