Friday, November 14, 2014

Letters Column

Original image via Flickr user Basil Gilbert. CC BY NC 2.0 licensed.

Today, I'm introducing another new feature to the site, inspired by my previous post about Stan's Soapbox. Letter columns have a long history in comic books, at least back to the 1940s. They were and are a place for fans to interact with creators and to establish a sense of community around a book. They also sometimes give insight into the worldviews and politics of comics writers, artists, editors, and readers. For that reason, they are a significant part of the queer history of comic books. This feature will highlight fan letters or editorial responses that convey contemporary opinions about queer characters and content.

First up is a response to a fan printed in Chain Mail, the letters column for Heavy Metal magazine #8 from November 1977.

Heavy Metal #8
Let me first say that having a female editorial staff, the lopsided inclusion of sexualized men, and the portrayal of "imaginary characters" does not get Heavy Metal off the hook for charges of sexism. The magazine has definitely always been made with a straight male gaze predominantly in mind and is therefore problematic given the history of women (far more so than men) being portrayed exclusively as sex objects and not "human beings."

That said, how cool is it that the editors recognized that the magazine had gay fans!? This was in the '70s, and this was a title that an outsider would assume (and be more and more correct to assume as the years went on) was targeted exclusively to pubescent, heterosexual boys. Heavy Metal is still problematic, but it did get some things right at a time when everyone else, well, didn't.


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