Comics, superheroes and Pride: interview with Marco Lupoi, publishing director of Panini Comics

From the Comics Code Authority censorship to the coming out of Tim Drake and Jon Kent. American superhero comic has made great strides in recognizing diversity and portraying LGBTQIA + people. The publishing director of Panini Comics tells and explains the path followed and some of the initiatives for the month of Pride

There was a time when superheroes had to conceal their sexual orientation. A time of restricted rules and censorship codes impossible to break down even for those with superpowers. And then they hid, as did their authors, committed to disseminating clues among the cartoons and the tables, hoping that the wittiest and most sensitive reader would be able to grasp what the Comics Code Authority had missed. Today, superheroes can be proudly gay, so much so that both Marvel and DC took the initiative to publish themed anthology books in June, during Pride Month. DC Pride and Marvel Pride also arrive in Italy published by Panini Comics. And the theme continues to be topical, unfortunately still divisive among readers. We talked about it with Marco Marcello Lupoi, publishing director of Panini Comics, formerly the first editor of the Marvel Italia label, and, even before that, gay reader of comics who thrilled him without representing him.

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Was it Northstar in the beginning?
For Marvel, yes, in the sense that Marvel’s first gay character has always been considered him. Northstar was the first to come out and one of the first in which he was sensed from the beginning even though it was not explicitly stated. But if one is a philologist, he discovers many others who were among the lines before. On the new Marvel Pride, which will be released in Italy next year but was released in the US on Thursday 23 June, there is an editorial that explains all these appearances in a period in which it was not possible, explaining how the writers let it be guessed. Among them was even an interracial couple, a bad and a good one, inside Black Panther. Among the X-Men there have always been homosexual characters, Mystica and Destiny have always been a couple even if it was made official after 20 years. They are subtexts that I had never noticed as a reader because the Comics Code Authority prevented us from talking about certain issues.

So Marvel moved earlier and better than DC?
They moved more or less in parallel, in different ways. A birthright has a hard time fixing it. DC did something very similar: he inserted characters like the lesbian commissioner in Superman, then created Extraño, a gay Latin superhero a little too flamboiant and stereotyped. Then, if you look in hindsight, that Constantine was a bisexual character is now taken for granted, I who have read it for years had never noticed it.

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Beyond superheroes, what is the situation in manga? Is Japan further ahead or further behind?
We enter a vast universe. In the world of manga, boys love, the comic for female audiences with homosexual male characters has existed for a long time, is published by all publishers, and has a precise format that provides a platonic love for the entire register up to the sex scenes at the end. As a gay man I read it and it makes me laugh because it is a fantasized vision of homosexual eroticism, which follows stereotyped patterns. There is an analogous genre for lesbian characters. Now instead LGBT themed manga come out that explore more relationships between people. We have published the two works of Gengoroh Tagame, designed for a mass audience so much so that the first, My brother’s husband, they also did a series. They are almost educational comics, through the relationships of the characters they tell the situation of homosexuals in Japan and in the world. Of the same kind it is My True Colors, which we have always published. Come to think of it, a gay-themed manga we released years ago is New York New York, released 20 years ago and never re-released. Then there is all the hardcore gay erotic production with multiple editors.

And the western comic strip?
The author’s comic, by its definition, ranges everywhere. And the authors put it themselves. Twenty, thirty years ago you found authorial works with gay or lesbian characters, today it is much more present because there are so many LGBT authors who make many works of all kinds with characters inside that LGBT. We publish Nomen Omen. Giulio Macaione is a great author who has made many LGBT themed comics, even in Fucking Sakura there is such a situation within a context that is not specific. And this is what we expect from fiction, which tells any where the characters represent the human variety.

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Returning to superheroes, for years we have been limited to secondary characters, today we even have a bisexual Superman. When did the gear change take place?
We are talking about this century. We started having lesbian Batwoman, or discovering that the original Green Lantern (Alan Scott, ed) had always been homosexual despite having had children. In Marvel, the Ice Man has the same retroactive path, Daken, Wolverine’s son is bisexual. Until the very latest developments in DC, where both Superman’s son and one of the five Robins, Tim Drake, are bisexual. The new Aquaman is too. In Marvel one of the two sons of Vision and Scarlet Witch, Wiccan, is homosexual and married Hulkling, the son of the first Captain Marvel. Hercules and Marvel Boy are also in a relationship.

Many accuse the comics majors of having bowed to politically correct. Jon Kent’s bisexuality has aroused a lot of controversy… Not to mention the choice to have an LGBTQIA + vigilante wear a Captain America costume…
Diversity in the media has become explosive in the last 5 years. We had a female Dr. Who, now a homosexual actor to play him. In all series there are such examples. This thing is a trigger for all people who would like to live in a world where they are all white, cisgender, heterosexual. The truth is that the fiction was misaligned with reality, for various reasons, including the export of the product. But fiction cannot fail to tell reality. Today there are many young people who define themselves as fluids by orientation and gender identity. Literature has cleared these issues for decades.

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There are those who say “it is better to create a new character than to change one that already exists”. What do you think?
I think it makes no sense to distort the iconic characters. It wouldn’t make sense to reveal that Clark Kent is bisexual, but when you have Superman’s son, why can’t he be bisexual or homosexual? Batman had five Robins, why can’t one of them be gay or bisexual? It is a question of respecting a bit the balance that exists.

Do you think that, always among readers, there is the same perception between male homosexuality and female homosexuality? Or is the second more accepted than the first?
There is a difference but there is in the world at large, not just among comic readers. The world is ruled by patriarchy, by cis, white and straight men. Male homosexuality is the great sin because man fails in his role as pack leader and becomes feminized. Female homosexuality is tolerated but only as a male erotic fantasy. Even in erotic comics, which has always existed, the sexuality portrayed has always been heterosexual or lesbian.

As a young reader, how much did you miss being able to feel represented by the characters you read and loved?
I was having a hard time imagining something that I couldn’t even think of at the time. But I remember when the first signs started I started to feel the importance of this. I remember a story of Ken Parker, Front and back, where Berardi and Milazzo talk about homosexuality. I remember devouring that comic, finding it revolutionary. But a story like this happened to you once a year, maybe twice. We had to slip into the nineties and then into this century for the question to become more present. So when I needed it most, at 15, I couldn’t even imagine it. At the time we were met by a comic like the X-Men, which although not a comic with LGBT themes neither now nor then, is about diversity. And this message is so powerful that it has always transcended genre.

Read the other insights into the world of comics by FUMETTOPOLIS

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