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Thanks to the blogosphere, it’s getting so you can’t get away with ANYTHING. In a recent interview at Wizard, Alex Ross had some comments about the gay character Obsidian, that some construed as anti-gay, anti Marc Andreyko or both:

ROSS: I have no idea. I don’t know that that would be the case. Obsidian being put into the JSA is a lot like—and I’m speaking for Geoff here, which he may not agree with—but it’s him grabbing a character that’s just going to get molested further in other writer’s hands. So he’s grabbing him and putting him in the group so he at least can be shepherding this character that belongs in this association. Maybe he’ll make sure that no other writers get any “fun, creativeâ€? ideas with him.


Kevin at [email protected] rounds up the web reaction. Now, very openly gay Andy Mangels has sent out a letter with comments from Ross clarifying his comments. It’s rather long so we’ll put most of it in the jump, but before we do we’ll note that we wish we could get a larger version of Ross’s Bush/Cheney kissing cover for the Village Voice.

From Alex Ross:
Regarding the latest interview with me in Wizard online: To anyone offended by my remarks about Obsidian’s being “molestedâ€? by writers and his sexual identity being a “fun, creativeâ€? idea that I obviously disagreed with, I do apologize. These were purely boneheaded comments I voiced poorly and flippantly. I clearly did not understand how the remark would be interpreted. The use of “molestedâ€? was purely meant to be a passionate phrasing of “meddling,â€? which I probably use far too often. I wouldn’t wish anyone to think I saw a problem with gay characters in comics, and I do recognize that my words could be taken that way.

My friend Andy Mangels informed me about the widespread negative response to these comments and encouraged me to speak out on the issue to clarify what I meant. First off, I want it known that I do care what people perceive of my point of view, and that I do not harbor a prejudice against any human being’s sexual orientation.

The axe I had to grind regarding Obsidian was related to the modern approach of redefining a character’s nature and history in fashions that impose a great deal on them. This is something I mainly object to if these new details of “who they are” take far less from the groundwork the original creators put down. We can’t know for sure most of the time what those first designers would have liked or objected to. My personal rule of thumb is to try and follow my instincts of what that specific character’s inspirations are to me and be true to their earliest definitions. I would claim that this is what you will chiefly find in my work, but I know this ideal I speak of is something I have strayed from plenty. I’d say I’m just a little bit of a hypocrite.



Speaking of original creators’ intentions, I realized this morning that I had the rare option of finding out in this case, and I called Roy Thomas. Roy, with artists Mike Machlan and Jerry Ordway, invented Obsidian and many other mainstay DC heroes for “Infinity Inc.â€? back in the early eighties. Roy told me that Obsidian’s being gay was not necessarily inherent in the character from the beginning, but it’s not offensive or ill-suited to who he was.

Andy Mangels told me that seeds were being planted for this aspect of Obsidian’s life for some time by other authors, which I was unaware of. At the same time, though, these seeds were never laid down by the men who created him. Most often, writers like Roy don’t get a voice in the continuing life of their creations, despite the original creators’ importance. I don’t put this out there to say “don’t try anythingâ€? or to hold back certain creative writing impulses. I’m moreover hyper-sensitive to fundamental personal definitions applied to preexisting comic book characters. Unlike changing a costume, losing sanity, or killing a character off, being gay is a retroactive addition to a character’s identity. Every other approach happens to them going forward in their fiction, which is generally expected of new authors shepherding these conceptual beings along. Being gay is a fundamental aspect of a character, and as a creative direction applied to a fictional character it implies an even stronger mark of the new author’s hand.

My preferred approach to broadening the range of humanity represented in comics is to invent someone new to fit that ideal. But I also know that adding something to the existing mythologies of comics we know is the greatest goal.

I’ll admit that as a fan and comics contributor, I need to consider what was done with Obsidian fairly before forming too strong an opinion. Unrelated to my positive and supportive feelings about the gay community, I may not come to love this choice specific to him, but I’m not really that against it either, despite my lengthy diatribe. On this I should also acknowledge that I shouldn’t have put words in Geoff Johns’ mouth about this subject. Geoff has blessed me to say that any use we make of Obsidian in the new Justice Society of America book will only intend to elevate the hero’s visibility and coolness factor with an embrace of all aspects of his character, original and newly defined. I personally look forward to illustrating him for JSA covers in the near future as a hero and design I greatly respect.

Alex Ross

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Statement from Andy Mangels:

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Alex Ross — mostly by phone — over the last several years. His talent as an artist is not in any doubt, and his respectful attitudes about comicdom history and creators are similar in many ways to my own.

Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of consulting with Alex to design the cover of a Village Voice “Gay Pride” issue (at his request). Alex had been asked to make a political statement about gay rights today (following the Vampire Bush draining the Statue of Liberty cover he had previously created for them), but he wanted to do something that would “piss off” the right people (or would that be Right people?), but not be offensive to the gay community. We had a discussion for more than an hour about imagery, content, intent, and etc., based around his initial concept of having an image of Bush and Cheney passionately kissing. After a while, we came to a mutual agreement about the foreground image, the background details (very specifically chosen and juxtaposed), and even the title: “Make Love, Not War.”

I assured Alex that the only offense I thought that the cover might generate in the gay community would be to those who would say, “Ewww, I never wanted to think about those specific two men kissing.” Indeed, the image was very popular, and GLBT reaction was very strongly positive.
And by the way, T-shirts of the image are available at:
http://www.graphittidesigns.com/shop/customer/product.php?productid=63438&cat=

In all of my dealings with Alex, he has been respectful of my longterm partner, and of myself. Even though my career has veered outside the realm of comics these days and into best-selling novels and directing documentaries, I still have feet in the comic world; Alex has been supportive of my past, and I expect, of my future.

I have never found one whiff of homophobia in my dealings with him, and was thus shocked to find people offended by his statements in Wizard. Upon closer examination, I realized that his word choices may not have clearly set forth his true meaning, and I suggested to him that a clarification might be in order. I think that the above statements clarify his position not only on legacy characters, but also on creator involvement, and on the rights of people of all orientations for equality and fairness.

1 COMMENT

  1. The shirt, BTW, was the Village Voice cover he painted for their Gay Pride issue.

    I think this is an analogous situation to the cowpie John Kerry stepped in right before the election: it sounds as though he’s deriding the very people he’s going to bat for, but the true object of his derision becomes obvious upon re-reading. Its worst offense is that it’s just not phrased very well and leaves itself open to misinterpretation, thus giving ammo to those it was intended to snub and pissing off those it was meant to support.

  2. My Mom and Dad created me and thought it was revisionist history when I came out of the closet. They weren’t thrilled with the creative change they saw in my life at the time, either. In their eyes, it was a retroactive additon to my character; in my eyes it was a struggle trying to figure out my full identity. Some characters outgrow their creator’s visions of them. Which brings me to…

    Fifteen ways to Sunday, I don’t get what Alex Ross meant if he didn’t mean that he didn’t care for the creative choice of a character coming out of the closet, but I’ll be happy to take the apology at face value. After all, I can buy into his desire to see the world frozen in amber where the Superfriends go up against the Legion of Doom and a crime against humaity is treating the original Space Ghost like a joke. In that context, worrying about how the original Green Lantern’s son spends his off time is dead on and not really “homophobic” so much as “traditionalist”. It’s amazing that WIzard, bastion of journalism that it is, would pick up on the comment and own it along with the years of homophobic jokes that it slyly interjects into its pieces. Mr. Ross gets to have his comments put under a microscope because they were published in a magazine that provided the homophobic context which amplified what he said no matter how innocuous he intended the comments to be.

    I mean, did he just seriously compare changing a costume and losing sanity to sexual orientation? And why are those ok additions to a character’s identity but finally stating a sexual orientation is not? Seriously? How the hell is one supposed to interpret that? You want the Andy Mangels seal of apporval, good for you. I don’t know you and I can only judge you by the words you speak. At least the art is pretty.