By Diego Higuera

Comic Con 2023 saw a remarkable and impactful panel take place in room 10, shining a spotlight on the rise of LGBTQIA comics and animation for young audiences. The panel was graced by esteemed personalities from the industry, including the moderator Prism Comics’s Cort Lane (known for works like “My Little Pony: Make Your Mark” and “No Straight Lines: The Rise Of Queer Comics”) and panelists Tilly Bridges (“Monster High” and “Begin Transmission: The Trans Allegories of The Matrix”), Sam Maggs (“Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars” and “Tell No Tales: Pirates of the Southern Seas”), Michael Vogel (“Strawberry Shortcake” and “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic”), and Brandon T. Snider (“Adventure Time” and “Regular Show”). This gathering aimed to explore the world of LGBTQ storytelling, catering to today’s young fans and aspiring creators of the future.

The resonance of this panel amid the vast exhibit hall and myriad comic panels at Comic Con underscored its significance as a special and unforgettable event. The overwhelming interest of attendees led to a packed room 10, with participants eager to engage in the insightful discussion. It was evident that the comic industry’s growing focus on diverse representation and inclusivity resonated with the audience, emphasizing the importance of such discussions at prominent events like Comic Con.

Throughout the panel, the creators shared their personal experiences of writing LGBTQIA characters, shedding light on both supportive and challenging instances. When asked about their experiences writing about LGBTQIA characters, Snider proclaimed, “I was really lucky to have an editor who went to bat for these stories. When you work with an editor who gets it, it allows you to push these stories more. Although in this specific instance, we didn’t win that battle, we fought really hard, and it made the sting hurt a little less.”

Vogel then continued the conversation. “I got a note once for one of the characters, and the note said, ‘We really love this character, but can it be a little less femme?'” Some panelists laughed, and audience members groaned; this was a situation that was not uncommon to fans and panelists alike. “I felt like I could only see red, and I think I blacked out for 30 seconds. And I was like, oh, this is what triggered feels like?”

The attendees laughed, and Snider continued, “There are definitely stories where people have your back, but then there’s the fact that people have to have your back, and it’s like, that’s not just a note; you as a writer will feel that personally.”

Bridges jumped in to make an important distinction, saying, “I also want to point out there are times where nobody has your back. My wife and I pitch trans stories because they want representation, and then you get a note back saying not like that. They’re like, ‘This isn’t what I want your trans story to be.’ It’s hard because a lot of the executives and editors are cis head people. This is why we need more queer people behind the scenes in executive positions to help these things get made.” The audience couldn’t help but cheer at that statement.

Lane couldn’t help but ask his own question, continuing off of what Bridges said. He asked if there were any stories she could share about how to go about talking about transitioning or bringing up someone’s past transition and who they were before.

Bridges responded, “There have been a lot of times when a trans story goes forward; you’re sort of having to be a teacher as you work with the executive and editors. You have to give them a trans 101 lesson in everything, but it really is as simple as saying, ‘You were wrong; you thought I was this, and I’m actually a girl.’ It’s that simple, and kids will understand that.”

Then the panel took a more personal tone, where panelists were asked if there were any experiences they had as young adults that they incorporate into their work now, and they had a lot to say.

Maggs with her mom

Maggs couldn’t help but nod her head enthusiastically and said, “Growing up, there was basically no content for kids that had queer characters, especially not lesbians. There were barely any shows with more than one female character in them. The sole exception to that for me was Sailor Moon. That was my only thing that not only represented a wide variety of ways to be a girl, but also had queer characters like Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus. I wish I had seen more of that because it would’ve changed so much more of my life if it had just been clear and explicit that it’s okay to be who you are.”

Snider continued with his experience, “I’m working on a middle-grade series called Cootie Kid, and it was a reflection of my time as a child actor in Cincinnati. I moved to this place where the kids were the worst, but then there are also the joyous aspects that happened because of that, and I think of it as a ‘what if’ story. What if I had not chosen to close up and instead give them back the same energy and not deal with anyone’s stuff? It’s been really rewarding in that sense.”

Bridges responded, “As a kid, I never saw any trans characters anywhere. The earliest I could think of was Ace Ventura.” The panelists groaned in disgust, as did the attendees. “As you can imagine, that was a real awful thing a trans kid could have seen growing up. The one bit that I always held onto was Jadzia Dax in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. She’s an unintentional trans allegory throughout the entire thing. There was an episode where she kisses a woman, and I didn’t know why, and it’s because I’m a trans lesbian, but I didn’t know that. If I could’ve seen that at a surface level, if it had been clear, it would’ve helped me so much because these kids need to know it’s okay to be who you are.”

Lane took control of the audience once again and had to make a statement. “Here’s the really beautiful thing: you get to be that person who is making these characters for kids who are going to see it, and that is something we all get to do!” The audience applauded and cheered, and you could feel the connection between the audience and panelists.

Maggs ended with an important statement, “There is so much right-wing backlash about talking about queerness and transness for kids in any way, being grooming or being inappropriate, and that’s what people are really focused on right now. But the fact of the matter is, every single person on this panel has said if we had had these stories when we were kids, our lives would’ve been improved dramatically, and that’s why this is so important to us.”

Miss any of our earlier SDCC ’23 coverage? Find it all here!