As in most other areas, the presence of LGBT characters in movies, books and comics has long been repressed. Even now, there are many who believe that having openly gay people in a popular soap or movie is inappropriate and represents a ''bad influence'' on young audiences. Comics in particular were censored strictly, as they were seen mainly as directed toward children. Only subtle hints could be made â€“ until 1989, the Comics Code Authority (CCA) basically forbade any suggestion of homosexuality in comics sold in the newsstands in the USA.
Nevertheless, there have always been discussions about the alleged homosexuality of certain comic book heroes. This actually nearly caused the medium to collapse, when a distinguished psychiatrist started a crusade against the ''negative influence'' of comic books on adolescents. He wrote a book called ''The Seduction of the Innocent'', in which he attempted to expose the industry as the cause of problems ranging from juvenile delinquency to rape and murder. At the same time, he attacked artists for hinting at homosexuality in their protagonists and accused them of trying to convince kids that a gay lifestyle was acceptable or even cool. His most famous example: Batman and Robin. According to Wertham, Batman and Robin inhabited ''a wish dream of two homosexuals living together in luxurious circumstances, with no girlfriends and only an effeminate British butler for company.''
Overt gay and lesbian themes could only be found in underground and alternative titles which did not carry the CCA's seal of approval. Fortunately things have changed: even mainstream comics feature gay characters now, although they are often only cast in a supporting role. However, gay comic creators Mark Brill and Charles 'Zan' Christensen have created a comic completely focused on the problems of gay teens: ''The Power Within''. Published by LGBT comic company Northwest Press, the story features a 13-year old boy named Shannon who turns to his inner superhero to fight anti-gay bullying. As gay men, the artists had plenty of experiences to inspire them, although the reason they decided to write this particular book now was the suicide of several gay teens in September last year.
From Christensen's introductory letter:
''Fall of 2010 was a turning point. The news reports acknowledged the role anti-gay bullying played in these deaths. Peoples' eyes were opened to the fact that anti-gay harassment shouldn't have to be a part of growing up any more than sexism or racism should and that there were grave consequences for ignoring the problem. Like Mark and I, [Shannon] turned to comic book heroes for his escape; he found a superhero within him to help him deal with his day-to-day challenges. If you're struggling, be that superhero. Fight the good fight to be who you are, without apology.''
The Power Within is now available at comic shops, but Northwest has also distributed it to student and school organizations for free. Recently, with the help of many private backers, money was raised for a larger print run aiming to get copies of the book into the hands of young LGBT individuals through youth centers, gay-straight alliances and teachers' groups, and to supply free copies of the book to all people who need to hear its message.
See a preview of this comic here.