A game-changing comic book is offering a fresh take on the way religion and sexuality intersects with comic book culture.
Called Stripling Warrior, the project from So Super Duper Comics follows Sam Shepard, a happily out newlywed who receives a visit from an angel on his wedding night calling him, in the words of author Brian Andersen, to be "the hand of God on earth."
The series, illustrated by James Neish, is meant to be an exploration of the mythology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through a queer lens.
"Basically, I wanted to mine the religious lore and mythology of the Mormon Church to empower a homosexual hero -- to show that a gay character is every bit as worthy in the eyes of God as any heterosexual one," Andersen told The Huffington Post.
Check out the the interview below to learn more about this project and to see a selection of illustrations from Stripling Warrior.
The Huffington Post: What is your overarching vision for Stripling Warrior?
Brian Andersen: My overarching vision and concept for Stripling Warrior is to tell a fun, sexy, perhaps provocative story by taking familiar superhero tropes and casting them into a comic book about an average guy who’s a gay Mormon superhero. Because everyone loves a gay Mormon, right? (Wait, what…they don’t?)
Basically, I wanted to mine the religious lore and mythology of the Mormon Church to empower a homosexual hero -- to show that a gay character is every bit as worthy in the eyes of God as any heterosexual one.
If I can tell an entertaining story that anyone can enjoy, whether you’re familiar with Mormonism or not, whether you’re homosexual or not, than I’ve done my job.
And if my little comic can bring some small measure of comfort and pleasure to those who’ve felt marginalized by their faith because of their sexuality then I’ve hit a touchdown.
It might be silly to think a comic book can accomplish this -- but I’m not opposed to being silly.
How does your identity shape and inform your work?
My identity as a gay man, a Mormon, a husband, a father and a lifelong comic book geek informs all of my writing/creating in that I strive to be authentic and honest to my experiences.
Occasionally I’ve been criticized because some of my characters are deemed too “stereotypically homosexual.” That they act and talk too femme. Really? Can someone be too homosexual?
All I know is that I’m writing from a personal and heartfelt perspective. Yeah, I’m a queeny gay, what of it?
Since when did being a flamboyant homo become such a negative thing in our community? I don’t believe that “masc for masc” type dudes are the only acceptable type of gay superhero.
One of my main characters, Samuel Shepard, may have a fruity inner monologue, but that doesn’t take away from his ability to kick ass. Like me, Sam is many things and he can be both fully queened-out and totally butch at the same time. I’d love to see more “femme/masc” heroes out there! Who’s with me?!
Why do you think it's important to see this kind of queer representation in comic books?
Representation matters because members of the LGBT community need to tell our stories. We need to own our narratives. For so long we’ve been defined by others -- our religious leaders, our political figures -- that we’re usually lumped in the “sinner” category. That somehow our rights don’t matter because we’re sinners and therefore not deserving of equality.
I refute that idea.
I don’t believe with who and how I have sex defines me as a person. I’m not a sinner because I’m married to a man. (I am a sinner in many other ways but that’s a tale for another time.)
Being LBGT is not something to be ashamed of. Just as gay sex is not something to be ashamed of. I felt it was important to show healthy homosexual sexual relationships -- both male and female -- in my story.
Gay sex won’t turn a heterosexual person to stone. And it isn’t quite the dark side of the force religious peeps make it out to be. It’s just as real as (boring) hetero sex.
Although much has changed in modern comics, I for one was sick of characters not being allowed to have sex, let alone be shown kissing. It took Northstar twenty or so freaking years before he had his first on panel same-sex smooch. That’s ridiculous!
The more my fellow LGBTs stand up and speak up, the more we will demand the respect we deserve as human beings. Who I sleep with does not make me less worthy, nor any less deserving of equality than anyone else. No matter what someone’s ecclesiastical leader tells them.
Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
I’d love to stimulate my readers by giving them a metaphorical comic book chubby -- or a geeky lady boner for the gals.
If I can help someone lose themselves in the book and forget the harsh realities of life for a moment, like reading an enjoyable comic book used to do for me as a four-eyed, brace-faced, pimp-ridden, closeted, dorky teen, than I’ve succeeded. I’ve run a three-pointer and a goal at the same time!
Also, I’d love for my readers to soak up the crazy amazing artwork from my artist James Neish. He’s so talented I can’t believe he’s lowered himself to work with me. He makes my clunky writing soar!
“Stripling Warrior” issue one and two are now available in both digital and print via www.sosuperduper.com. Issue three will be completed next month.