Prism Comics: Elevating LGBT Comic Books
Author: William Johnson
July 9, 2013
“Prism is the only organization in the comics industry that provides an annual financial grant to aspiring comics creators…”
Ted Abenheim, President of Prism Comics—a LGBT organization dedicated to supporting LGBT graphic novelists, artists, and readers, took some time to talk with the Lambda Literary Review about Prism’s mission, the organization’s plans for the future, and the ever expanding LGBT comic book fan base.
What would you like folks to know about Prism’s mission?
Prism Comics is a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization supporting LGBT and LGBT-friendly comics, creators and readers. Prism was founded in 2003 by a small group of fans to let LGBT comics’ readers know that they were not alone and that there were LGBT comics and comics creators out there.
I found Prism Comics 9 years ago at a booth at San Diego Comic-Con. I love comics, but comics to me were mainly superheroes. I was amazed to find that there were comics that dealt with LGBT topics—coming out, youth issues, school issues, family relationships, dating and relationships—personal subjects that television, film and other popular media didn’t touch in any depth at the time. I felt at home because in the huge sea of thousands of people at the convention, here were other people like me, with stories that I could relate to…and cool, great artwork! That’s when I got involved with Prism. And I’ve been thrilled to watch the organization grow and attitudes towards comics and the LGBT community change over the years.
Prism Board members, Advisory Board members and Prism supporters have played a part in that change, creating and championing works that have reached a broad audience, gained critical praise and been recognized with Eisner Awards (the comic industry’s top award), Lambda Literary Awards and more.
Today, Prism continues to foster the LGBT comics’ community by providing a network for creators and fans and by helping creators present their works to the public. Creators within the Prism community are pushing beyond the mainstream with stories about transgender issues, bisexuality, drag and comics that present a wide diversity of LGBT experience from autobiography to fantasy and from humor to horror.
What are some of Prism’s ongoing programs/projects?
Prism has an active website—www.prismcomics.org—with news of the LGBT comic world, editorials, special features and a large listing of LGBT comics creators and their work. Through the website fans and creators can network; readers can find new books; librarians and educators can search for material for schools and libraries; writers can look for artists; artists can find inkers or colorists; creators starting out can seek information from other creators. The Prism website also has an online store where indie creators can sell their works.
Prism does outreach through appearances at comic conventions such as San Diego Comic-Con, New York Comic-Con, Emerald City in Seattle, The Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco and more. Prism presents panel discussions at conventions on a variety of subjects with many of the top LGBT and LGBT-friendly comic creators in the business.
And Prism is the only organization in the comics industry that provides an annual financial grant to aspiring comics creators—The Prism Comics Queer Press Grant. Every day there are new artists and writers creating LGBT comics and stories. Even with the internet, web comics and print-on-demand, it is still difficult and expensive for independent comic creators to get their comics into the hands of readers. The Queer Press Grant helps self-publishing LGBT comic book creators accomplish this goal.
Any future projects we should know about?
We’ve just announced the opening of submissions for the 2013 Prism Comics Queer Press Grant. Information on how creators can submit their works in progress is online at prismcomics.org. The deadline for proposals is Tuesday, September 3, 2013. The recipient of the Grant will be announced at the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco October 12 – 13, 2013.
In what ways do you feel the LGBT literary community can support Prism and its mission?
The two main ways the LGBT literary community can support Prism and LGBT comics is by
1) Donating to The Queer Press Grant—the Grant is funded primarily by donations from readers, creators with the desire to help those just starting out and fans who want to see more LGBT stories get published. To donate please visit http://prismcomics.org/donate.php
2) Volunteering—Prism is looking for volunteers to help the organization grow in its second decade. Volunteering can be on any level and any time commitment from helping out with Prism at a convention, writing an article for the website, helping with design or computer tech, doing PR and social networking, assisting with fundraising or even having an LGBT comics event in your home town.
How do you conduct outreach to the upcoming generation of comic book creators and writers…particularly artists/writers who are working in fairly new mediums, like the web (web comics).
As mentioned above, Prism does outreach through its website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, YouTube videos, networking with other comics, literary and LGBT organizations, various convention appearances around the country, and special events.
Why do you think comics have such a large LGBT fan base?
Whether one is gay, straight, bi, trans or non-binary, comics and graphic novels are a very accessible medium. They can be entertaining, escapist, educational or edifying. Personally, as a gay man, I like seeing LGBT stories and characters in comics. I gravitate towards LGBT comics because I can relate to them. And I like graphics and artwork.
Comics are popular because they are a medium that can combine art and writing in ways that can be magical and affecting. They can appeal to a wide range of people of different ages. The writing and can be simple, complex or both at the same time. Comics are a medium that can adapt to your time frame. Stories can take a few minutes to read and still be deeply satisfying. Or stories can take longer to savor like a good novel.
Do you have a particularly favorite comic book that changed the way you looked at the medium?
Speaking in terms of LGBT comics and graphic novels I would pick four:
Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby was groundbreaking not only in the fact that it was one of the first graphic novels from a major publisher but that it explored both gay issues and racism. Stuck Rubber Baby paved the way for serious, literary subjects to be presented in a graphic format.
In the last few years, I would single out Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home which put an LGBT graphic novel into the forefront with mainstream readers, gaining exceptional reviews, accolades and awards in the literary community and wide public acceptance.
For me Archie Comics introducing Kevin Keller into the Archie universe was a courageous, major step in bringing LGBT characters, stories and subjects to younger people in mainstream comics. The fact that the Kevin Keller comics and stories have proven very popular and received praise shows that progress is being made towards acceptance of our community.
And last but not least, there is an anthology book coming out from Northwest Press at Comic-Con 2013 (July 18-21) called Anything That Loves: Comics Beyond Gay or Straight. This book is one of the first graphic books to explore bisexuality and people who don’t identify as “gay” or “straight”. The book was created and edited by Charles “Zan” Christensen, one of the founders and past presidents of Prism Comics, and looks to be an important new work. And part of the proceeds from the book will go towards supporting Prism Comics.
These books didn’t necessarily change the way I look at the medium, but they do make you realize how the comics’ medium can be used in powerful ways.
Each artist and writer has his or her own style, his or her own voice. For me the possibilities of the medium are endless. With all the recent changes happening in attitudes towards the LGBT community in the U.S., I look forward to what LGBT and LGBT-friendly comic book creators have in store for us comic fans in the future