Charlie Says: Why the Representation of Non-Binary Characters in Comics Matters!

Charlie-SaysLadies, gentlemen and others. The representation of non-binary genders is seriously lacking in the comic-book world and it needs addressing. While, yes, non-binary gender is in the minority, it would be great to have more openly non-binary characters than what is currently on offer. And none of this ‘hinting’ that somebody may or may not be non-binary. It has to be canon.

Representation matters. It’s exhausting constantly being misgendered, despite explaining (what feels like a million times) that “I do not identify as either a man or a woman, please use gender neutral pronouns”. Can we get beyond what set of genitals somebody was born with? Sometimes it feels like that is more important than what is going on in somebody’s head or their actions.

So how can comic books carry out some representative goodness? Well, take a look at the new Deadman comic: Dark Mansion Of Forbidden Love. From the second page we have a non-binary character, Sam. Our main protagonist, Berenice, is considerate enough to think about Sam in gender-neutral pronouns.

And to be honest, this one little aside adds another layer of shine to the whole feel of the comic book. A gothic horror at heart, with all the haunted-mansion-mystery you could shake a stick at, we learn that Berenice has been able to see the dead since she was a baby, and keeps that side of herself a secret. She also says that houses with names, such as her home of Glencourt, are a big no-no because a place with history always has death.

deadmanLater on, once Berenice and Deadman team up and start investigating the house (while having a discussion about consent of being possessed, even if it is to do good), we see that Deadman is progressive enough to switch to gender-neutral terms, as well, when talking about Sam. Sarah Vaughan has dedicated two panels of the comic to this one small detail. So, not only do we have a super-easy way to represent the non-binary through the use of gender-neutral pronouns, we also show traits about other characters too. That they are accepting of people and try. Take a bow, Sarah Vaughan for all these layers in just two panels!

It’s not rocket science when writing these characters. Please don’t think you have to make a big deal to your readers that a character identifies as non-binary, or that you have to dedicate half the page count to explaining how or why. Just take a leaf out of Berenice’s book: “They’re non-binary, not a woman or a man. Just awesome.” It’s the subtle that always makes a bigger impact, the little details that will catch people’s attention. Just a sentence will do.

And on the flip side, the character design can still fit in with the overall tone and direction of the book. Lan Medina (illustrator) and José Villarrubia (colour artist) have done just this. Sam dresses androgynously, with dapper little touches that speak volumes about their career as an antiques dealer. There’s none of this androgyny that leans more towards cutesy femininity than neutral. No, Sam is an adult and has dressed appropriately for the weather and season, while still maintaining their person of non-binary presentation.

How else can the comic-book industry include more non-binary voices? How about hiring some non-binary creators who can use their own voices as part of a creative project. Please, let’s start stepping away from the binary way of thinking that permeates society, because it is soul destroying when people try to put you into one box or another, when all you want to do is express yourself on your own terms, in your own way. So, ladies, gentlemen and others, let’s start pushing boundaries and being more inclusive!

You can purchase Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love from ComiXology for £3.99 and if you want to let Charlie know what your thoughts on non-binary representation, then tweet her @tinytinysquid