By Cornelius A. Fortune
Phil Jimenez, whose work as an artist on such critically praised projects as DC Comics’ “Infinite Crisis,” “Otherworld,” and “Wonder Woman,” was once a stand-in for actor Toby Maguire.
Remember the scene in “Spider-Man” where Peter Parker’s trying to design his first Spidey costume? Well … that was Jimenez’s hand.
Now, he’s got his first Spider-Man comic book being released on Free Comic Book Day (May 5). The 36-year-old teaches classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York and is busy working on numerous comic projects. He says that LGBT readers should embrace the medium.
“What do comics offer my community? There are a couple answers: many, many comic characters at their heart are outsiders, so on some level there is a certain amount of relate-ability,” said Jimenez. “There’s a certain appeal for gay people, because they can take these sort of outside characters – these masked closeted characters – and sort of come out of the closet and put on their costume. Basically many characters’ secret identity can easily be read as closets.”
Jimenez also noted that there are certain characters who have always appealed to gay people, particularly female ones.
“They’re big, they’re flamboyant, and do these extraordinary things. As a community, it’s the most diverse collection of people anywhere in terms of gender, ethnicity, age (and) interest,” said Jimenez. “I’ve met so many gay people who like comics that it just suggests to me that there’s something inherent in the material that crosses all sorts of lines, from straight to gay, from man to woman, the spirit of adventure is appealing if you are straight or gay.”
One of his favorite comic book characters is Wonder Woman. She fascinates and inspires Jimenez. Some in and out of the LGBT community have latched onto this concept that Princess Diana (Wonder Woman), who hails from Paradise Island (an island of women warriors) is a lesbian. He disagrees.
“Any attempt to try to sexualize Wonder Woman comes off a little icky. Because of my perception of that character as teacher figure and mentor, her sex life is secondary to me, in terms of interest,” he said. “I’m fascinated by her mission, what she’s trying to teach, what she’s trying to accomplish, and I wish more gay people were, because we’re such a diverse community we could actually do that.”
It is the message that she brings that appeals most to him, and he believes that the gay community possesses the same ability to transform the world, and it’s for that reason he doesn’t “hyper-sexualize” her.
“I see her as a figure of change. But I think I’m in the minority. I think a lot of people – including gay men and probably some women – just want to see her go out there and kick the ass of villains. I just think she’s built for more than that.”
Free Comic Book Day is an opportunity for the industry to show off its best, and hopefully bring new readers aboard. Still, there’s a divide between comic book concepts and the stapled pamphlets that spanned them.
“We might have to readjust the delivery system. How, when, and where we consume comics should change. Like ‘Heroes’ to me is interesting because it’s essentially a comic book on TV and it’s getting 14 million viewers a week,” Jimenez said. “So that tells me that the material is exciting and interesting to people, we just have to figure out how to get it in their hands. Once upon a time our stories told adventure we couldn’t see on TV and film, and now you can, so what do we have? What are we selling exactly?”
Jimenez hopes that the current trend in superheroes being humanized will change.
“We’re in a sort of everyman kind of phase for characters,” he said. “I personally don’t want everyman. I want my heroes to be better than I am. I want heroes to aspire to, not heroes that I can be.”