Many early webcomics were notoriously a mishmash of genres and themes. Undoubtedly this trend was tied to the popularity of “monkey-bacon-ninja” “random” humor that was overbearingly popular at the time. But an equal factor was that webcomics in those days had little chance for mainstream exposure or success. In the absence of pressure to hone a craft or make a commercially viable product, an atmosphere of exploration, experimentation, and subcultural comradery flourished. Many webcomickers chose to ignore traditional genre boundaries, and in doing so created a new genre, which I will call “fantasy soup”.
Those of you who have read my Poppy O’Possum review know that I have strong opinions about coding – the practice of associating fictional characters with real-world groups of people through the use of “coded” traits. That’s a definition that’s almost so broad as to be meaningless, though! So let’s talk more about coding and its relationship to representation.
When I see a poorly-written trans character in fiction, I have a lot of reactions simultaneously. These range from the gut emotional (“wow, this writer hates people like me”) to the technical and intellectual (“wow, this is an ineffective character that detracts from the story”). But one thing I never think is “this character is unrealistic”. Why?
One of the terrific things about the webcomic renaissance of the past five or so years is that more and more stories are being told that include trans characters as central players. But it seems like writers, lacking good examples to follow in other media, still have some difficulty handling their transness within the narrative. Today I’m going to examine some different webcomics with trans representation, the different approaches they use to reveal to the audience that a character is trans, and what the best (and worst) applications of each method are.