Written by Jeff Rose
Discussions on the importance of LGBTQ+ representation and accurate media portrayals and novel adaptations continue to dominate much of literary culture today. Neil Gaiman and N. K. Jemisin recently talked about these issues in a discussion posted on LitHub.
As someone who read Gaiman’s The Sandman as a teenager, it was inspiring to see the way his work continues to influence new writers like Jemisin. Like Jemisin, I fell in love with American comics because of The Sandman. Gaiman’s comic showed me how impactful visual storytelling can be and how much of a literary art form it is.
It struck at my heartstrings to see Gaiman and Jemisin talking about the importance of queer representation in literature and media today. As a gay teenager reading The Sandman series, I saw a lot of queer characters that I could relate to and connect with. Gaiman’s choice to include LGBTQ+ characters—especially during a time when these people and experiences weren’t frequently written about—was vital to so many people. In his discussion with Jemisin, Gaiman mentions how many people were confused by his choice to include queer characters, but would later write to Gaiman devastated by what happened to them. It just goes to show the importance of accurate portrayals and how exposure to non-heteronormative characters educates people and instills a sense of empathy.
To this day, I still haven’t finished the last chapter of The Sandman comics because of how much I wanted it to not end, to continue living on within me. This is the only media I have purposefully not finished because of its impact on me; that’s how vital representation combined with good storytelling was for me. However, with the announcement of new spin-off comic series in The Sandman universe, I will return to the comics and rightfully finish them off.
While some of his representations can be a bit dated (Sandman came out thirty years ago), Gaiman does a good job of portraying queer characters based on real people he was friends with. He used his privilege as a white man to bring up much-needed discussions of race, gender, sexuality, and more. Jemisin mentions her discovery of these comics and how it helped shape her as a writer at a time when so many people needed Gaiman’s work. This is evident in the many science-fiction novels she’s written that blend magic and science as they tackle themes of dreams, sexuality, and race.
I will need to turn to my copy of Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, which sits in my pile of TBR books I’ve bought, and read it soon. Her work featured queer representations, but in an unspoken way, and has won a Hugo Award for best novel. It’s exciting to see relatively new writers being influenced by Gaiman, an all-time favorite writer of mine. It’s thanks to writers like Gaiman and Jemisin who set out bravely to defy conventions that contributes so much to our increasingly diverse and representational literary culture today.