What is the Bifrost Database?
During the closing decades of the 20th Century, young people who suspected they might be gay were offered few positive role models in American popular culture. They certainly did not find gay characters in comic books. For the most part, LGBTQ characters were invisible. The handful of representations that did exist fell into predictable archetypes such as the ‘sissy’ (e.g. Jack Tripper on Three’s Company), the transgender psychopath (e.g., Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs), and the gay best friend (e.g., Sanford in Sex in the City).
The situation has improved in the 21st Century, but we still have a long way to go. One recent study examined the top 100 top-grossing narrative films released each year between 2007 and 2014. Out of 700 movies, only 19 characters were lesbian, gay or bisexual. Not a single character was transgender.
The visibility and complex representation of LGBTQ characters has also been problematic in the world of comic books. From 1954 through 1989, the Comics Code Authority (CCA) explicitly prohibited “illicit sex relations,” “sex perversion,” and stories which undermined the “sanctity of marriage.” Gay characters were also invisible in syndicated newspaper comic strips.
In 1983, John Byrne introduced Jean-Paul Baubier (Northstar) in the superhero comic Alpha Flight. Byrne intended for the character to be gay, but the editor-in-chief (Jim Shooter) forbade him from explicitly acknowledging his sexual orientation. When Northstar was finally allowed to come out in 1992, the development was welcomed by the LGBTQ community and attacked by those on the far right. One tabloid columnist criticized Marvel for introducing a “muscle-bound pansy called Northstar flying around to put the make on Spiderman” arguing, “there is only one way to clean up this sickening comic book. Let’s let some real superheroes like… Captain America… do a little gay-bashing in the next issue and get rid of this Northstar pretty boy once and for all.” Failure to do so, he warned, would result in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… kissing each other and wearing women’s underwear!’
Almost three decades have elapsed since the columnist penned his homohobic tirade and the cultural landscape has changed considerably. We live in a post-Obergerfell world; the right for same-sex couples to marry is protected by the U.S. Constitution. In 2018, more than 153 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender politicians swept to victory as part of the “Rainbow Wave” and Democrat Danica Roem became the first openly transgender state legislator ever elected and seated.
Created by comic book researchers at Trinity University, the Bifrost Database indexes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, pansexual, and asexual comic book characters featured by the top three American comic book publishers: Marvel, DC, and Image Comics. Our goal is to showcase the growing number and improving representation of gay characters in comic books. The site will continue to grow as we add more and more character pages to the database.
If you find the site useful, we would be grateful if you could spread the word and share the link with other comic book fans. We are grateful to Trinity University and The Mellon Undergraduate Research Foundation for helping to make this project a reality.
— Stephen Ford (’21) and Professor Aaron Delwiche