Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Joyce Dopkeen/The New York Times
Perry Moore, a comics fan, with his book, “Hero,” about a gay teenage superhero.
The New York Times
September 3, 2007
A Novelist’s Superhero Is Out to Right Wrongs
By GEORGE GENE GUSTINES
Perry Moore has the sinewy physique and golden looks of a California surfer, but get him talking about comics, and he can out-geek the biggest fanatic. He also has the fervor of an activist when discussing the dearth — and occasional shoddy treatment — of gay superheroes in mainstream comic books.
It is an issue close to the heart of Mr. Moore, who is gay, and he has funneled his passion into a young-adult novel. “Hero,” published in hardback last week by Hyperion Teen, tells the story of Thom Creed, coping not only with high school, sexual orientation and a strained home life, but also with his own budding superpowers. In telling Thom’s story, Mr. Moore, like some of the costumed champions he admires, hopes to right some wrongs.
“My publisher did not shy away from my mission,” he said during a recent interview near his home in Greenwich Village. That mission is a multipart endeavor to show gay superheroes in a positive light, to learn from his experiences with his father and to give younger readers a potential role model in Thom.
Mr. Moore, 35, a producer of the “Chronicles of Narnia” film series, said “Hero” began to take shape when he combined the story of his father, William, a Vietnam veteran who received a Bronze Star, with the world of superheroes. Mr. Moore made Thom’s father, Hal, a disgraced superhero, which he saw as an allegory for how some American soldiers were treated upon their return from Vietnam.
Mr. Moore said his father didn’t speak much about his military service. But he did give his son a copy of “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien, which he said captured his experience in Vietnam. The book helped Mr. Moore better understand his father. With “Hero,” the process happened in reverse. Mr. Moore said he was worried about his father’s reaction to it and gave it to him to read last. “He said, ‘Perry, I wasn’t that much of a monster, was I?’ ” Mr. Moore recalled.
He wasn’t. Unlike Thom’s family, Mr. Moore said his had always been supportive, especially when he told his family he was gay. “I feel so bad for kids that don’t have parents in their corner,” he said. His parents didn’t want his life to be harder, Mr. Moore said, and, “they certainly didn’t love me any less.”
He knows that not everyone is so lucky, and that many struggle, as he did, as they come to terms with their sexual identities. “A book like this could’ve saved me when I was young,” he said. Still, “Hero” is not a saccharine fairy tale with male superheroes in matching capes flying arm in arm. Thom struggles with feelings of shame. He’s the target of ugly slurs. And his first kiss has unforeseen repercussions.
But things work out relatively well for him, which makes sense given Mr. Moore’s distaste for how some gay comic-book characters have been treated. His hackles still rise at the death of Northstar, a mutant hero who made headlines in 1992 when he uttered the words “I am gay” in the pages of a Marvel comic.
In 2005 Northstar was killed by a brainwashed Wolverine, which enraged Mr. Moore. He thought the murder of Marvel’s biggest gay hero by one of its most popular characters (in comics, films and merchandising) sent the wrong message.
“I thought I was going to have to stop buying comics,” he said, but instead, “I waged my own little jihad.” He visited a comic store armed with Post-it notes, which he affixed to copies of the “Wolverine” series (first on the covers, then, more slyly, on interior pages). They asked questions like “Can there be a gay superhero?” “Homophobic?” and “Ask yourself: equal rights?”
Death is rarely final in comics, so it’s no surprise that Northstar came back to life. “They couldn’t bother to mention he was gay,” Mr. Moore said of Northstar’s most recent appearance in “X-Men.”
Taking a cue from Gail Simone, a comic-book writer who first gained notice as a fan with her Web site, “Women in Refrigerators” (unheardtaunts.com/wir), detailing the mistreatment of female heroes, Mr. Moore created his own tally. “Who Cares About the Death of a Gay Superhero?,” which he has delivered as a speech, includes more than 60 gay and lesbian comic book characters who have been ignored, maimed or murdered.
“Yes, bad things do happen to all people,” he wrote in it. “But are there positive representations of gay characters to counterbalance these negative ones?”
Not nearly enough, Mr. Moore said, and that’s one reason he wrote “Hero,” for which he already has ideas for future installments. He will juggle work on Thom’s story with other projects, including the second “Narnia” film and the recently wrapped “Lake City,” a drama with Sissy Spacek. He wrote and directed “Lake City” with Hunter Hill, his life partner, who is also the executive director and associate publisher of Paper magazine.
“There’s a lot left to tell in the future books,” Mr. Moore said. There will be more about the disappearance of Thom’s mother, he said, and about “his relationship with Goran,” a high school athlete he has romantic feelings for.
Goran’s name came from two real people. The tennis player Goran Ivanisevic, Mr. Moore recalled, once used an anti-gay slur at a news conference to describe a linesman. Mr. Moore said he thought it sweet revenge to use his first name for the gay character. The other inspiration was the actor Goran Visnjic, or, as Mr. Moore put it, “the guy on ‘ER’ who is smoking hot.”