Queer Comics
Writing, Criticism, Lady Oscar and The Roses of Versailles
By Hervé St-Louis
February 18, 2013 - 17:11

It was some time in the early to mid 1990s. I don’t remember the year, but I remember the place on the second floor of a novelty and gift shop in Montreal’s tiny Chinatown. There I saw it. All 12 volumes of The Rose of Versailles in Chinese script translated from the original Japanese. The shop sold each book for $10. Although I was a starving undergraduate student with little discretionary income, I bought all the books that day and never regretted it. I still have them. I can barely read them. Most were damaged in a water leak along with many prized comic books and graphic novels a few years ago. The Rose of Versailles was about Oscar François de Jarjayes, a fictional colonel serving the French royal guards under King Louis XVI and his famous wife Queen Marie-Antoinette. The story is set just before the French Revolution of 1789 and chronicles Jarjayes’s conflicting loyalty as the commander of the French royal guard. A close friend of Marie-Antoinette, Oscar was torn by an awakening reluctance for working under a bankrupt monarchy where the lower classes suffered.

The twist of Oscar François de Jarjayes's fictional story was that he was a woman. He was a transgender woman whose father had raised and educated as a boy after rebelling against the birth of his sixth daughter. To her family, Oscar was a woman but to the world around him, Oscar was a man. This classic manga series by Japanese cartoonist Riyoko Ikeda had been adapted as an animated series with translations in French and Italian. The cartoon series was extremely popular with kids of my generation in French Canada. We all watched it. My interest in the complex story of Lady Oscar, as she was called in the French animated series, drove me to research the French Revolution in high school. I borrowed every book on the French Revolution at the school’s library. I knew about Robespierre and his Terror. Later in university, I marvelled at the French revolutionary paintings of Jacques-Louis David such as The Death of Jean-Paul Marat, a famous demagogue during the Revolution. In history classes, I thoroughly read the history of the Revolution as written by Simon Schama in his seminal book Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution.

La Mort de Marat (The Death of Marat)
My interests in secondary characters from Lady Oscar also led me to study the Habsburg dynasty, the family from which Marie-Antoinette hailed. I studied Austrian and German history with a passion, even learning basic German during my undergraduate years. My interest in German and Austrian history influenced an important comic book project called The German Cousin begun while an undergraduate student. Hints of versions of this project can be found on this site if one knows where to look. All of this passionate love of history was awakened by a fictional transgender character.

I’ve been meaning to write about the The Rose of Versailles but decided not to after discussing this briefly with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) columnist J. Skyler. Skyler had advises for me on how to discuss a topic related to a transgender character that would not offend LGBT audiences. The advice was constructive but it curtailed my interest on the topic. It felt like walking on egg shells and I decided to abandon the idea of sharing my passion for Lady Oscar. I didn’t want to write something that would offend Skyler or transgender visitors.

Skyler has left ComicBookBin and will be writing about LGBT topics in the same capacity elsewhere. She is a good writer and the entire team wanted me to do my best to keep her with us. Editor-in-chief Andy Frisk was very caring and concerned about Skyler.

Passion is a problem I run through often and that has affected ComicBookBin and made my peers here and elsewhere question my judgment a few times. I still see ComicBookBin as my personal playground and will often play rocket scientist and forget my original mission to groom it as a destination beyond my person. I tend to forget that many writers and visitors are more passionate about ComicBookBin than me. Andy and many of the writers here know me quite well and they know that behind this passion that fuels ComicBookBin, there is a ruthless J.J. Jameson type. I often shoot first and ask questions later. ComicBookBin exists today because it’s fuelled by pure passion. Some of that passion may be toxic. Perhaps it’s time ComicBookBin was fueled by more than passion.

At ComicBookBin, writers criticize one another, through rebuttal articles or parallel reviews of the same material. Many publications promote a single perspective in their editorial coverage. This is not something we have done in the past. Some have perceived this as unprofessional. ComicBookBin also maintain that each writers’ opinion is his or her own. Such opinions can be criticized but we do not censor ideas and divergent opinions. Perhaps this is something that should change as well.

I asked Skyler to share her observations on how to write about LGBT topics as a way for her ideas to be seen, while not having to incorporate them officially into ComicBookBin’s writing guide. It was part of our tradition to promote divergent ideas. That was initially perceived as a full endorsement of Skyler’s observations so when I criticized them, it was felt as a betrayal. A better publisher would have handled the situation better by inviting Skyler to suggest changes in our official writing guide. A better publisher would have also asked her privately to rewrite sections of her article that needed more clarity, such as explaining why different sources other than the writer perceived the term “homosexual” derogatorily.

While I rejected Skyler’s guide as the official one for ComicBookBin, observant readers will notice that recent articles by other writers and the last few I’ve written were certainly influenced by Skyler’s suggestions. It seems that our writing guide is being modified informally.

I readily admit that I am more interested in writing about my passion for Lady Oscar than being sensitive to how disenfranchised communities perceive how we write Lady Oscar and topics related to them. I’m used to debating ideas and breaking them down, not being aware of how they affect others. I'll focus on being more aware of consequences of my articles on disenfranchised groups in the future. Meanwhile, Andy Frisk, ComicBookBin’s editor-in-chief for the last year is changing ComicBookBin for the best, while I step back and focus on mechanics, logistics and sensitivity.

I wish Skyler the best of luck and can’t wait for her to one day embark on her own PhD studies.

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