COMIC RELIEF

SUPER, GIRL!  | For C.D. Kirven, the colored pencil is mightier than the sword, as she draws images for her activist comic book, background, which features a lesbian black hero. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Local activist C.D. Kirven hopes to open eyes with her first gay superhero of color (any resemblance to Eva Mendez is purely intentional)

RICH LOPEZ  |  Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Comic book geeks know Storm, Steel and the Falcon as superheroes of color who fight crime and world domination by evil menaces. But among these iconic heroes in the comic universe, C.D. Kirven noticed something missing that maybe many regular readers didn’t — none were gay.

You might be familiar with Kirven in her political activism. She’s loud and proud about gay rights and is one of the founders of the local activist group Get Equal Now. Her work extends beyond Dallas, writing articles for national websites and blogs. Kirven was even arrested in Washington, D.C., for her actions, and protested “don’t ask, don’t tell” in front of the office of former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

But adding to the list of accomplishments — author, filmmaker and educator — is comic book maven. And as Kirven’s life is impassioned by gay rights, so too is her comic. Yet, The Tao Diaries is actually her escape from activism — even though it may not seem like it.

“I know, in my heart, the world is big enough for all types of people, but to open up the fantasy world of comic books to the possibility of LGBT acceptance will change the world in a very positive way,” she says. “Tao is the first black lesbian butch superhero ever. The first one! I’m excited about that.”

Kirven created a detailed back-story for the character of Tao, so try to keep up: Her father is a billionaire shoe company owner of Chinese-British descent, while her mother is an African-American dancer who hails from Brazil. When her parents were killed, Tao was raised by monks who trained her in martial arts. And she’s a police crime sketch artist by day.

Initially, it sounds a little out there, but think about the origins of the Hulk, Superman or Rogue. This background is indicative of Kirven’s approach — all or nothing.

“Any real change starts with me,” she says. “Perhaps people can read this and say to themselves, ‘I can be in this world and be a hero and matter.’ I have to do my part. Even if I am a poor, black gay woman in Texas, I want to change the world a little bit at a time.”

Kirven finds the need to make change where she can, even if not through direct activism. With Diaries, not only did she create the first gay female superhero of color, she figures LGBT youth will look past the pages to see opportunity. With her grassroots approach that includes self-publishing along with writing and illustrating, Kirven could be a sort of beacon.

“If there are any LGBT youth reading this article who like comics and are talented, they should dream big and know anything is possible,” she says. “You could be the one to create the first nationally accepted gay superhero. Don’t let the ignorance of a few stop you from living out your dreams.”

When you ask Kirven about her Diaries, she starts a non-stop monologue that easily derails from the comic book into social issues. She throws out statistics faster than a speeding bullet. She details the imbalance of LGBT, black and Latino communities against an Anglo-male dominated society. She discusses the plight of younger generations not seeing themselves on TV shows or on movies or magazines.

“Unless they are Wanda Sykes-famous it looks hopeless because the most of the youth committing suicide now are of color,” she says. “How can we as adults tell children it’s gonna get better when it’s not? It’s not stopping the bleeding.”

She weaves a fabric of news and current events back into her work on the comic book. When Kirven finally delves into what drives her work in this medium, it’s a combination of both her activism and her self-proclaimed nerdiness.

“What most people don’t know about me is that I’m actually a geek,” she admits. “I grew up watching Christopher Reeve as Superman and freaked out over Jessica Alba in Fantastic Four. You’d have to be dead not to look at her.”

But it’s the presence of an LGBT voice in comics that pushes her. In a recent interview with the web site ComicAttack.net, she criticized mainstream publishers for their portrayals of gay characters, despite a growing number of them over the past years, such as DC’s Batwoman and Marvel’s Northstar.

Zeus Comics’ gay owner, Richard Neal, adds that writers like Kirven create this LGBT community in comic universes. Despite the big name publishers and their out characters, gay aspects continue to be driven by a more independent scene.

“DC or Marvel aren’t on the forefront for this,” he says. “Most comics that feature LGBT storylines or characters are self-published and people like her get their stuff out there and get people asking for it. The best places for her are comic conventions where people meet her or if she’s on a site like PrismComics.org.”

“I don’t believe we’ve had any fully developed LGBT characters in mainstream comics,” Kirven said in her interview. “Like most media, intolerance is a universally accepted practice. In television, film, music and news reporting, LGBT subject matter is often neglected due to religious opposition. This allows superficial stereotypes to become the face of our community. This is extremely unfortunate because I believe everyone has an LGBT person in their lives.”

And if they don’t, they can turn to Tao. Mixed-race, lesbian and tough, the book follows her trials as she battles Corporeal, King of the Living Dead, who killed her lover Bliss (who looks, not coincidentally, a lot like Eva Mendes).  Kirven keeps the story simple, pitting basic good against evil without overdone government conspiracy storylines and real life drama mixed into a fantasy world. Tao uses her Capoeria fighting technique to kick ass against Corporeal, his sidekick Mink and armies of evil spirits inhabiting human beings.

Life is pretty tough for Tao — and Kirven can relate.

“As a poor kid from South Dallas, it wasn’t a pretty existence,” she says. “So, fantasy came in handy. Now, I just want to do my little bit to make an impact and provide some escape.”

Besides, she has to get back to her activist work for gay rights. Clearly Kirven has no secret identity in her heroic efforts.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 14, 2011.

—  John Wright

AIDS activists file complaint against Larry Flynt

JOHN ROGERS  |  Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — An AIDS activist group filed a workplace safety complaint against Larry Flynt on Thursday, Aug. 26, accusing the porn king of creating an unsafe environment for his stable of sex stars by not requiring they use condoms.

To illustrate its point, the AIDS Health Foundation also delivered 100 DVDS of hardcore Flynt films to the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s Los Angeles office. Only a single scene in one of the films shows a performer using a condom, said AHF spokesman Ged Kenslea.

The films, most with innuendo-laden names, “clearly demonstrate workplace activities highly likely to spread bloodborne pathogens in the workplace,” the complaint says. It urges the state agency to order the use of condoms on film sets.

Larry Flynt Productions President Michael Klein indicated that is an unreasonable demand, adding porn audiences don’t want to watch people using condoms.

“We won’t budge when it comes to condomless productions,” he said in a statement. “That’s what the consumer wants, and we deliver it.”

Federal law requires that all porn actors be tested for HIV 30 days before the start of filming, and Klein said Flynt’s productions adhere to those standards. He added that none of the company’s actors has ever tested positive for HIV.

AHF President Michael Weinstein said his group targeted Flynt in part because he is arguably the world’s most famous and successful pornographer. Hours before filing the complaint, AHF members, clad in bright red shirts, demonstrated outside the plush Beverly Hills skyscraper that is home to Larry Flynt Productions.

Earlier this year, the group brought similar complaints against nine talent agencies it says promote actors willing to have unprotected sex on camera. Cal-OSHA spokeswoman Krisann Chasarik said Thursday those complaints prompted an investigation, although she didn’t know the status of it.

Depending on the nature of a complaint, Chasarik said, Cal-OSHA can launch a workplace inspection or ask that an employer prove the complaint is groundless.

“Our next step now would be to evaluate the complaint,” she said of Thursday’s filing.

According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, workers in the adult film industry are 10 times more likely to be infected with a sexually transmitted disease than members of the general population. The department documented 2,013 cases of chlamydia and 965 cases of gonorrhea among workers between 2003 and 2007, and noted that some performers had four or more separate infections over the course of a year.

As many as 25 industry-related cases of HIV have been reported since 2004, the department said.

—  John Wright