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
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.