Have you ever noticed how subversive cartoons can be? Beneath the colorful, innocent hijinks of talking animals and slapstick hide some rather serious issues. Recently, this has become more obvious (three cheers for Pixar!), but it’s always been there, and there’s always been an unspoken acknowledgment of it. Cartoons and comics are “allowed” to deal with issues that the mass entertainment industry can’t explicitly talk about. Like, for instance, homosexuality. What’s that? You can’t think of any gay cartoon characters? Well, my friend, you need to read between the lines. As an openly gay man myself, I try to keep a sense of humor about the entire issue, and it tickles me to spot or at least imagine the secret gays in children’s entertainment. So....at the risk of offending people and/or destroying your childhood (hah, as if I give a shit!), here are my own picks for secretly or not-so-secretly gay characters in cartoons and comic strips.
DANG-BLASTED’S TOP TEN CARTOON CHARACTERS WHO ARE GAY (OR AT LEAST MIGHT BE)
DISCLAIMER: I’m avoiding openly gay characters because it’d be too obvious a list. Anyway, it’s more fun to speculate and form dumb theories than to have it spelled out. Sorry, Jasper from Family Guy, but I’m rooting around in the closet and you’re so far out of it that you’re in a whole ’nother house.
AND ANOTHER TIRESOME DISCLAIMER: You may notice some seemingly obvious names missing from the list. This is because I’m sticking with cartoons and comics that I myself watch, or have watched in the past. My upbringing lacked certain staples of children’s entertainment (no Cartoon Network, for instance), and I can’t speculate on characters I’ve never seen. So if you’re angered by the absence of, say, Snagglepuss, or Ren and Stimpy, write your own damn list.
Bugs Bunny (Looney Tunes)
We’re going in alphabetical order here, so what luck to begin with the king of queens (snicker)! Yeah, let’s just get this out of the way: Bugs Bunny is gayer than strawberry cheesecake. You know it’s true, people. No one flirts like Bugs. The whole time he was outwitting folks like Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, or Gossamer the big orange monster (yes, that thing’s name was Gossamer for some reason), the bunny was totally playing the vixen. Lest we forget, that long-eared cocktease was prone to dressing up in women’s clothing and seducing his antagonist. He did that....a whole lot. A whoooooole lot. And from a 21st-century perspective, it’s a pretty clear calling card. Plus, for such a cool customer, Bugs never had a girlfriend. You say: what about Lola Bunny from Space Jam? I say: FUCK YOU, THAT MOVIE IS NOT CANON. I’m talking about old-school Bugs, the way he was before he had a big corporate hand jammed up his ass. Although he might have enjoyed that, because he’s gay, gay, gay. And not even subtle about it!
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
I see you scratching your heads. Gaston? But he was the most manly, macho, misogynist, male-chauvenist douchebag Disney has ever cranked out! There’s a whole musical number devoted to his crude, rude masculinity! Yeah, but look at the guy. Isn’t he the prettiest, most spotless and well-groomed lout you’ve ever seen? Aren’t his pants weirdly tight? And as for that hairy chest, well, I imagine plenty of Bears out there would swoon. Yeah, Gaston is constantly trying to get his hands on Belle, but it’s clear he wants her as a trophy above all else, another attractive trinket he can stick in his living room along with all the dead animal scalps. Is he even sexually interested? I smell repression! How many right-wing creeps are currently getting caught in public with rent boys? In 18th-century France (or whenever the hell Beauty and the Beast takes place), people didn’t even know what homosexuality was, so if you were male and liked manflesh, you damn well stayed mum about it. And maybe....overcompensated by being extra-masculine? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm, Gaston. I’m looking at you and your perfectly plucked eyebrows.
“Itchy” Itchiford (All Dogs Go to Heaven)
I recently had one of those revelations you get when re-watching something for the first time since childhood. In this case, I saw All Dogs Go to Heaven and couldn’t help but think: Is Itchy the dachshund totally gay for his best friend, Charlie the German shepherd, or is it just me? To be fair, Charlie is voiced by Burt Reynolds, who I suspect a lot of straight guys would go gay for. And Itchy is the quintessential faithful sidekick, always at Charlie’s side. But he also spends the entire film trying to convince Charlie that the two of them should run off together and start a new life in some quiet, picturesque hideaway. Uh....wow, Itchy, why don’t you just whip out an engagement ring? I personally think it’s adorable and kind of touching. Late in the film, Itchy has this big, angry “Because I’m your friend!” speech, and if you just replace “I’m your friend” with a different three-word phrase, well, it sounds way too right. Ahhh, unrealized love. Also, note Charlie’s line at the end, after he dies: “Take care of Itchy. Ya know, just while I’m gone....he doesn’t have anybody.” Wow, I’m crying for reasons Don Bluth probably never intended. Someone find Itchy a new boyfriend, pronto!
Jughead Jones (Archie)
The Archie comics have changed their image as the decades have passed, but they’ve always tried to maintain that sense of innocence from way back in the 1940s and ’50s. One such product of a more naive time is Archie’s best buddy, Jughead Jones, and his mysterious aversion to girls. Jughead is literally phobic of his female peers, and goes to extreme measures to avoid contact. Now, I realize that he’s hardly your typical gay guy: he dresses like a slob, gobbles hamburgers, cares nothing for his own image, etc. But, hey, we’re supposedly enlightened folks trying to move beyond cultural stereotypes, aren’t we? Who says Jughead can’t be gay and also look like something the cat dragged in? Some might argue that he cultivates a beatnik image and is simply too cool for romance, but I’m pretty sure that his fear of breasts and vaginas is deeply ingrained. Also, know what his real name is? Forsythe. No man named Forsythe can be straight. It’s like a law or something. So I wish Jughead well in life, and hope he matures enough to become the Cool Gay Friend to a bunch of lovely ladies.
You know something’s gotta give when you’re dealing with a cartoon show starring a group of well-muscled men (well, manlike creatures) in loincloths. To be fair, the ladies of Gargoyles were smoking hot as well, but not all our Y-chromosomed heroes were paying attention. Hi, Lexington! Although he was never overly flamboyant, there was always a fey quality to the smallest gargoyle’s personality; his reedy voice and puppy-like body language conveyed both an intense need to please and a streak of insolence. In other words, Lex was a total Bottom, if you know what I mean. I’ll not melt your minds too much by debating the possibilities of sexual experimentation among immature gargoyles, but I’m wondering what little Lexington was made to do for his larger rookery brothers, and how much it might have secretly intrigued him. Think I’m sick? Well, guess what, bitch, Lexington is the one character on this list who’s confirmed. As Gargoyles fans know, series creator Greg Weisman revealed that Lex is indeed gay, but due to his relative youth, he hasn’t realized it yet. Oh, he is gonna be fun when he comes out. He even has a potential future boyfriend, Staghart of the British gargoyles. I picture them sitting atop Big Ben, cuddling. D’awwwww. And all this in a freakin’ Disney product!
I know, I know, this one’s way too easy. But I had to put a woman on this list somewhere! As everyone knows, Marcie is the spacey sidekick to Peppermint Patty, a wallflower who never leaves PP’s side and calls her “sir” all the time. Now, I doubt that Charles Schulz ever imagined Marcie as having a crush on PP; the whole “sir” thing was merely intended to be a weird idiosyncrasy of a character who seemed to be living in her own little universe. But Marcie’s zoned-out demeanor makes her very appealing, and it’s easy to place her as the third peg in a triangle along with Peppermint Patty and Charlie Brown. There’s an awful lot of unrequited love in Peanuts, so it is that much of a stretch to believe that Marcie feels an innocent, childlike attraction to the tomboyish Peppermint Patty? I doubt PP feels the same way -- she’s too obsessed with Charlie Brown -- but maybe one day, Marcie will come to terms with her Sapphic urges and find a true girlfriend, probably at Sarah Lawrence or some such place. A woman she can love and cherish and address as “sir” without being blown off....
Opus (Bloom County, etc.)
Our next character holds the unique distinction of being the star of three different newspaper comics over the years. Opus the penguin first appeared in the early 1980s and was featured in Bloom County, Outland, and Opus, all created by cartoonist Berkeley Breathed. He (Opus, that is) is a humble fellow who enjoys fish heads, long walks, philosophy, and wearing hats with fruit on them. In short, suspiciously effete. Opus’s mannerisms and thoughtful, poetic personality make him lovable, but you gotta admit, he’s hardly macho. I do feel like he’s become a bit more heterosexual in recent years, but back in his Bloom County days, well....he broke off an engagement to a hot chick once, and another time, he was actually suspected of being a female in disguise. And, let’s see, he’s obsessed with self-image, polite to a fault, adored by women without being desired by them, a mommy’s boy, carries an umbrella when it’s not raining, and has a crush on Diane Sawyer. See? Every single clue points to Opus being a man’s man! Well....except for the fish heads.
Scar (The Lion King)
This guy’s the reason I started this list in the first place. I dunno when I first realized that Scar was gay, but once I saw, I could not unsee. LOOK at him, for crying out loud! He’s clearly more interested in being queen than king! Everything about him is flamboyant, from his stylishly emaciated frame to his mincing walk to his flowing black ’do. In fact, I swear he’s wearing makeup. Jeremy Irons voices the fratricidal feline with a delicious drawl, and totally gets into the vampy mood; just listen to him utter the word “Sen-SAY-tional!” as Scar gives his mane a sexy toss during his big musical number. Said musical number (“Be Prepared”) is choreographed like Busby Berkeley from hell, and I’m sure Scar wouldn’t have it any other way. His resentment towards his brother and nephew take on a new twist when you imagine him as the ostracized queer of the family. Not that I’m advocating sympathy for Scar; he’s evil through and through. But he can take his place alongside the great bitches of cinema. Move over, Tim Curry; you’ve been out-vamped by a guyliner-sporting quadruped. It was my revelation about Scar’s fabulousness that led me to start spotting other cartoon gays, and so I owe him one.
Timon (The Lion King)
Good lord, another character from The Lion King?! Well, you gotta admit, the movie’s a bit of a sausage-fest. So while all the lionesses are busy being unimportant, Simba is chilling in a three-way bromance with Pumbaa the warthog and Timon the meerkat, the latter of whom sends my gaydar a-bleeping. It’s not just that he’s voiced by the gloriously gay Nathan Lane. It’s not just that, like Bugs Bunny, he performs best in drag. It’s that he is so obviously crushing on the handsome hunk of lion who becomes his surrogate kid brother. Like Itchy, Timon gets way too jealous when someone else, especially someone female, enters the picture. His dismay and resentment when Simba and Nala went romping romantically through the dewdrops was rich enough to spread on toast. Poor Timon; after years of just the well-meaning but malodorous Pumbaa for company, he gets someone as dreamy as Simba, only to lose him. Yeah, it’s more comic than tragic, but still. Come to think of it, there’s a lot of adult subtext to The Lion King, isn’t there. All these themes of alienation and not knowing your place in the world. I mean, meerkats are among the most social of creatures, and yet Timon has absolutely no interaction with his own species. What would drive a charismatic young male to leave his home and family, totally severing contact and.....................oh.
I’m a tad dubious about this last one, but since Scott Adams’ comic strip skewers pretty much every aspect of humanity, why not gays as well? Wally is the coworker of Dilbert (“friend” is too strong a word in the übercynical universe of this comic), and something about him makes me wonder. He’s been married, is now single, and seems to view sexuality with dry, apathetic amusement. Sometimes he drops hints that he’s bicurious, and it’s impossible to tell if he’s just fucking with Dilbert’s head or not. Overall, Wally acts like he’s in on some big joke that everyone else isn’t, and is having fun at their expense. If he seems too small, ugly, and bland to be gay, keep in mind that Dilbert is all about being crushed by a faceless corporate behemoth and fighting back in small yet satisfying ways. If Wally’s gay, he didn’t realize it until he was already trapped in cubicle hell, so now he’s treating his closeted sexuality like a big prank played on the world. It’s what keeps him sane. I suspect he has an absolutely nutso fantasy life at home (which could partially explain his divorce), and is just waiting to retire and turn into a shorter, more potbellied Ian McKellen. Only then will the true Wally emerge...and when he does, we’d better cover our asses....literally. Oh, snap!