For this month’s dispatch, we thought we’d write about an innovator and an activist in queer fantasy who left us much too soon.
Perry Moore (1971-2011) was an author, screenwriter, and a film director. He was probably best known for The Chronicles of Narnia franchise. Widely regarded as smart, influential, and not incidentally a handsome guy, Moore accumulated an impressive Hollywood resumé by his mid-thirties. Though his work was behind the scenes, he seemed to fit the moniker “golden boy” in a lot of ways.
Moore was also an openly gay man in an industry where, if being gay was not exactly taboo, it certainly wasn’t talked about much. With his credentials, he could have quietly continued as a successful, big budget filmmaker, or separated his activist life from his professional life. But Moore’s twin passions of fantasy and LGBT social justice led him to be a crusader in the entertainment industry. He wasn’t the first person to call out homophobia in Hollywood and comics, but his platform made him an effective champion of the cause.
In media interviews, he spoke often about having been an avid comic book fan since his childhood, and he famously compiled a list for Harper’s Magazine of queer comic book heroes that were written off to horrible fates. This was around the time that Marvel Comics writers killed their X-Men character Northstar, who was widely credited as the first openly gay superhero, a lonely place to be. Moore drew a parallel between anti-gay violence depicted in comics and the prevalence of anti-gay violence in the real world, and he vented his outrage at comics’ creators, sometimes privately and sometimes publicly.
Moore’s work within the industry was admirable, but we especially liked his ‘guerrilla activism.’ In a 2007 New York Times interview, he shared that after Northstar’s murder by Wolverine, he went on a mission to visit comic book shops, armed with post-it notes, and surreptitiously filled the pages of Wolverine issues with slogans such as: “Can there be a gay superhero?” “Homophobic?” and “Ask yourself: equal rights?”
We like that story a lot.
Inspired by his experience as a comic geek growing up without gay role models, Moore wrote the young adult superhero book Hero with the hope of improving the treatment of queer characters. Hero was well-received and won the Lambda Literary Foundation award for Young Adult fiction in 2007. Again, he wasn’t the very first writer to bring non-tragic queer characters to young adult or fantasy literature, but with his social capital, he garnered attention and respect, which likely opened doors for many writers in the queer sci fi and fantasy world.
Our take on Hero is that it’s a fun, well-paced read, probably best enjoyed by comic fans due to its frequent winks to superhero characters and tropes. The main character Thom’s struggle with complex family problems gives the story interesting dimensions. Based somewhat on Moore’s own life, Thom contends with a homophobic, psychically scarred dad who is a Vietnam vet, as well as the challenges of growing up in a working class family in an economically depressed small town. There’s a suspenseful romantic storyline for Thom that is really cute.
Undeniably, through Moore’s activism, the comic world became friendlier toward queer characters. In the years following the release of Hero, Marvel rewrote Northstar and included what was noted as the first same-sex wedding in the comics. Archie Comics created a gay character, and DC Comics developed a gay storyline for Batwoman.
Moore’s much more private battle was with chronic pain from knee and back problems, and he died in 2011 from a lethal overdose of pain-killing drugs. He was thirty-nine years old. He had been working on a follow-up to Hero and possibly a movie. Moore’s death was shocking, tragic, and ironically an example of a gay crusader’s life cut too short like the unjust deletions of queer comics characters he railed against.
One last fun fact about Perry Moore: he co-produced the Spike Jonze-directed 2010 documentary on gay children’s book author Maurice Sendak “Tell Them Anything You Want.”