Remembering Perry Moore

When Hero hit bookstores in 2007, few if any had heard of its author Perry Moore. The hit bestseller was a rarity: a young adult coming-of-age novel about a gay 16 year-old teenage super hero named Thom Creed.

It’s been just a few days and ten years since we lost him.

Photo: Credit: Joyce Dopkeen/The New York Times

Upon its release, the New York Times said of Hero and Moore, “Perry Moore has the sinewy physique and golden looks of a California surfer, but get him talking about comics, and he can out-geek the biggest fanatic. He also has the fervor of an activist when discussing the dearth — and occasional shoddy treatment — of gay superheroes in mainstream comic books. It is an issue close to the heart of Mr. Moore, who is gay, and he has funneled his passion into a young-adult novel. “Hero,” published in hardback last week by Hyperion Teen, tells the story of Thom Creed, coping not only with high school, sexual orientation and a strained home life, but also with his own budding superpowers. In telling Thom’s story, Mr. Moore, like some of the costumed champions he admires, hopes to right some wrongs.

“My publisher did not shy away from my mission,” he said during a recent interview near his home in Greenwich Village. That mission is a multipart endeavor to show gay superheroes in a positive light, to learn from his experiences with his father and to give younger readers a potential role model in Thom.

 

Mr. Moore, 35, a producer of the Chronicles of Narnia film series, said Hero began to take shape when he combined the story of his father, William, a Vietnam veteran who received a Bronze Star, with the world of superheroes. Mr. Moore made Thom’s father, Hal, a disgraced superhero, which he saw as an allegory for how some American soldiers were treated upon their return from Vietnam.

Moore said  said that his hackles still rise at the death of Northstar, a mutant hero who made headlines in 1992 when he uttered the words “I am gay” in the pages of a Marvel comic.

In 2005 Northstar was killed by a brainwashed Wolverine, which enraged Mr. Moore. He thought the murder of Marvel’s biggest gay hero by one of its most popular characters (in comics, films and merchandising) sent the wrong message.

“I thought I was going to have to stop buying comics,” he said, but instead, “I waged my own little jihad.” He visited a comic store armed with Post-it notes, which he affixed to copies of the “Wolverine” series (first on the covers, then, more slyly, on interior pages). They asked questions like “Can there be a gay superhero?” “Homophobic?” and “Ask yourself: equal rights?”

Death is rarely final in comics, so it’s no surprise that Northstar came back to life. “They couldn’t bother to mention he was gay,” Mr. Moore said of Northstar’s most recent appearance in X-Men.

Taking a cue from Gail Simone, a comic-book writer who first gained notice as a fan with her Web site, “Women in Refrigerators” (unheardtaunts.com/wir), detailing the mistreatment of female heroes, Mr. Moore created his own tally. “Who Cares About the Death of a Gay Superhero?,” which he has delivered as a speech, includes more than 60 gay and lesbian comic book characters who have been ignored, maimed or murdered.

“Yes, bad things do happen to all people,” he wrote in it. “But are there positive representations of gay characters to counterbalance these negative ones?”

Not nearly enough, Mr. Moore said, and that’s one reason he wrote Hero, for which he already has ideas for future installments.

Only four short years later, Moore would be dead.

The NY Times, February 18, 2011: Perry Moore, an executive producer of the fantasy movie series The Chronicles of Narnia and the author of Hero, a book about a gay superhero, died on Thursday after being found unconscious in his Greenwich Village apartment. He was 39. A police spokesman, Detective Joseph Cavitolo, said that investigators were waiting for a medical examiner’s report on the cause, but that there was no suspicion of a crime.

Mr. Moore, who was gay, had a more personal mission: although he was glad that comic books had been introducing gay superheroes for some time, he wanted to see them portrayed in a better light. What particularly disturbed him was the death of Northstar, a member of Marvel Comics’ X-Men, whose announcement in a Marvel comic book that he was gay made headlines in 1992. In 2005 Northstar was killed by a brainwashed Wolverine. Mr. Moore said he felt that the murder of Marvel’s biggest gay hero by one of its most popular characters had sent the wrong message.

He began giving speeches in which he cited his own research showing that more than 60 gay and lesbian comic-book characters had been ignored, maimed or murdered.

 

“Yes, bad things do happen to all people,” Mr. Moore said. “But are there positive representations of gay characters to counterbalance these negative ones?” Not enough, he said.

 

So he wrote “Hero” (2007), a novel about Thom Creed, a teenager coping with high school, a strained home life and his budding superpowers as well as his sexual orientation. In May 2008 “Hero” won a Lambda Literary Award as the best novel for young gay and lesbian adults.

Dennis R. Upkins at Black Girl Nerds recently wrote of Moore’s legacy, “An openly gay man who lived and worked with his partner (writer Hunter Hill), Perry was also a devout Christian and very vocal about his faith. In his role as an unapologetic gay Christian executive producer for one of the biggest Christian-themed fantasy movie franchises, Perry’s mere existence was a revolutionary act. He campaigned for LGBTQ equality and fought against injustice. To be a minority, even as a successful privileged white male, and speak out against systemic oppression means to make yourself a target. Perry understood this and still fought for progress.

“The scariest thing in the world is to be told not to speak up,” Perry once told me (see linked Drops of Crimson interview below from 2011). “In college, I took a class on Nazi propaganda, and it’s amazing to see some of the same situations going on now [referring to the political situation at that time]. Hitler was only elected by a third of the vote, and he did that by shaming people for speaking out.”

And speak out Perry did. Case in point, his 2010 “controversial” piece entitled Who Cares About The Death Of A Gay Superhero Anyway?: A History of Gays In Comic Books. Written in the spirit of Gail Simone’s 1999 essay Women in Refrigerators, which shed light on the misogynistic inhumane treatment of female characters as plot devices in comics, Perry wrote the essay to bring awareness to the denigrating portrayals and the disproportionate atrocities that LGBTQ characters also faced in the medium: torture, rape, disembowelment, and gay characters being retconned to heterosexuals. The piece resulted in dialogue and some reform in the comic book industry.

 

“I think as long as you have an industry that’s predominantly run by heterosexual, Caucasian males, you’re not going to see much representation for gays or, for that matter, other minorities in general,” Perry said in 2011.

 

I met Moore when I first got into the industry. I met him after fanboying about Hero. It was the first of its kind (at least that I read) and I loved it. He was also a producer of the Narnia films, which have always been one of my favorite series.  He shared information about Hero and its planned television series and at the time (the wanna be actor I was) was desperate to play 1/2 of the most narcissistic set of twins you’d ever read about: Galaxy Guy  and I casually mentioned the beautiful Alexz Johnson to play my equally vein sister Galaxy Gal.  He was so kind and so sweet and so funny. He helped me with developing my own writing and listened to some of my very first demos. I’ll never forget the moment I heard he had passed. My heart sank and I cried then I met up with one of our mutual friends to reminisce and write and do everything we thought Perry would approve of us doing to honor him.  He was an amazing man. I wish he’d gotten more time. He had so many more amazing stories to tell.

Also, how often do you get to say one of your friends was named one of People‘s sexiest men alive?

Rest in power, sir. You are a hero.