I’m starting a series on tropes in fiction with ace characters. More specifically, I will focus on webcomics. In particular, webcomics with stories and continuity. You can see my current top ace webcomic recommendations here, but of course there are many more.
To link or follow this series, please use the “ace webcomic tropes” tag on this blog.
In the past few years, the representation of ace characters has exploded. As recently as 2013, you could compile an exhaustive list of confirmed asexual characters. Nowadays, if you wanted to do that you’d need a dedicated website with strong community support.
Webcomics have been at the forefront of that explosion since the beginning. Much of this has to do with the low barrier to entry, and the already growing queer webcomics scene. On a tropes level, the biggest contributor is what I call the Queer Ensemble.
The Queer Ensemble is when the main characters span many sexual orientations and gender identities. It’s a way of normalizing diversity and achieving broad appeal. This is a venerable trope among queer webcomics, which often feature at least one character to cover each of L, G, B, and T (e.g. see Khaos Komix). Within this framework, many artists have also added characters that go beyond the acronym, such as nonbinary or asexual characters.
The Queer Ensemble is similar to what TV Tropes calls the Five-Token Band, a set of characters seemingly designed to include all the ethnic minorities, and sometimes other minority groups. I think of Captain Planet being the prototypical example. TV Tropes notes a few pitfalls of the Five-Token Band, such as the characters all being stereotypes, or the one white male character always getting the biggest role.
Similarly, in a queer ensemble, you might also worry about stereotypes. But the kind of artist who creates a Queer Ensemble is fairly aware of stereotypes, and is expressly interested in breaking stereotypes down. A more common problem is that the story sacrifices depth for breadth. When there’s one character of each identity, sometimes there just isn’t much space for deep exploration of any particular identity, particularly not the more obscure ones. (Mind you, sometimes a good writer can manage both depth and breadth.)
Your mileage may vary, depending on what you really want in a story. Personally I like fiction that tries to say something new, something I wouldn’t have thought of as a thoughtful blogger. But perhaps you just want to know that there are some characters like you, and then the rest of the story can focus on superheroes punching dinosaurs or Jedi nuns fighting werewolf witches.
Note also that the Queer Ensemble is where you’re most likely to find demisexual or allo/aro characters, and maybe you’d take that over nothing at all.
1. Do you like Queer Ensembles?
2. Do you worry about aro/ace characters being sidelined?
3. Do you feel that the Queer Ensemble is realistic? In real life, would there really be a superhero team that just happens to showcase the entire queer spectrum?