Iowa artist creates top queer web comic

Castle Swimmer is a fantasy and gay romance webcomic hosted on WEBTOON by Iowan author and illustrator Wendy Lian Martin. It has 2.2 million subscribers and it is the second most popular fantasy webcomic on the site.

One of the things that have made Castle Swimmer such a popular webcomic is the explicit queer representation that happens early and through out the comic. In an interview with The Beat: The News Blog of Comic Culture, Martin explained why she chose to write a gay romance this way. “I mean, I’m gay, so it was a given there. It kind of took me a long time to be able to put gay characters into my comics. My first comic, which was like a very early version of Castle Swimmer, I wanted the characters to be gay, but I wasn’t out of the closet yet. In my head they were secretly gay.

The second comic I made, it was more implied that they were gay. It was about two girls and it was called Spread Your Wings. That was gay too, but I feel like if people read it, they could still deny it. It’s more implied than rather blatantly saying it. And so now in Castle Swimmer, it’s just blatant. Blatant gay! It feels really good to put that in there.” 

Castle Swimmer starts with a ball of golden light being dropped into the ocean, cracking to reveal a mermaid with golden scales, The God of The Surface names him the beacon and destines him to fulfill all the prophecies the species of mermaids hold. Cutting to 20 years later, we met Prince Siren of the Sharks. His people have been cursed by a mini-god to be a target of tragedy, bodies becoming a collection of wounds and scars until there is nothing left. Their prophecy says that in order to reverse the curse, the scarless prince needs to kill The Beacon, whose blood will then purify the Castle.

When The Beacon gets pulled to Siren’s castle to fulfill their prophecy, together the two boys try to find a way for The Beacon to minimize the bloodshed while the shark people’s patience runs thin and a star-crossed love blooms. 

Castle Swimmer isn’t the only queer webcomic WEBTOON hosts. Many queer creators gravitate toward the webcomic format because of the independence they get as creators even if they are licensed with a company such as WEBTOON. 

And they are a great outlet for queer readers such as myself to see myself represented in media without any shame. Castle Swimmer was the third webcomic I ever read, and it warmed my heart with its sincerity. The theme of expectations made by people who don’t understand you and then often disappointing people because of these expectations resonates with me as an LGBT+ person because people may say I don’t act like they thought a queer person would and how I disrupted my families expectations of me getting married and having biological kids when I grew up when I came out.

“I used to read all sorts of stories about you, and afterwards I would daydream about what you were like. In the scrolls you were always depicted as this shining god with multiple arms and tails,” Siren said. “The last thing I was expecting you to be was just a normal person.”

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