Marvel's 'What If...?' Was Inspired by a 'Low-key' Gay Icon

by Emell Adolphus

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday September 22, 2021

A still from the Disney Plus series "What If...?"
A still from the Disney Plus series "What If...?"   (Source:Disney Plus)

If the Disney Plus series "What If...?" feels familiar, it is because it was inspired by this low-key gay icon, 20th century American illustrator J.C. Leyendecker.

As reported by Polygon, Marvel production designer Paul Lasaine said it all started with Leyendecker's iconic style.

"Super stylish. That was the basis for our the beginnings of our style. That really influenced the characters," said Lasaine in an interview with Polygon.

Franck cited Leyendecker third in inspirations for "What If...?," after Marvel comics and the Marvel movies themselves.

"People picked it up a lot on episode 1 because of the period stuff," explained, animation supervisor Stephan Franck, "but it's even beyond that. It's in the abstraction of that approach, it's in the shape language, there's an elegance and sophistication to it that elevates it in a way that gives you this animated look that you've never seen before."

The art of J.C. Leyendecker.
The art of J.C. Leyendecker.  

Leyender gained notoriety illustrating covers for the Saturday Evening Post over four decades and turned Arrow Collar man into a household name in the 1920s.

In his illustrations, chizeled, stylized men appear alongside women and other men but their focus always seems to be on other men. The implication was left to the audience.

Leyendecker, himself, was not open about his sexuality. He never married and shared his home with model Charles Beach, who regularly posed for his most famous illustrations until Leyendecker's death in 1951 at the age of 77.

"Whether because of his draftsmanship, his marriage of realism with stylization, or his homoerotic aesthetic (or all three) Leyendecker is a favorite of fan artists, particularly those who enjoy creatively contributing to the 'Stucky' ship, which pairs Captain America with Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier," reports Polygon.

"The artist has inspired innumerable queer fans of Marvel characters, and now he's directly inspiring an installment, however separated multiversally, of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It wouldn't be the first time that Disney has relied on the work of a quietly queer creative while the company's output remained nearly void of queer representation."