2/12/2009

Casual Racism In Comics

Casual racism in comics is something that's either dismissed and laughed-off by white fat nerd comics fans (you know, most comics fans) or with the sensitive smarty-pants types, seems to get shoved to the side for issues of casual sexism. And it seems that generally, sexism or racism's obsessively poured-over by the kind of comics fans that wouldn't ever talk about MARVEL titles if not for the fact that it offends them as they're more apt to be reading a TOP SHELF title or something, so it often feels like one more way for a certain kind of comix fans to feel superior to that other kind of comics fan.

So, while I'm delighted by the grossed-out guffaw that happens when some moronic Neo-Con in Asheville, NC thinks he's being clever and biting, I can't help but wish that comics that wrestle around with race properly got their due just as much because they're the real way casual racism--or just good old regular racism--gets corrected and upended.

A series like Elephantmen or VERTIGO's race comics (Unknown Soldier and Haunted Tank) just get reviewed alongside everything else without the special attention and praise they deserve for touching on an issue that a) Totally doesn't sell comics and b) Opens you up for a lot of criticism from all sides. The three aforementioned series' are especially worthy of praise because they go way beyond being defiantly anti-racist, but roll around with the complexities of the issue and still come off as fun, goofy pop too.

Elephantmen as I've said quite a few times before, is basically mining the concept of "victims" and "perpetrators" and forcing it through a Heavy Metal or TMNT lens of adolescent fun. Unknown Soldier is well, a journalistic comic book masterpiece. The joke I've expressed with other readers is how writer Dysart keeps promising the pulp but never wavers from this right-minded sense of sophistication and complexity. If next issue though, Moses discovers some like underground African cave of moloids or some shit, it'd still be awesome. And Haunted Tank, while I must admit to have stopped reading it, is basically a broad goofy race satire in the style of Watermelon Man...delightfully silly, and sensitive even as it's tries to push your P.C buttons.

Let's waste as much energy praising smart comics that deal with race as we do condemning dumb comics--or political cartoons--that get it all wrong.

9 comments:

Brandon Grapes said...

I know he's black and everything but I've always been impressed by the way Kyle Baker has shown race in his work. I mean maybe that sounds like praising a woman for not being sexist but I think it's deeper than that.

david e. ford, jr said...

the only kyle baker thing of which i have read more than like 2 or 3 pages is special forces, which isnt about race at all, but still seems to treat race in a real, not-in-your-face way that is refreshing. like there are black soldiers, it's a fact, let's move on to what else is happening.

this is sort of coming from way out in left field, but i had a conversation with joe today about douglas sirk and he was saying that he read something ebert wrote in which he said that sirk is better than bergman because bergman puts everything out on the surface, while sirk sneaks stuff in this great hollywood melodrama package and it makes the stuff way more effective. i think this is a similar concept to what you are saying about elephantmen and unknown soldier. haunted tank is something else altogether, but the fact that it is so in-your-face with the in-your-faceness also makes it work

brandon said...

BG-
Nah, Baker totally gets it, in that I think his stuff's sophisticated and complex about race. It's the same way say, Ariel Shrag's take on homosexuality is better than that Fun Home broad's take--one's trying to really wrestle around with it and one's just sort of talking about it, discussing it.

David-
Don't forget the first page of 'Special Forces' is a reference to the black guy always getting shot first!

Jesse Reese said...

Thinking back one of the most progressive moves in recent years was The Justice League cartoon. At the time it seemed like this stupid politically correct stunt but it ended up being just kind of good. I think there was even an episode that dealt with his past and racist stuff going on. Since that show ended up being kind of popular Jon Stewart is all over the place in DC comics. It's definitely weird how a move like that had to happen outside of comics.

Vee (Scratch) said...

I'm not disturbed by it but I thought it was really weird that Unknown Soldier or Haunted Tank (I'm not familiar with the title) is referred to as race comics.

"it's a fact, let's move on to what else is happening."
- Only people who are not familiar with certain images dwell on it long enough to make it an issue or totally ignore it.

brandon said...

Vee-
I was sort of joking around, like "Race Records" from the 30s. It was an attempt to strictly categorize these comics as on/about race in a field where unless it's 'MAUS' or that level of New Yorker-style seriousness, it would never be contextualized as such.

Vee (Scratch) said...

I usually hear that expression in films about singers and bands from back in the day like Townsend's 5 Heartbeats or an old Elvis film.

brandon said...

Vee-
I think in the 50s the Billboard Charts had a "Race Records" category--I think in some of Europe they still list rap and r & b in a "Black Music" category--but I always think of Race Records as like 1920s-30s 78s, like this: 1924 advertisement

Viagra said...

Interesting how a Racial Joke can be handled in a way that it changes the whole concept but remain the same idea. I wonder how far can this be pulled off