Friday, February 22, 2008

OTHER EVENTS :: African Americans In The Comics

Our buddy Carlton Hargro, editor-in-chief of Charlotte's Creative Loafing, and regular reviewer of comics in CL, is giving a talk at the Levine Museum of the New South on Thursday, March 13, 7:00 pm. The official blurb below (emphasis mine):

African Americans in the Comics. Carlton Hargo, editor of Creative Loafing and author of the paper’s regular “Comic Proportions” column, talks about black artists and imagery from Torchy, a syndicated strip in the era of segregated newspapers, to 70’s super hero Black Man – and beyond. Tusculum College professor Taimi Olsen visits to discuss her research on a surprising African American perspective in the classic strip Krazy Kat.

This is sure to be a fascinating discussion, involving as it does so many fascinating topics: history, segregation, newspaper strips, and the 70's! Be sure to mark your calendars!


Andy Mansell said...

Well if my wife can take Anya to art class, I will be there in the front row with the following questions on the ready...
1. Should Tintin in the Congo be banned or do we learn from it's antiquated-- and offensive-- images.
2. How does one approach the character of Ebony from the Spirit. A character who looks and speaks like an offensive stereotype, but was a true 3 dimensional character who was able to steal the spotlight with herism and depth instead of just being comic relief.
3. Krazy Kat-- does Herriman's lineage change the way we look at his art.. (I say yes!, but that is one man's opinion). Thanks for listening....

Carlton Hargro said...

Carlton Hargro from Creative Loafing here. Here's my take on your questions:

1.) I don't think any book should be banned. I think you have to take comics like that and put them in context for modern readers. Perhaps with an editor's note?

2.) When I look at characters like Ebony, I must admit that I'm not jumping for joy. But I look at Ebony the same way I do Amos and Andy and Rochester from the Jack Benny Show — entertaining but horribly antiquated.

3.) Oh I agree that Herriman's ethnic background changes the way we look at his work. Although, it will have to be judged on a panel-by-panel basis.

Dustin Harbin said...

I know that, when I did the ordering at the store, I had the worst time trying to decide whether or not to stock Tintin in the Congo. The very repugnant idea of banning a book aside, stocking one as a retailer is a somewhat different question. It doesn't help that I'm not only a HUGE fan of Tintin, but that I suggest it often as a book for younger readers. Which demographic is, I think, much more susceptible to racial stereotyping than someone with a more experienced (jaded? world-weary?) view of these things.

On the other hand, Tintin in the Congo is a pretty obviously ignorant and imperialistic depiction of Africans, from the 1920's, and few people would think in this day and age, "This is what African's look and speak like." Ebony White, to me, is WAY worse, precisely because he is a sympathetic, often heroic character. I've never been able to buy the whole "historical significance" argument--I've never been a white dude reading comics in the 40's. I've only ever been a modern white dude, and Ebony White ruins pretty much every Spirit story he appears in for me. It's less that each depiction is SO egregious, and more the aggregate of all of them--when Ebony shows up, he so distracts my mind from the story that I just end up closing the book. In a world with so many choices, why pick one so problematic?

Again, I'm a big Eisner fan, and own (for some crazy reason) nearly all of the Spirit Archives. I know it's a product of an ignorant time in history, but that doesn't make it any less repugnant to me. Knowing that my artistic heroes were--regardless of the society of the time--bigots in many cases doesn't ease my mind much.

Whew! Sorry, I got worked up.

Andy Mansell said...

And yet you carry both versions of Tintin in America-- which could be considered just as offensive-- both in the Children's section Tintin also makes light of alcoholism-- but the humor was the product of its time. Although the Deconstructionists in the crowd would disagree with me, I prefer to look at a piece of art in it's own context; then again I was born middle class and white.
I too find Ebony a distraction; but I admire that Eisner tried to make him more than a stereotype and when he could go no farther, he eliminated him from the strip. (At least that is the line Eisner took and I choose to believe him).
My daughter is at an age where she is beginning to ask a lot of questions and I hope I have the right answers. Do I shield her from the embarrassment of these sambo images or do I let her look and explain they are wrong.
Hopefully I will get some insight from the lecture.
Thanks for listening....

Dustin Harbin said...

These are good points, Andy, although as a reader I'm moved more by personal interest than historical significance. But I agree wholeheartedly that you shouldn't shield her from things, but rather try steer her absorption of some of the world's crappier parts. Look at me, I'm Dr. Spock.

We're going to be the guys at the back of Carlton's talk asking Will Eisner questions all night. "Getting back to Eisner, Carlton..."