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Topic: Role of race in comics (Topic Closed Topic Closed) Post ReplyPost New Topic
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Wilson Mui
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Posted: 27 November 2011 at 9:16am | IP Logged | 1  

Jason's comment in the Color Doodle thread about how cool it would be to have a series based on the character JB drew got me thinking...

What kind of role does race or ethnicity play in whether a series gets started by a comic company or accepted by readers, who seem mostly Caucasian.  Does it make a big difference?

I found an interesting interview by the late Dwayne McDuffie.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u16sKK-1oLQ
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John Byrne
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Posted: 27 November 2011 at 1:08pm | IP Logged | 2  

Comics tend to be targeted at their expected audience. This has always been true. The industry was founded in large part by Jews and Italians, yet you would have to search a long, long time to find representatives of those groups in the pages of early comics. Heck, even after the industry had been going for forty years or more, I was still able to create the first Jewish superhero -- at least, the first who was not a parody or a retcon!

In my own work, I have tried at all times for the "rainbow effect". If a script or plot did not specifically call for a character to be White, I would make him/her something else. That was how Jim Rhodes got to be Black, remember. (I also tend to make characters female, if the script does not specify otherwise.)

Mind you, the best laid plans can be scuttled by the most unexpected causes. Chris and I did a short story that featured a meeting between Storm and the Black Panther. One of the elements of this was a White Afrikaner sending an assassin to shoot Ororo as she walked down a New York street. I DREW what I thought was a pretty obviously skinny White guy -- White features and a crew-cut, which I left open for color. The color chosen was BLUE. And the character's skin was BROWN. Racial diversity, to be sure, but hardly appropriate to the scene! (The cosmic balance to this was in the second issue of MAN OF STEEL, where I drew what I thought was obviously a Black guy piloting a helicopter -- but the colorist made him White.)

One definite, and unfortunate, aspect of comics discovering there were people other than WHITE in the world (and that they were NOT here to be villains or comedy relief), was that, much like Hollywood, for a long time it seemed as if there was only ONE other race, and that was Black people. Asians were largely forgotten (unless they were villains or femmes fatale) and Native Americans, Arabs, sub-continental Indians, Polynesians, etc were hardly seen at all!

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Michael Penn
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Posted: 27 November 2011 at 1:37pm | IP Logged | 3  

What kind of role does race or ethnicity play in whether a series gets started by a comic company or accepted by readers, who seem mostly Caucasian....?

***

I think, perhaps, race/ethnicity combined with nationality as a barrier-breaker. Unless I'm wrong, the first black superhero in Marvel was the Black Panther, not an American but an African, and the first Asian superhero in Marvel was Sunfire, not an American but Japanese. Maybe it was initially thought that introducing non-whites could be more acceptable if they were not American?

I sort of appreciated that the all-new, all-different X-Men were rather a united nations of superheros, given that mutant abilities would not know from differences in race or ethnicity etc.

On the other hand, I often also felt that Chris Claremont really abused the privilege of characters continually referencing their personal distinctiveness. For me, at any rate, it almost got to read as each of these non-American characters had a native-language tic.
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Mike Norris
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Posted: 27 November 2011 at 2:16pm | IP Logged | 4  

The safe choice was and still is white male. So from a purely financial stand point thats usually going to be the default. I'm not sure what Stan's motivation was (personal conviction? An attempt to be "with it") when he introduced the Falcon in the pages of Captain America and then promoted him to costar.(with "co-billing" no less!) The choice of the Captain America title was pretty smart and gutsy, though. Something like the Hero for Hire title is a bit more obvious as it seemed to be Marvel's answer to the blaxplotation movies of the Seventies. Comics have long had a habit of following entertainment trends rather than setting them.

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Josh Goldberg
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Posted: 27 November 2011 at 2:24pm | IP Logged | 5  

Two questions JB:

  1. Refresh my memory, who is the first Jewish superhero you created?
  2. I've long wondered about the reveal of Nudge being Korean "under all that makeup".  Did that have anything to do with Jerry Ordway's inking of the JLA miniseries?
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John Byrne
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Posted: 27 November 2011 at 2:26pm | IP Logged | 6  

1. Kitty Pryde

2. No.

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Brandon Scott Berthelot
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Posted: 27 November 2011 at 4:59pm | IP Logged | 7  

I think it's funny that the biggest (at one point in time
anyway) Black comic book character, Spawn, was really
unrecognizable as black most of the time. He wore a full
body suit, and under it he resembled hamburger more than
any ethnicity.

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Brian Hague
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Posted: 27 November 2011 at 7:02pm | IP Logged | 8  

Not to be contrary, but DC's Seraph, a back-up character and occasional co-star in Super Friends, predates Kitty Pryde. Kitty Pryde is certainly the highest profile Jewish character created to that point, however.

 

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Mike Norris
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Posted: 27 November 2011 at 7:13pm | IP Logged | 9  

Brians mention of Seraph, reminds of how "on the nose"  many of DC and Marvels ethnic characters were. Shamrock, Arabian Knight and Rising Sun come to mind. One thing about the All-New All Different X-Men is that for the most part they broke that pattern.( at least in names and powers).
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Caleb M. Edmond
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Posted: 27 November 2011 at 9:55pm | IP Logged | 10  

(The cosmic balance to this was in the second issue of MAN OF STEEL, where I drew what I thought was obviously a Black guy piloting a helicopter -- but the colorist made him White.)

************************************************************ ******************
Thankfully by the time the TPB was produced they changed him to his intended 'color'.
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Glenn Brown
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Posted: 28 November 2011 at 5:11am | IP Logged | 11  

Writers and artists tend to create subjects that are most familiar with themselves.  Not all, and not all of the time; hence, the qualifer "tend."  They also tend to create subjects that they feel will sell best in the marketplace.  Publishing, like show business, is very much about the bottom line at the end of the day.

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John Byrne
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Posted: 28 November 2011 at 5:40am | IP Logged | 12  

It speaks much to changing times, I suppose, that even as "recently" as when I joined the industry, in the Seventies, it was still not uncommon to hear concern expressed that if a Black character was prominently portrayed in an issue, especially on the cover, there would be a dip in sales "south of the Mason Dixon line".
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Carmen Bernardo
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Posted: 28 November 2011 at 7:07am | IP Logged | 13  

   That change has become apparent to me in the makeup of the X-Men and their spinoff groups.  The X-Men that John Byrne grew up with back in his youth were all white Americans; when I was getting into the book, they had an African (Storm), and only two original American members (Cyclops and Phoenix), the rest being from Canada (Wolverine) and Europe (Banshee, Nightcrawler and Colossus*).

   Marvel was in that period of transition from the Whitebread American culture that dominated up to the Civil Rights Act to the diversified lineup that we see today.

* I know that Russia is primarily in Asia, but the core of the culture (and, by extension, Colossus's family) originated in eastern Europe.

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John Byrne
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Posted: 28 November 2011 at 11:17am | IP Logged | 14  

…they had an African (Storm)…

••

I suppose it should be noted, for the sake of historical accuracy, that Chris and Dave retconned Ororo into an American. Born in Harlem, no less! (In 1951!!)

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Eric Smearman
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Posted: 28 November 2011 at 11:56am | IP Logged | 15  

Never cared for that story. I preferred her as African-born.
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Joel Tesch
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Posted: 28 November 2011 at 12:11pm | IP Logged | 16  

Brian: Not to be contrary, but DC's Seraph, a back-up character and occasional co-star in Super Friends, predates Kitty Pryde. Kitty Pryde is certainly the highest profile Jewish character created to that point, however.

Did JB create Seraph? Bc that's what the question was...

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Steve Ogden
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Posted: 28 November 2011 at 12:44pm | IP Logged | 17  

Some folks might be interested in this publication; if they can find it. Excellent book on the subject.  It was published in 1986 by The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies.


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Bill Mimbu
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Posted: 28 November 2011 at 1:10pm | IP Logged | 18  

If memory serves correctly, Golden Girl (as seen Steve's upload pic above) was the first 2nd-generation (nisei) Japanese-American superheroine that I know of...
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Carmen Bernardo
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Posted: 28 November 2011 at 4:33pm | IP Logged | 19  

   Per John's reply mentioning Ororo's birth in Harlem, I had forgotten that.  What stuck in my mind was that she had spent most of her life from childhood up through the day she was contacted by Professor X to join the team (notwithstanding his having known about her since the Hidden Years guest appearance).  When they first introduced her back in GSXM #1 in the mid-1970s, she was given all the stereotypical African attributes.
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Brian Hague
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Posted: 28 November 2011 at 10:44pm | IP Logged | 20  

Joel, I'm not certain to what question you're referring. Josh Goldberg's perhaps?

His question refers back to JB's response to Wilson Mui's initial post in this thread. There, JB stated that he had created the first Jewish super-hero who was not a parody or a ret-con. Soon after, in response to Josh's question, he went on to confirm that hero was Kitty Pryde.

I simply pointed out there was a prior claimant to the title of "first Jewish super-hero." The Seraph, created in 1977 by E. Nelson Bridwell and Ramona Fradon, is largely a footnote, and did not go on to greater recognition beyond a few back-up strips (wonderfully illustrated by Bob Oksner, as I recall) and appearances with the Global Guardians.

Kitty, created in 1979 I believe, as a supporting character in the X-Men, had a higher profile, as well as the distinction of being Jewish without that being the entire point of her character as was the case with the Seraph, who was introduced as an international hero called upon to deal with a global crisis in a manner similar to Marvel's "Contest of Champions" characters.

I do not know that the Seraph is in fact the first non-ret-con, non-parody Jewish super-hero ever. There may be others that predate him, but I can say that he predates Kitty.



Edited by Brian Hague on 28 November 2011 at 10:45pm
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Brian Hague
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Posted: 28 November 2011 at 11:01pm | IP Logged | 21  

Bill, Roy Thomas has a history of making his titles racially diverse. Aside from including diverse characters into WWII settings, as he did with the Kid Commandoes shown above as well as the All-Star Squadron and Young All-Stars, he is, I believe, responsible for reconceiving the X-Men as an international team of "mutant Blackhawks," recruiting and training X-Men from all over the world.

 

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Bill Mimbu
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Posted: 28 November 2011 at 11:11pm | IP Logged | 22  

Brian, I really liked those issues with the Kid Commandos.  I also seem to remember there was a tie-in to the future (timeline-wise) Jimmy Woo of SHIELD backup stories (?) at the conclusion of the plot arc.

Edited by Bill Mimbu on 28 November 2011 at 11:13pm
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Brian Hague
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Posted: 29 November 2011 at 12:06am | IP Logged | 23  

Bill, that rings a bell with me as well. I also liked the way Thomas was able to bring in Thor and Dr. Doom to maintain ties to the then-current Marvel U. Continuity can be overdone, but Thomas seemed to strike the right balance with the Invaders, and since Thor is immortal and Doom can easily travel in time, the stories don't cry out for ret-cons or repairs to make them work for modern readers.

Scanning the internet, it's interesting to note that no character lies fallow forever as the Davy Mitchell Human Top and Gwenny Lou Sabuki Golden Girl have ties to Citizen V, the Thunderbolts, and at least two (you should forgive the term in Davy's case) spin-off characters apiece.

 

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Bill Mimbu
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Posted: 29 November 2011 at 12:24am | IP Logged | 24  

Did some checking...  At the end of the story, Jimmy Woo's future nemesis, The Yellow Claw (and his grandniece Suwan) make an appearance.  At the time, that was a wonderful surprise to see that touched upon as a wink toward the readers familiar with those stories. 
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