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The Blatherings Of A Blitherer

Color and Comics


This post by Willow E is a fantastic look at how people of racial minority status are portrayed in comics.

Some salient quotes are:

In most comic works if a black protagonist is mentioned at all, the text might say she’s a strong black woman but the artist often doesn’t take the time to make the character look like a strong black woman; no broad noses, no distinctive hair, no full lips, no dark skin, no determination in her eyes or the quirk of her lips. I have a whole other rant about non-graphic novel books where the authors try to describe a black person as being ‘deeply tanned’ as if being black had nothing to do with a history of oppression, struggle and slow progress, economic and educational complications and the lost culture of a multitude of tribes and instead has more to do with being an avid sunbather.

Where was the Asian identity? Were there cultural references in the text? Was I supposed to notice her eyes? Though how do you tell if a female character is Asian, when they’re all drawn with ‘cat-like’ slanted eyes and dark shadows of eyelashes? How do you tell if a female character is Asian when just by being female a character is meant to be somehow “exotic”; when certain ethnic traits are reduced to a sexy factor and spread around to all the women, how do you tell if a character isn’t “exotic white”?

If a character is black/asian/non-white ethnic, they have to be vibrantly stereotypically black/asian/non-white ethnic, or else exotic and mysterious and not easily understood. And in between those two portrayals, the only other option chosen is to treat them as if they aren’t ethnic at all, and forget the color of their skin, or the shape of their eyes or their possible life experiences and treat them as white. And thus the huge scope of their lives (themselves) as non-white (females) is ignored or forgotten and thus made invisible.

There are black female soldiers in Iraq. There are Asian police women. There are daredevils of East Indian and Native American heritage. There is inspiration all around in everyday living, in most cities in America for powerful female characters of color. And if the bulk of the writers are in LA, Calif, or NYC, NY, then they really should know from a simple BART or Metro train ride that Latinas can speak perfectly good english and black hair isn’t straight in the front, puffy in the back, and sometimes the feistiest looking teenage female in the car looks to be from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong or China.

I strongly urge you to read the original post, as it’s just fantastic and gave me a lot to think about– both about the characters I read about as well as the characters I write about.

posted under comics, linkspam, writing
8 Comments to

“Color and Comics”

  1. On June 13th, 2007 at 12:25 pm Brenna Says:

    You know what I want? Or what I want for teenage me, nearly a decade ago? An acceptance of multi-ethnic characters. Growing up—and now, even—when a character is of an indeterminate ‘ethnic’ strain (because of the problems outlined in that article), I assume they’re mixed.

    Because, y’know, most people are. We can’t all be shining examples of our race. All distinctively featured and whatnot. And little teenage me needed to feel that society knew that. Some movements try to be all-inclusive, but they always leave something out.

    Sorry, not quite on topic. Just a little morning vitriol

  2. On June 13th, 2007 at 12:34 pm Brigid Says:

    I think waaaaaay back when, Storm of the X-Men had a mixed-race background which explained her blue eyes and silky straight white hair. Of course, her background has been re-written several times. I don’t know what it is now.

    Comics– hell, all mainstream media– need more characters that aren’t white. Period. Most characters in mainstream media are incredibly homogeneous, or else are stereotypes. Lazy stereotypes. It’s not representative at all of life in the USA. Or, at least, the part of the USA that I live in.

    I will say that you’re a good writer and artist, and you have opportunities to portray mixed race (or any quality or attribute you want) characters. I’d love to see more comic work from you once Space Goth ends.

  3. On June 13th, 2007 at 12:34 pm Brenna Says:

    On topic: I don’t really read comics. I do read other things, and write sometimes.

    I don’t think about the ethnicity of characters in books I read, unless a situation they’re in brings it to the forefront, or aspects of their character demand it. I do care how socio-economic situations are portrayed, and that characters are rarely working poor or lower unless they’re going to be bad guys, troubled characters, or pull themselves up by their bootstraps, the American Wayâ„¢. This, I’m sure, ties into perceived ethnicity somehow.

    Because of my own personal situation and agenda, when writing, I try to either be indeterminate with ethnicity (like it ever really comes up, but in theory), or pick something mixed or non-white. Or like, glaringly white, like Oda, who is Norwegian.

    Is it terrible to say that personally, I stopped expecting to find accurately depicted ethnically and socio-economically varied characters in modern media and stopped caring?

  4. On June 13th, 2007 at 12:43 pm Brigid Says:

    I tend to notice, in general, how characters of different types (gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, etc) are portrayed whether that’s in movies or television shows or books or comics.

    I don’t go out of my way to try and figure out what a character’s ethnicity is supposed to be if it’s not explicitly spelled out. But when you have, for instance, a tv show where all the protagonists are white except for the one really brainy, quiet, Asian guy and the sassy black woman, it’s pretty obvious that there’s some crazy ass bias going on.

    And it’s not terrible that you’ve stopped caring. Part of the reason I get het up, frankly, is that I’m very selfish and think that if someone’s getting paid to write something they should write something good. And relying on lazy, played out stereotypes is not good writing.

  5. On June 13th, 2007 at 12:59 pm Brenna Says:

    The trouble in media that isn’t super-pretend (like comics) and hell, even in comics, is the Captain Planet syndrome. MAN, I hated seeing that when I was a kid. OMG! We are one world with one of each race.

    Bless South Park’s withered little heart for Token. That sums it up right there.

    Soli, actually, is of indeterminate race. You can’t tell because I can’t draw and because it doesn’t matter whatsoever. I think I told you before about the roulette-style way her mom made her. TRANSPARENT REASONING BEHIND THE CAST OF SPACE GOTH: I knew I didn’t have the skills to depict different ethnicity types. Hence, ‘aliens’.

    Y’know, I can’t really draw white people noses? At least, what I feel is a white person nose, where the piece separating the nostrils isn’t lower than the sides and the whole deal is thinner. God, I’m prejudiced.

    I will stop rambling now.

  6. On June 13th, 2007 at 1:11 pm Brigid Says:

    Yeah. I don’t know but that clumsy inclusion like that isn’t worse than a whitey mcwhiterson cast.

    I always thought Soli looked a little bit like you, but with straighter hair.

    For Corwalch, I assume that in the future everyone’s going to be mixed race except for people who purposely isolated themselves for some reason. And there are a few settlements that are “pure” that way… some for religious reasons, some for cultural or linguistic reasons. There’s a French colony, for instance.

    I have a gag-style comic strip that’s in production (it’s the one I lost the first 5 finished strips for. A DURRR. But in retrospect they needed to be redrawn anyway with things like BACKGROUNDS and ANATOMY.) wherein almost everyone in the cast is non-standard white. There’s cousins who are Filipino, a French-Canadian guy, a Hispanic guy, and so forth. Just an attempt to have characters who aren’t just blandly white, but are still nerdy nerds. I mean, the focus is on their nerdiness,and I’ll admit that I’m willing to play to cliched stereotypes there. But they’re not the default white male characters.

  7. On June 13th, 2007 at 1:32 pm Brenna Says:

    For Corwalch, I assume that in the future everyone’s going to be mixed race except for people who purposely isolated themselves for some reason. And there are a few settlements that are “pure” that way… some for religious reasons, some for cultural or linguistic reasons. There’s a French colony, for instance.

    Aww, France would have a colony, huh?

    Same here on the mix (which is nice, since we snag bits of each other’s things). Saul, for instance, is a good chunk of (a yet undetermined) Latino. With enough out-of-nowhere Chinese that his friends, back in the day called him “poco oro.” They liked him. People who didn’t referred to an excretory function instead.

    Heinlein, for all his faults, envisioned pretty much the same in “Time Enough for Love”, though the comment on it is only in passing.

    I like when you’re productive. Nerdy nerds indeed.

  8. On June 13th, 2007 at 2:45 pm Brigid Says:

    France has a colony– actually, several colonies on one planet, and a colony on another– to keep the language pure.

    Orthodox Jews and some Rrom teamed up because there are similarities in cleanliness standards, and they have colonies side by side. Their cultures have become very entwined, and a third language has arisen that’s a blend of Romny and Hebrew. There’s not a lot of intermarriage, but there’s trade between the two, hence the shared language.

    There is so much comicing work that I need to do, but I’m so lazy. I need to set aside time to work on this stuff. Right now, my main goals are 1) 100 words and 2) spending 30-45 minutes a day working out.