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Cartoon “sit-in” scheduled for February 10

Dave Astor writes that on February 10, at least eight African-American cartoonists plan to publish a similar cartoon to draw attention to the tendency of newspapers to run only one or two comics by African-Americans regardless of the size of the rest of the comic page making it more difficult for African-American creators to compete for the limited comic strip slots available.

What might the action accomplish? “I hope editors will start allowing minority cartoonists to compete for all their comics slots, not just one or two slots,” replied Bell, whose 2003-launched “Candorville” strip runs in 60 to 65 papers.

Participating cartoonists include Darrin Bell (Candorville, Rudy Park), Cory Thomas (Watch Your Head), Jerry Craft (Mama’s Boyz), Steve Bentley (Herb and Jamaal), Charlos Gary (Cafe Con Leche, Working It Out), Tim Jackson (editorial cartoonist), Keith Knight (The K Chronicles), and Steve Watkins (Housebroken).

A media blitz is also planned to help spread the word.

Craft, after being interviewed over the phone, subsequently e-mailed this comment: “I think of all the different genres of comic strips, African-American cartoonists get pitted against each other the most. For many papers, it’s like the Highlander syndrome where ‘There can be only one!’

Community Comments

#1 Cindy
January/9/2008
@ 7:56 am

I believe Boondocks is an example of what happens when comics forget humor and try to make a statement .
The funny business is hard on everyone, I would know being a women in my forty’s and gay.
So if I had a running strip I would just thank my lucky stars and try to be the best and funniest. Only then would I feel I deserve to be there not that its owed to me.

#2 Mike Lester
January/9/2008
@ 8:19 am

Dear Cindy, brilliant comment in it’s logic and simplicity. I’ve only heard it said better one other time: “…by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.”

#3 Rick Stromoski
January/9/2008
@ 8:21 am

>>>I believe Boondocks is an example of what happens when comics forget humor and try to make a statement .

I’m not sure if this was meant to be a compliment or not but for whatever reason, Boondocks was successful (at least initially) because it was vastly different than what was already out there. Most successful features of recent launch all have that in common.

I believe editors pidgeonhole ALL strips for a variety of reasons. Any new family strip, single panel far side clone, politically charged strip, office strip, single woman strip, dog strip, cat strip etc. are going to be pitted against Hi and Lois, Foxtrot, Family circus, Doonesbury, Dilbert, Cathy, Grimmy, and Garfield in addition to the race of the characters of an already existing strip they may already carry. It’s laziness on the part of some editors.

A case can be made that any of the features listed in the protest are not only competing against one another as a “voice” for the minority community but also against other strips for the reasons stated above.

#4 Dawn Douglass
January/9/2008
@ 8:42 am

I don’t think it’s an issue of comics being BY African-Americans but that there is not a lot of room for more than one or two “African-American strips,” just like there isn’t room for more than one or two baby strips or teenager stips, etc, etc.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t expect characters of all races in strips. I don’t believe there should be a limit on how many African-American characters a comics page can have, and I’m not convinced that there is. Many strips by white cartoonists have black characters, in fact.

If Mutts or Pearls Before Swine or Get Fuzzy or any one of any number of strips were done by an African-American would anybody care? Would it hurt their chances of being picked up? Would people refuse to read them? No, I don’t believe so, even if the main guy in Get Fuzzy were black or Asian or Eskimo.

Readers typically don’t even know, much less care, who is behind a cartoon. And if a strip is well-written, well drawn and consistently funny, readers are happy.

But if a strip is first and foremost a statement about being African-American, then you can’t expect to have a lot of them, any more than there would be a lot of versions of strips that are first and foremost a statment about being a menopausal white woman.

#5 Darrin Bell
January/9/2008
@ 9:12 am

That’s exactly the mentality we’re talking about. These strips aren’t “first and foremost a statement about being African-American” any more than Zits or Doonesbury are “first and foremost a statement about being white.”

“Two African American strips” being compared to “two baby strips” is exactly what we’re talking about. On the one hand, you lump them together based on race, which is inappropriate, and on the other hand, you lump them together based on theme, which is appropriate.

#6 Darrin Bell
January/9/2008
@ 9:24 am

“A case can be made that any of the features listed in the protest are not only competing against one another as a â??voiceâ? for the minority community but also against other strips for the reasons stated above.”

True. I do think that case would be far stronger if “Watch Your Head,” for instance, were in more papers. How many college-themed strips is it competing with? We’re not suggesting race is the only reason the slots seem limited to just a couple per paper, or even that it’s the main reason. We’re pointing out that, as you say, the features listed face the same obstacles all other strips face, PLUS ONE.

#7 Cory Thomas
January/9/2008
@ 9:57 am

â??â?¦by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.â?

Which is EXACTLY what this whole thing is about. Our strips aren’t being categorized thematically. “Black strip” isn’t a theme. Or a setting. Or a brand of humor. We don’t want to be “Black strips.”

We also don’t feel, or have even implied, that anything is “owed” to us. I have no idea where THAT gem came from.

#8 Wiley Miller
January/9/2008
@ 10:07 am

If Get Fuzzy was done exactly the same way, but by a Black man, and the lone human character in the strip was Black, most editors would automatically pigeonhole it as being a “Black strip”. Sadly, editors think they’re being politically correct with this process.

#9 Norm Feuti
January/9/2008
@ 10:25 am

I absolutely see their point … and since Darrin and Cory are both here, I’d be interested to hear their opinions on another aspect of the same topic.

Do you think your respective syndicates ever pigeonhole your strips in the same way when they think it will make a sale? If so, how do you feel about it?

Since neither of you know me, I’ll clarify upfront that I’m honestly interested to hear your thoughts. I’m not trying to bait you with a trick question.

#10 Marilla P. Alligator
January/9/2008
@ 10:30 am

I second Wiley’s statement. It is hugely unfortunate that not just editors, but syndicates and the public readership too will mentally “categorize” a strip by race if it features a central character of a minority race.

With that said, Dawn’s reasoning is a reflection of the industry. I think what she’s pointing out is that editors are trying to “diversify” their content. The whole “first and foremost” argument is a perception on the reader’s part, not the cartoonists. And when talking about perception, an editor in this case is a reader too.

I hope this protest (is that the right word?) goes well. It’s reader’s perception of race in comics that need to change. That’s what will change the business decisions of editors. I look forward to how this plays out.

#11 Rick Stromoski
January/9/2008
@ 10:46 am

Marilla…I’m curious…do you have a Zeeba neighba?

#12 Rick Stromoski
January/9/2008
@ 11:06 am

>>>If Get Fuzzy was done exactly the same way, but by a Black man, and the lone human character in the strip was Black, most editors would automatically pigeonhole it as being a â??Black stripâ?.

I don’t wholey agree with this. Besides, isn’t Rob’s best friend a black man? Although he hasn’t appeared lately, his presence was pretty frequent in the first few years of the strip.

The problem with making accusations like this of editors is that in the current environment, any established strip that’s been around for several years like Darrin’s two, Jerry’s and others not mentioned like Robb Armstrong’s and Ray Billingsleys is that they are no longer the freshest thing their syndicates are peddling now to editors. They’ve been shown now for a couple of years and nobody’s buying stuff they’ve already seen…they want something new…and if it reminds them even in the slightest way of something they’ve seen before, they’re not interested. When Soup to Nutz was launched, it’s biggest hurdle was being compared to Hi and Lois, FBOW, Foxtrot and every other family feature out there. It didn’t matter what I believed how different it was from those other features, all they saw was another family strip. That’s just the reality of the marketplace right now. If you don’t have a hundred papers at your launch , it’s going to be nearly impossible to get them down the road. Because syndicates are launching too many features a year. They’re no longer nurturing or promoting a launch past it’s first 3 months.

To answer Norman’s question based on my discussions with syndicates is that yes, they do pidgeonhole features based on race, gender, ageism to make a sale. It’s the other side of a nasty dirty coin. I once had a features editor tell me they would love to market a strip that was not based on it’s humor or merit but the fact it was done by an Asian woman.

Ultimately, I think this has less to do with race and more about the reality of the dwindling marketplace for comics space.

#13 Mike Cope
January/9/2008
@ 11:16 am

Best of luck to these eight cartoonists on February 10.

Unfortunately, I cannot say that I look forward to seeing their strips IN PRINT because our local newspaper doesn’t published any of these features. Which makes me wonder …

Would this issue gain more recognition if “other” syndicated cartoonists participated as a sign of solidarity? For example, what if a specific day was selected and all white characters were drawn as black (and all black characters were drawn as white) … May 5th would seem like a nice deadline.

I’m only aware of this issue because I’m a cartoonist and frequent these forums, but I’m afraid that the general readers in many other cities will see February 10th as just another day in the funny pages if they’re paper doesn’t publish any of these features either.

Just a suggestion from an unsyndicated lacky.

#14 J Read
January/9/2008
@ 11:27 am

Mike: “what if a specific day was selected and all white characters were drawn as black and all black characters were drawn as white?” THAT is truly one of the most interesting and compelling “switcheroonie” ideas for comic strips I’ve ever heard! Speaking only as a fan of comic strips, I think it would make for a really fun “event,” and the publicity for comic strips in general would only be good. I, for one, would absolutely love to see Dennis the Menace and Lio drawn as if they were black kids! What a hoot.

#15 Marilla P. Alligator
January/9/2008
@ 11:43 am

“Would this issue gain more recognition if â??otherâ? syndicated cartoonists participated as a sign of solidarity?”

I’ll agree. How come only African American cartoonists are getting involved in this thing on Feb. 10th?

I’m not sure I agree with the idea of race-swapping for a day. I mean, I’m a green alligator. Where would I fit in?

But why aren’t cartoonists of all races helping to make this statement? Sure, not EVERY syndicated cartoonist would do it but as seen in the discussion here, it’s a passionate subject that lots of people can get behind!

#16 Mike Lester
January/9/2008
@ 11:48 am

With apologies to Aretha, let’s call this thang’ exactlly what it is, what it is, what it is: Afirmative Action-or as I like to refer to it, industrial racism.

A sit-in demanding Affirmative Action hiring practices from a marketplace that would sh*t red kittens if it would help in finding the next Black-Asian-lesbian-Peanuts-Farside w/a tiger that came to life is pathetic. In other words: black ain’t the problem. Sales are.

While I don’t operate in the comic / syndicate world, it’s no revelation to see that it’s a business like any other: to make money. Don’t believe me? It buys your copyright the day they sign you so two hacks can ape you when you’re dead. It’s also built to wean from the older reader every drop of loyalty by running strips from the 70’s, cultivate it’s newer products from a p.c. list of demographics and discourage real talent.

Affirimative action only means they should buy your product because you’re a minority and can’t survive in the free market. (see: whatever the NEA bought from some loser and made the local govt. install outside your local library, post-office, courthouse.)

I’d like to think these gentlemen are more confident than that. Comics needs and deserves it.

#17 Darrin Bell
January/9/2008
@ 12:27 pm

“and if it reminds them even in the slightest way of something theyâ??ve seen before, theyâ??re not interested. When Soup to Nutz was launched, itâ??s biggest hurdle was being compared to Hi and Lois, FBOW, Foxtrot and every other family feature out there. It didnâ??t matter what I believed how different it was from those other features, all they saw was another family strip.”

Which is as it should be. But if you added “all they saw was another white strip” to that, that’s one additional hurdle to overcome, and I’m pretty sure you’d find that particular hurdle to be odious.

“With apologies to Aretha, letâ??s call this thangâ?? exactlly what it is, what it is, what it is: Afirmative Action-or as I like to refer to it, industrial racism.

A sit-in demanding Affirmative Action hiring practices from a marketplace that would sh*t red kittens if it would help in finding the next Black-Asian-lesbian-Peanuts-Farside w/a tiger that came to life is pathetic. In other words: black ainâ??t the problem. Sales are.”

OK, I’ll call it what it is: It’s somebody who hears “let us COMPETE with strips that are thematically similar to our own, not with strips whose only similarity is that the characters are the same ethnicity” but by the time his brain processes it, it comes out as “give us space we don’t have to compete for, please.”

#18 Cory Thomas
January/9/2008
@ 12:35 pm

Mike Lester, have you read the discussion, the rebuttals, the or even the original article? Or did you see “black”, “cartoonists”, “sit-in” and form your own conclusions? Because whatever it is you’re ranting about isn’t applicable to any statement being made by anyone.

#19 Scott Metzger
January/9/2008
@ 12:42 pm

“let us COMPETE with strips that are thematically similar to our own, not with strips whose only similarity is that the characters are the same ethnicity”

All of this makes me think that Mike’s idea is a really good one: have a day where all cartoonists switch the ethnicity of their characters–white to black, black to white (or asian to white or whatever). It would underscore the fact that “funny is funny”–quality is quality–regardless of the race of the characters. I am probably being a bit idealistic but I think it could possibly make some editors view comic strips in a different way. It would make a statement.

At the very least it would be interesting and the whole thing would probably gain a lot of publicity. I’d like to see that happen.

#20 Cory Thomas
January/9/2008
@ 12:44 pm

Norm, I’m sure my syndicate sells the “black” aspect of my strip to as being appealing to certain demographics. But every promotional endeavor, that I’m aware of, focuses more on the “character-driven ensemble cast” and “young adult” aspects.

#21 Rich Diesslin
January/9/2008
@ 12:48 pm

OK, Iâ??ll call it what it is: Itâ??s somebody who hears â??let us COMPETE with strips that are thematically similar to our own, not with strips whose only similarity is that the characters are the same ethnicityâ? but by the time his brain processes it, it comes out as â??give us space we donâ??t have to compete for, please.â? – Darrin

Okay, if this is your idea of calling it what it is, I’m confused. Who is thinking this? In terms of the first half … why do black cartoonists feel they aren’t competing on an equal footing thematically?

Which is EXACTLY what this whole thing is about. Our strips arenâ??t being categorized thematically. â??Black stripâ? isnâ??t a theme. Or a setting. Or a brand of humor. We donâ??t want to be â??Black strips.â? – Cory

Here is the dilemma. How can you stage a sit-in based on race to combat a problem being perceived as being based on race?

#22 Angela Robinson
January/9/2008
@ 12:59 pm

Rich said, “Here is the dilemma. How can you stage a sit-in based on race to combat a problem being perceived as being based on race?”

Actually, it’s NOT a dilemma. I’m sure Martin Luther King Jr. was asked this exact same question by people who didn’t understand what he was trying to accomplish.

#23 Cory Thomas
January/9/2008
@ 1:03 pm

Well, Rich. First of all,the headline didn’t come from us. WE didn’t call it a sit-in. We called it a fun idea.

Secondly, when garbage men want raises or better health benefits, it’s garbage men that go on strike or try to see the mayor.

#24 Rich Diesslin
January/9/2008
@ 1:04 pm

“Actually, itâ??s NOT a dilemma. Iâ??m sure Martin Luther King Jr. was asked this exact same question by people who didnâ??t understand what he was trying to accomplish.”

Not at all. It was quite clear there was a racial divide, segregation, etc in the 60’s and before. What’s the link here? I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but I haven’t heard anything compelling that says it does.

#25 Rich Diesslin
January/9/2008
@ 1:06 pm

Cory, good point about the title! I’m not sure I follow the garbage man analogy.

#26 Rich Diesslin
January/9/2008
@ 1:07 pm

I mean when a garbage man goes on strike, they have clout. When a cartoonist goes on strike, don’t they just replace us?

#27 Darrin Bell
January/9/2008
@ 1:12 pm

“All of this makes me think that Mikeâ??s idea is a really good one: have a day where all cartoonists switch the ethnicity of their charactersâ??white to black, black to white (or asian to white or whatever). It would underscore the fact that â??funny is funnyâ?â??quality is qualityâ??regardless of the race of the characters. I am probably being a bit idealistic but I think it could possibly make some editors view comic strips in a different way. It would make a statement.”

I’d be all for that.

“Okay, if this is your idea of calling it what it is, Iâ??m confused. Who is thinking this?”

That would be the person I quoted, Mike Lester.

“why do black cartoonists feel they arenâ??t competing on an equal footing thematically?”

Because we’ve been told by our sales forces that editors resist adding our strips when another “black strip” is already on their pages. Many editors (just like a few people in this thread) are under the impression “black strip” is a theme.

Here is the dilemma. How can you stage a sit-in based on race to combat a problem being perceived as being based on race?

I don’t see why that’s a dilemma.

#28 Cory Thomas
January/9/2008
@ 1:19 pm

It’s a profound concern and we’re trying to make an important statement, but… I think “sit-in” is making this seem a lot more militant and mirthless than it actually is.

#29 Rich Diesslin
January/9/2008
@ 1:20 pm

Well, on the fun idea thought, sure it is. As is the changing all races of characters for a day. That could be fun and I’m sure the reaction would be all over the chart trying to figure out what insidious plot was a foot.

So you trust your sales force? Interesting. Mine is highly unreliable and prone to excuses. That’s why I dock his pay on a regular basis. But, none the less it’s a data point I guess.

Enjoy.

#30 Norm Feuti
January/9/2008
@ 1:26 pm

“Norm, Iâ??m sure my syndicate sells the â??blackâ? aspect of my strip to as being appealing to certain demographics. But every promotional endeavor, that Iâ??m aware of, focuses more on the â??character-driven ensemble castâ? and â??young adultâ? aspects.

That’s good to hear. I would expect any syndicate sales rep to be realistic when approaching potential clients individually, but it’s nice to know that for the most part they’re promoting your feature in the way it should be.

It’s definitely food for thought. I’ll have to drop in on each of these strips to check out what you’ve all done for the 10th.

At the very least, it’s an interesting way to get the point across.

#31 Angela Robinson
January/9/2008
@ 1:38 pm

Rich said, “It was quite clear there was a racial divide, segregation, etc in the 60â??s and before. Whatâ??s the link here?”

I realize this is not 1957. My point is that if the majority of African-American newspaper cartoonists (majority being 8 out of approximately 15) are being told by their own sales people that there is a “black strip” bias when trying to sell their strip to newspaper editors, then it is up to these same African-American cartoonists to take action to solve the problem by educating the public and/or editors.

This is common sense and is NOT a “dilemma.”

#32 Darrin Bell
January/9/2008
@ 1:40 pm

“So you trust your sales force? Interesting.”

Yes, we actually trust the only people who are in a position to tell us what editors say when our strips are pitched, and no, that’s not particularly “interesting.” They tell me, at least, when editors say no because they don’t find it funny, when they say no because they don’t want any political commentary on their pages, when they say no because they’re looking for strips they think would appeal more to kids, and when they say no because of some other reason. I accept all those reasons (and I don’t pay their salaries), so why would they feel the need to lie to me? And why would others hear the same mix of reasons from their own syndicates? Have the syndicates been comparing notes on how to deal with questions from minority cartoonists, and they’ve all decided to lie to us?

My syndicate is perhaps unlike the others in this respect: they don’t take “we’ve already got a black strip” for an answer. They keep at it until they’ve convinced editors “black strip” isn’t a theme. They’re succeeding, and sales are picking up, which isn’t supposed to happen with a four year-old strip. But that’s one concept they shouldn’t have to spend their time or the editors’ time on. That’s something that – 20 years after the “Cosby Show” and “A Different World” proved theme was more important than ethnicity – sales staffs shouldn’t even have to bring up. That’s what we’re saying.

#33 Parker Bainess
January/9/2008
@ 1:52 pm

Is this sit-in scheduled during Black History Month on purpose or by coincidence?

#34 Rich Diesslin
January/9/2008
@ 1:52 pm

“My syndicate is perhaps unlike the others in this respect: they donâ??t take â??weâ??ve already got a black stripâ? for an answer. They keep at it until theyâ??ve convinced editors â??black stripâ? isnâ??t a theme. Theyâ??re succeeding, and sales are picking up, which isnâ??t supposed to happen with a four year-old strip. But thatâ??s one concept they shouldnâ??t have to spend their time or the editorsâ?? time on. Thatâ??s something that – 20 years after the â??Cosby Showâ? and â??A Different Worldâ? proved theme was more important than ethnicity – sales staffs shouldnâ??t even have to bring up. Thatâ??s what weâ??re saying.” – Darrin

Well amen to that and it sounds like you have a good sales force. Now I understand your point. You have to speak slowly to me as I was raised in Indiana. Sounds like you have a good sales force, too. I am now going to fire mine. Dang, it’s me. Oh well, it’s still fun to do.

It would be fun if Alan could provide links on 2/10 so we could be lazy and get to view all of the participating cartoons. Their collective message would be interesting to discuss, let alone enjoy.

My local liberal newspaper (Dayton Daily News) only carries Jump Start and Robb’s not on the participant list. There are soooo many issues with their poor and limited selection of cartoons, race never even occurred to me.

#35 Dawn Douglass
January/9/2008
@ 2:05 pm

If emphasis is on race (like Boondocks and the original Lemont Brown), then it’s an African American strip. If it isn’t, everybody is in the same boat, not matter what the color of his or her skin.

And there’s the rub. The boat is sinking. Nobody is getting a lot of slots. The only reason Dilbert did years ago is because Watterson quit and didn’t pass his strip on to somebody else or allow reruns in American papers (he did overseas).

If an editor says “we already have a black strip,” it’s just an excuse like “we already have a single female strip” or a “we already have a dog strip,” etc., etc.

I really don’t believe it’s racism by newspapers.

#36 Charles Brubaker
January/9/2008
@ 2:05 pm

“Is this sit-in scheduled during Black History Month on purpose or by coincidence?”

According to E&P, it’s because the date is near the Feb. 14 birthday of renowned black cartoonist Ollie Harrington.

#37 Rich Diesslin
January/9/2008
@ 2:16 pm

Well said Dawn. I still would not take any of those excuses as a valid answer though (and press for more substance) and it would be quite irritating to be blown off like that. I’m having a hard time visualizing an editor that would actually use a racist or feminist “reason”/excuse … that would be very un-PC and asking for trouble. I would hope editors have solid demographic reasoning behind their choices … oops, I made myself laugh.

#38 Eric Burke
January/9/2008
@ 2:36 pm

All of this makes me think that Mikeâ??s idea is a really good one: have a day where all cartoonists switch the ethnicity of their charactersâ??white to black, black to white (or asian to white or whatever). It would underscore the fact that â??funny is funnyâ?â??quality is qualityâ??regardless of the race of the characters.

I love this idea! When’s national cartoonist day or comic day(forgot the name), May 5th isn’t it? That would be fun to see. I think that this type of event would bring some positive attention to the funny pages…

Were Robb Armstrong and Ray Billingsley contacted for this event? I have to imagine that early in their careers, they faced many of the same problems as you guys, maybe even more(was there any resistance by editors to Curtis back when it started?). I would think that with their two relatively successful strips(I don’t know how many paers either are in, just that they’ve been around for several years).

I often wondered if when Boondocks went on indefinite hiatus, if editors went looking specifically for a “black strip” to replace a “black strip”, regardless of any similaries in the strips? Did those editors focus on Boondocks politics or race…and could those editors seperate the two when considering potential replacements. Did the problems that Boondocks caused some editors stack the deck against other comics by black artists?

#39 Eric Burke
January/9/2008
@ 2:42 pm

I would think that with their two relatively successful strips(I donâ??t know how many paers either are in, just that theyâ??ve been around for several years).

I meant to add that they would be able to bring this topic up to an even wider audience than will already be able to read the participating strips. Here in the Boston area, Curtis and Jumpstart run in the Boston Globe, while Watch Your Head runs in the Boston Herald so both sets of readers would be getting the message…

#40 Dave Krainacker
January/9/2008
@ 3:12 pm

Interesting conversations. Good to hear from Mr. Bell and Mr. Thomas. (How long are the two of you going to torturing your main characters? (I love the crazy vegetarian chick, Mr. Bell.)). I have to think being pigeon holed is a pretty common response. Sad, but probably human nature. I have the first “Jump Start” book by Rob Armstrong back in the 90’s. In his excellent introduction he describes how he never planned to write a “Black” cartoon strip. He simply wanted to write a funny strip that would be partly based on his memories. “Jump Start” is still one of my favorite family strips. I never really thought of it as anything but a family strip. Has Mr. Armstrong been contacted about this event? It might be interesting to hear his perspective after all this time.

#41 Garey Mckee
January/9/2008
@ 3:37 pm

Wow. Such a huge debate. It’s very telling that the most active topic threads here on TDC always have to do with religion, politics or race. Like it or not, they are hot button issues.

Having said that, I like this idea. What’s wrong with using an event like this to help aid the voice of the African American community through comics? Things like this might help garner attention to the ever shrinking comics page, maybe benefitting all cartoonists in the long run.

#42 Rick Stromoski
January/9/2008
@ 4:00 pm

>>>Whatâ??s wrong with using an event like this to help aid the voice of the African American community through comics? Things like this might help garner attention to the ever shrinking comics page, maybe benefitting all cartoonists in the long run.

>>>have a day where all cartoonists switch the ethnicity of their charactersâ??white to black, black to white (or asian to white or whatever). It would underscore the fact that â??funny is funnyâ?â??quality is qualityâ??regardless of the race of the characters.

This is a bad idea for one basic important reason. People, in general, are stupid. They wouldn’t get it and most likely scores would take offense.

If I get scathing emails from evangelical fundamentalists who see male genitalia in bowls of fruit and accuse me of being a pedophile, I can just imagine the outcry from similiarly ignorant readers who would go completely ape$hit over witnessing the sudden unexplained changing of characters racial makeup, completely missing the point of what the participating cartoonists would be trying to get across…especially if none of the other participating strips appeared in their paper. Editors would have to field phone calls and have to explain (if they would even be aware of it in the first place) from irate readers accusing the paper of fostering racism, blackface stereotyping, insensitivity, the minstralization of their favorite comic and calls to have the offending features banned from the comics pages, a logistical nightmare having to explain the nature of the protest….

#43 Angela Robinson
January/9/2008
@ 4:20 pm

Eric said, “Were Robb Armstrong and Ray Billingsley contacted for this event? I have to imagine that early in their careers, they faced many of the same problems as you guys, maybe even more.”

It’s just my personal opinion, but I believe that both Armstrong and Billingsley are STILL dealing with bias issues much like these younger cartoonists.

Why do I feel this way? Is it me or has the skin color of both Armstrong’s and Billingsley’s comic strip characters gone from chocolate-brown to just a bit tanner than Paris Hilton? Compare the skin color of their characters from the year 2006 to now (2008) in their full color Sunday strips. The fact that the skin color has gone from medium brown to a light, peachy tan is not due to a shortage of brown ink ;-).

I could be incorrect, but I’m guessing that both Armstrong and Billingsley recently lightened the skin color of their characters in response to this same editor bias AND to better appeal to the broadest segment of the newspaper population. And, if it’s an issue for these two prominent and very successful cartoonists, then the younger guys are probably NOT making it up or trying to play the race card.

It would be interesting to know whether the sales of CURTIS and JUMPSTART have increased since the skin color adjustment. My guess is, yes.

#44 Marilla P. Alligator
January/9/2008
@ 4:32 pm

Rick above suggests that idea of swapping character races (which is of course hypothetical here) is a bad idea for many reasons. Yep, it would probably be a “logistical nightmare” and lots of people wouldn’t get it. I agree.

However… that would be the point! Concepts like this are made to stir up the business and consumer markets. People might not get it, but they are more likely to talk about it. It would be more likely to get reported on. It would more likely get editors’ attention over a day when it’s comics as usual.

This is a fun discussion! I’m glad to see so many people interested in tackling these issues.

#45 Marilla P. Alligator
January/9/2008
@ 4:34 pm

I can’t wait to see what these cartoonists have in store for us on Feb. 10th!

#46 Mike Rhode
January/9/2008
@ 4:43 pm

Speaking at OSU this fall, Mr. Billingsley said racism is still a problem for him.

Regarding the coloring issue, I’d be interested in hearing from the professional cartoonists, but I think the easier explanation is that most strips are now printed in one place, right?

#47 Wiley Miller
January/9/2008
@ 5:11 pm

“This is a bad idea for one basic important reason. People, in general, are stupid. They wouldnâ??t get it and most likely scores would take offense.”

As a case in point, remember the reaction to my silly cartoon with a chicken wearing a KKK outfit?
Well, just imagine what the reaction would be if we all suddenly started drawing our White characters as Black characters… a tsunami stupidity.

#48 Mike Cope
January/9/2008
@ 5:14 pm

Yes, Eric, Cartoonists Day is May 5th, that’s why I suggested this date above.

For those who aren’t familiar, the “switcheroo” theme was a popular April Fool’s gag a few years ago when cartoonists swapped strips; however, considering the issues being discussed here, I don’t think that April 1st would be appropriate.

As others have already recognized, if “all” cartoonists swapped the ethnicity of their characters for just one day, they would not only make a subtle social comment regarding the apparent editorial biases being faced by cartoonists, but they would also bring attention to the funnies as a whole.

After all, the funnies were originally developed as a means of attracting readership to a newspaper. In addition, the funnies have always been used as a medium for social commentary … not just simple-minded slapstick fun.

If editors were suddenly swamped with phone calls and letters, I’d see this as a GOOD thing for the business. It would be a sign that the funnies still have something worthwhile to say which opens people’s eyes. Editors just might even consider EXPANDING their comics section. Yes, there will always be radicals who try to misinterpret one’s intentions, but I don’t think that everyone is as stupid as Rick suggests.

Being a Canadian, I’m fascinated by the current American election process. There’s no doubt that race and gender are prime issues actively being considered, debated, and discussed. With that in mind, I don’t think there will be a more appropriate year for cartoonists to “take advantage” of a good opportunity.

It’s nice to see that others see potential in this idea.

#49 Mike Cope
January/9/2008
@ 5:18 pm

Wiley … Surfs up!

#50 Angela Robinson
January/9/2008
@ 5:31 pm

Mike said, “Speaking at OSU this fall, Mr. Billingsley said racism is still a problem for him. Regarding the coloring issue, Iâ??d be interested in hearing from the professional cartoonists, but I think the easier explanation is that most strips are now printed in one place, right?”

Yes, that is a much “easier” explanation for you, isn’t it ;-). I’m not the expert here, but I don’t beleive that ALL of the strips by African-American comic strip cartoonists are printed and/or colored in the same place.

If they were, then ALL of the African-American characters in comic strips would be the same peachy-tan color and this is not the case. Also, I believe that even with a company, the cartoonist STILL selects/orders the color and can request that the colorist use brown or light peach.

In spite of the fact that both Billingsley and Armstrong are well respected and their strips have run for many years, I can only guess they just got tired of all the drama and took the path of least resistance. And, the possibility of increased sales and a wider audience probably doesn’t hurt either.

Again, this is all just my humble opinion and speculation.

#51 Mike Peterson
January/9/2008
@ 6:06 pm

Swapping races would be dramatic, but would miss the point. You couldn’t swap genders either, if your characters were well-developed. The experiences are different and the characters are different, unless you just draw basic two-dimensional gag characters, in which case they can be white or black, human or animal, male or female.

For example, Cory’s characters are, on one level, “typical college kids” but are, on another, black, and their experience informs their actions, not in the superficial, overbearing sense of a Boondocks, but in more subtle, organic ways that absolutely matter. Similarly, the gang in Candorville are also well-rounded enough that their background matters — just as Maggie and Jiggs were specifically Irish.

If Maggie and Jiggs weren’t Irish, the strip was just a halfway point between Andy Capp and Blondie. And even if you don’t get it on that level, the reason the strip is so funny is that the artist had a solid bearing for his characters. If the kids in “Watch Your Head” aren’t black, the depth is gone and it might as well be … well, no names, please, but bland crap that doesn’t matter.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the trick here is to track what papers drop and what they pick up. If they are dropping Mary Worth to pick up Candorville, they’re changing their demographic, maybe to add minorities, but maybe to pick up “urban, well-informed, under 80.” And if they’re dropping “Retail” to pick up “Watch Your Head” — or vice-versa — they’re doing some very fine tuning of their appeal to young readers. (That’s a joke. Editors don’t have the slightest idea of how to appeal to young readers!)

But if you find papers dropping, say, “Wee Pals” to pick up “Boondocks” and “Jump Start” to pick up “Watch Your Head” and “Herb and Jamal” to pick up “Candorville,” well, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, because the only thing those strips have in common is a black cast.

#52 Rick Stromoski
January/9/2008
@ 6:06 pm

Mostly ALL of the color comics sections ARE printed in one place . Comics are colored by the artists themselves either by using PMS numbers from a color chart on a hand colored overlay or by cmyk digital files that they supply to American Color themselves.There is no “Peach” or “Brown” ….so what you see is what the artist chose for you to see. The idea that Ray or Robb “lightened” up their characters to make them more saleable is not only colossally insulting to them but just plain preposterous on so many levels.

Amazing how quickly some of my points get proven here.

#53 Rick Stromoski
January/9/2008
@ 6:07 pm

>>> You couldnâ??t swap genders either, if your characters were well-developed.

Especially Blondie when Stan Drake was drawing her.

#54 Garey Mckee
January/9/2008
@ 6:11 pm

â??This is a bad idea for one basic important reason. People, in general, are stupid. They wouldnâ??t get it and most likely scores would take offense.â?

Rick, I wasn’t talking about the crazy suggestion of switching characters to african americans as mentioned earlier in the thread, I was talking about the original topic of this cartoon “sit-in.”

#55 Rick Stromoski
January/9/2008
@ 6:13 pm

My apologies Garey for lumping you in with the insane Canadian Mike Cope.

#56 Eric Burke
January/9/2008
@ 7:02 pm

Sorry, Mike. I missed your suggestion amidst many interesting comments, yours included.

You should have put a ® after your suggestion and then sued me after I posted the same idea. You coulda made some extra coin today…

…I still think it would be a cool thing for artists to do, though. Why not stir the pot and generate some media interest? Put those syndicate’s to work spreading the word about Cartoonists Day May 5th?

#57 Angela Robinson
January/9/2008
@ 7:32 pm

Rick said, “The idea that Ray or Robb â??lightenedâ? up their characters to make them more saleable is not only colossally insulting to them but just plain preposterous on so many levels.”

Actually Rick, YOU don’t a clue! As an African-American, the “light skin” vs. “dark skin” issue is something that many of us struggle with any time we have to create and market a black character. And, YES, it often comes down to selecting the color that would be the most “commercial” (read “acceptable”) to the majority. But, you would not know this, which is why I am telling you. This is neither an insulting nor a preposterous concept on ANY level. It is reality.

I totally AGREE that the color (sorry, but it looks like peach and brown to me) that is chosen is in fact the color that the artist wants you to see. My question is, why did it go from

http://www.lambiek.net/artists/a/armstrong_robb/robb-armstrong.jpg

to

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/02/Jump%20Start%203.jpg

My opinion is that this could very well be an attempt to deal with the issues that these cartoonists intend to address on February 10th. But, only Mr. Billinglsey and Mr. Armstrong can answer this question as it pertains to their own characters.

#58 Eric Burke
January/9/2008
@ 9:32 pm

While there is definately a differnce in the skin tone/color, it looks more like Mr. Armstrong changed the color to a more pastel style along with the improvement of the art and growth of the strip. The Hots used to look great in pastels, as well as the The Norm.

While you could very well be right, Angela, as there is a noticable difference, I wonder if t’s really just a case of an artist getting better at his medium and growing with his abilities?

#59 Marilla P. Alligator
January/9/2008
@ 9:36 pm

I haven’t really read Jump Start in many, many years so I’m not very qualified to make a judgment about the coloring.

But as for those examples posted just above, they are VERY different from each other, not just in skin tone but cartooning style. I know styles and characters evolve over time but they ALMOST seem like two different cartoonists drew them. Wow, I’m not sure I would have recognized today’s Jump Start if I saw it without the title. Interesting.

There’s also the fact that those two are completely different image files. One is a sharp, contemporary, computer-colored image. The other is a scan of an old, yellowed newspaper clipping where white isn’t even white and thus, everything seems darker.

#60 Mark Tatulli
January/9/2008
@ 10:23 pm

I remember talking to Robb Armstrong back in the early nineties before I was syndicated and he was newly so. We both worked for Philadelphia advertising companies at the time and I met with him through a mutual friend. One of the things we discussed was the coloring of his Sundays and his interest in presenting African-Amercians in many colors…a reflection of how things really are. At the time, he was hand-coloring guides that were in turn handed over to American Color to be applied to his line-art, so the use of color was a crap shoot and he didn’t know how it would look until he opened his Sunday paper some six weeks later. Often he would be shocked about how green or red some the flesh-tones would reproduce, but he would keep experimenting because he wanted to get it right and was anxious that his African-American characters appear realistic and unlike the usual “generic-brown” that was usually used when depicting blacks.

Robb is a very proud and dedicated cartoonist, and to suggest that he is lightly coloring his characters to make them more acceptable to a white audience or editors is just plain ignorant of the man who created them. I sugggest you check yourself before making such assumptions, Angela. You’re only illustating your own prejudice.

#61 Malc McGookin
January/9/2008
@ 11:52 pm

Nevertheless, only looking at the two examples linked, there is a MARKED difference.

If I were the cartoonist concerned, I’d be just that – concerned.

If the cartoonist was as proud and dedicated as Mark says, Surely he’d be onto the person who colored his stuff to tear them a new peephole. “What are you playing at?” he should yell. “People might mistake my characters for charackers! More brown, clown!”

Incidentally is there a cartoonist of color who DOESN’T draw a “black” strip? Just asking.

When I was a kid in Germany in the late 60s (my dad was a British soldier stationed there) I used to laugh at Bill Cosby LPs and his stories resonated within me, a white European. I didn’t actually know he was black. That was the brilliance of the man.

I honestly think we’ve gone backwards since that time.

#62 Mike Peterson
January/10/2008
@ 3:34 am

“When I was a kid in Germany in the late 60s (my dad was a British soldier stationed there) I used to laugh at Bill Cosby LPs and his stories resonated within me, a white European. I didnâ??t actually know he was black. That was the brilliance of the man.

I honestly think weâ??ve gone backwards since that time.”

I would suggest we’ve gone forwards, but we’re past the easy section of the trip. When the door is open, the next question is, now what?

Bill Cosby made it possible for Richard Pryor. Jackie Robinson made it possible for Jim Brown and Muhammed Ali. Sidney Poitiers was asked, quite some time ago, if he’d ever play a bad person, and he said that, when we got to the point where black people were used to sell deodarent on TV, he would. We’ve gotten to that point, and there is no longer the need to be blandly heroicly “just like other people.”

It doesn’t have to be extreme — it doesn’t have to be Richard Pryor or Boondocks. To use another analogy, Nichelle Nichols played the very non-racial Lt. Uhuru on Star Trek at a time when that was a real breakthrough. Compare that to S. Epatha Merkeson’s portrayal of Lt. Van Buren on “Law and Order” — it’s a much more realistic portrayal of a successful woman who does not leave her race or her sex on the shelf when she goes to work in the morning.

The casual inclusion of characters like Ford in “the Norm” are one type of progress. But the real progress is when you can do a strip that isn’t about being black, but in which the character’s life experience is part of the story, whether it is as earnest and out front as “Wee Pals” and “The Boondocks” or as organic as “Watch Your Head” and “Candorville.”

#63 Malc McGookin
January/10/2008
@ 4:53 am

I don’t know if there are any US deodorant ads which feature black people yet, but I’ve seen plenty of other product ads which feature people of colour.

We’re way past the time when black actors couldn’t get big parts or could only play “black” characters, look at Legend and American Gangster, those aren’t about black people, they’re about people. The thing about cartooning is that no-one needs to know what color you are, you choose to push that barrow, and you do not have the right to tell people how many black-themed comic strips should appear in a newspaper.

I’ve been banging on for years about how there is no reason for a syndicate to turn down a kid strip just because they already have a kid strip on their books.
The quality of the strip should be paramount, not the theme. But that, apparently, is not the reality of the marketplace.
I tried to get a pirate-themed strip up, and was told by two major syndicates that they liked it, but “Overboard” was out there and they thought newspapers would simply say “sorry, we’ve already got a pirate strip”, no matter how good the new feature was.

If you theme your cartoon, you limit its chances of being taken up. Sorry, but in a country where the majority of the population is white, “black” is a theme.

You have to weigh that fact against the other fact that your black-themed strip probably got a spot in at least some papers simply because it was a black-themed strip and the editor wanted to be seen to pander to that demographic. That was certainly the case with Boondocks, which was a Johnny One-Note strip, neither funny nor clever.

I’ll give McGruder props for his campaign against B.E.T. but that’s about it. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

I think if Get Fuzzy featured a black human character alongside Bucky and Satchel, it would have had exactly the same success, because it’s quite simply that good. It would have been the Will Smith of cartooning. Except for the fact that Will Smith has become a Scientologist.

Now that’s TOO white.

#64 Anne Hambrock
January/10/2008
@ 6:14 am

I very much understand the position and frustration of these artists, and if they say they are hearing “we already have a black strip and don’t need another” I am sure that is true. However I must agree with other posters who point out how bad sales are for all the “newer” strips in general. I would like to point out that, not only do most papers not regularly revamp their comics pages (i.e. change 3-5 strips on a regular basis) but also that only three features have truly “retired” in recent years – Boondocks, Foxtrot,and Kudzu.

I am going to dispense with Kudzu right away because it wasn’t easy to pigeonhole and also wasn’t in that many papers by the end. But Boondocks was very definitely a “black strip” in that it chose to deliberately address the scenario of black kids living in a white suburb and make that a major part of its sales pitch. It may not have stayed in that realm over its life on the comics pages, but that is how it started out and how it got a lot of papers from the get go. When it left, it was probably a forgone conclusion on the part of editors that the first strips they would consider for the vacant spot would appeal to the same demographic and be similar in tone. As others here have pointed out, editors and papers have not routinely shown themselves to be a highly imaginative group. So one of the problems seems to be quite long standing in that as long as one “black strip” on the page has seemed to be enough in the past, editors will continue to believe that it is enough for the future. Unless they see a sales demographic for their paper that argues otherwise. I would suggest that a better way to get more than one of these strips in a paper at a time would be to mount a very vocal readership campaign to blitz the papers. Editors care a lot more about the sensibilities of paying subscribers than cartoonists.

As for Foxtrot, when it left, I doubt very seriously that editors said ” well here’s a great opportunity to try something different with this spot”. Instead they initially looked for something that might be similar to the strip that was leaving the page. They apparently are having great trouble doing this because a year later many papers are still “auditioning” replacements. The good news is that the longer they search, the farther away they get from the “foxtrot” idea and simply give any new strip a look. This may eventually translate indirectly into another “black strip” getting the spot anyway!

#65 Rick Stromoski
January/10/2008
@ 7:40 am

���Bill Cosby made it possible for Richard Pryor. Jackie Robinson made it possible for Jim Brown and Muhammed Ali.

Although it is true that Jackie Robinson opened the doors for black players to the national pastime, his influence in that regard did not extend to other sports. Black Boxers were fighting for championships decades before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. Jack Johnson , Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis to just name a few.

Jim Brown did not break the color barrier in football and JR had no influence on that since players of color were appearing in the NFL prior to 1947.

And although Prior and Cosby’s careers pretty much began at the same time, Redd Foxx and Dick Gregory predated them by a decade.

#66 Darrin Bell
January/10/2008
@ 9:25 am

“If you theme your cartoon, you limit its chances of being taken up. Sorry, but in a country where the majority of the population is white, â??blackâ? is a theme.”

Things change.

#67 Sandra Lundy
January/10/2008
@ 9:26 am

There are two ways, as far as I know, to color the sunday comics. One is by hand using a color chart…like a paint-by-number and the other is through a program like photoshop. I used to use the former and now use the latter. With both methods, I had to play with the coloring of both AA and white characters. Too dark on the AAs and you lose the expressions and features. White characters ranged from washed out to orangy.

Eventually, I found colors that seem to work. I use the same color code every week…and periodically the colors still appear different. This is newsprint, remember…not glossy magazine sheets.

There are a lot of factors affecting the way color looks on cheap newsprint and the printing processes of different plants. Just like the development of a drawing style, over time, the different methods of how the strips are colored will change how they look. Although I cannot speak for Mr. Armstrong or Mr. Billingsley, I seriously doubt they lightened their characters to make them less “black” to be more “saleable…not that it would.

#68 Dawn Douglass
January/10/2008
@ 9:58 am

If female cartoonists organize to pull a similar stunt, I suggest that instead of all doing the same gag, you all do a “negative campaign” gag against that feature you are hoping to push out of the way to make room for your own.

Then perhaps the dog-strip cartoonists can organize against the family-strip cartoonists, and on and on, so that we really shake things up.

#69 Angela Robinson
January/10/2008
@ 10:53 am

Dawn said, “If female cartoonists organize to pull a similar stunt, I suggest that instead of all doing the same gag, you all do a â??negative campaignâ? gag against that feature you are hoping to push out of the way to make room for your own.”

Gee whiz! Now that’s a really deviant plan. Thank goodness these 8 guys don’t think like “female cartoonists.” (LOL)

#70 Dawn Douglass
January/10/2008
@ 11:05 am

“Diviant plan” Ha! LOL

Angela, I hope you and everybody else know I was kidding. I actually think this whole thing is a mistake. Organizing African-American cartoonists to play the racism card (in a country that will likely soon have a black President) isn’t my cup of tea, any more than I would support female cartoonists playing a sexism card.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think it’s cool to attempt to use collective might in the zero sum game of newpaper comics that pits individual artist against individual artist.

#71 Tom Racine
January/10/2008
@ 11:55 am

First off, as a 41 year old bald white guy, lapsed Episcopalian who grew up on the mean streets of Scottsdale, Arizona, I have absolutely NO right to weigh in on this subject. Just wanted to get that out there.

Secondly, I think it’s funny that some guys who basically want to bring attention to an obviously important issue by doing a group-effort comic strip response, have run into such flak. Just another example of how when you’re NOT in the minority group, you just don’t really have a clue as to what they go through on a daily basis. I’m one of those “any discussion is good discussion” guys, so bring it on! We should be supporting anything in our industry that strives for equality and being judged on the quality of your strip. If it rattles some cages and causes people to look around and talk, then it’s a huge success.

And I would pay big bucks to see Hagar the Horrible, Dagwood Bumstead, and Dennis the Menace turn into black guys for a day. That’d be freakin’ hilarious. And powerful. Just what comic strips should be striving for…illustrating and illuminating complex subjects in a gentle, funny, but powerful manner.

By the way, did you see Wiley pushed the whole KKK envelope a little further today? I wonder how many people will misinterpret THIS strip now and utterly miss the satire? :)

#72 Darrin Bell
January/10/2008
@ 12:09 pm

Listen to Sandra. I’m sure both of them lightened their characters so they’d be more legible on newsprint. I use lighter tones when I want to emphasize a facial expression that might otherwise be lost amid a muddy smudge of ink in some papers. I’m also cognizant of the fact papers have been physically shrinking, even on Sundays, and it’s likely my strips will be run smaller and smaller in the future. Using darker shades than I do would obliterate any details. I’m pushing it as it is.

#73 Rick Stromoski
January/10/2008
@ 12:22 pm

â?¥â?¥â?¥ Just another example of how when youâ??re NOT in the minority group, you just donâ??t really have a clue as to what they go through on a daily basis.

I vote Tom as winner of the most disingenuous statement of the thread.

#74 Mike Lester
January/10/2008
@ 12:24 pm

“Hagar the Horrible, Dagwood Bumstead, and Dennis the Menace turn into black guys for a day. Thatâ??d be freakinâ?? hilarious.”

Excellent idea. The ressurection of black-face minstrel shows on the comics page would be a can’t miss “ebony and ivory, hands across the water, Mean Joe Green feel-good, why can’t we be friends’ moment. Let me know how that works out.

#75 Tom Racine
January/10/2008
@ 12:38 pm

Wow…10 minutes until someone nailed me for an attempt to be level headed and calling for more discussion! A new record. Gotta love the hot button issues.

Well, basically, I think it’s a great idea these guys have and it’ll raise awareness. Not much more you can ask for such a thing, is there? And thanks for the “word-a-day,” Rick…I’ll have to use that in a conversation today. :)

#76 Anne Hambrock
January/10/2008
@ 2:40 pm

“using darker shades than I do would obliterate any details”

Absolutely. I have the good fortune to see how my colors translate to newsprint everyday as my local paper carries the strip I color. I am still amazed at the effect shrinking the image has on color intensity. Strips that look great on the web can be way too dark when translated into tiny saturated ink fields. Conversly, strips that look great in newsprint can look terribly washed out on the computer screen. Now that colorized dailys are becoming the norm, it is an issue almost all strips will find themselves dealing with.

#77 Malc McGookin
January/10/2008
@ 4:00 pm

I have a dream that these cartoonists will one day live in a nation where their features will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content.

#78 Alan Gardner
January/10/2008
@ 10:13 pm

I’ve been waiting 2 days for someone to come up with that one Malc.

#79 Dawn Douglass
January/10/2008
@ 10:57 pm

>>I have a dream that these cartoonists will one day live in a nation where their features will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content.>>

Yeah, and it’s 40 years past reality. This is 2008. That statement is total b.s.

Boondocks had one of the most successful launches in history. How do you explain that more editors bought it — *including* editors that were already running “African-American strips — than scores of white cartoonists’ work combined?

If they were looking for a “token black strip,” then why didn’t they buy one of the other black cartoonists who launched before Boondocks?

If they were racist against black cartoonists, then why did Boondocks out pace all other strip launches by a huge amount? As I recall, he had around 150 papers within a few months, which is unheard of nowdays.

Newspapers bought Boondocks because it was a very exciting strip when it started. Editors were delighted with it. Readers loved it.

I was there when Boondocks launched. I remember how excited Lee Salem and the entire industry was because of it. And guess what? DRAWING STYLE was what editors were looking at most. Editors knew manga was explosively hot. They certainly weren’t asking for swatches of any cartoonist’s skin color when they were judging what new strips to pick up.

And guess what else? The only people who dissed Boondocks that I ever saw were NOT racist editors but lots of jealous cartoonists!!

#80 Darrin Bell
January/10/2008
@ 11:37 pm

“>>I have a dream that these cartoonists will one day live in a nation where their features will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content.>>

Yeah, and itâ??s 40 years past reality. This is 2008. That statement is total b.s.”

Aren’t you the person who just got through saying the features listed were “first and foremost about being African American,” even though they’re not? If you’re clinging to that misapprehension, what makes you think editors and other readers aren’t?

#81 lefitte
January/10/2008
@ 11:48 pm

Wait. Is someone really claiming The Boondocks was a success because of its manga-style? LOL! No, wait … wait … hold it … be nice now …. I can’t help it! ROTFLMAO!

Most editors pre 2003 didn’t have a clue what manga was … heck most people didn’t.

Saying The Boondocks was successful because of its art is ridiculous. McGruder’s voice was different from anything on the page .. that’s where breakouts happen: Doonesbury, Far Side, Dilbert, Pearls, Lio are all examples of it.

#82 Dawn Douglass
January/10/2008
@ 11:50 pm

That’s not what I said, Darrin. I wasn’t making any kind of judgment on these particular strips.

What I wrote was:
“I donâ??t think itâ??s an issue of comics being BY African-Americans but that there is not a lot of room for more than one or two â??African-American strips,â? just like there isnâ??t room for more than one or two baby strips or teenager stips, etc, etc.”

and

“But if a strip is first and foremost a statement about being African-American, then you canâ??t expect to have a lot of them, any more than there would be a lot of versions of strips that are first and foremost a statment about being a menopausal white woman.”

The only two I mentioned as being “African-American” strips were Boondocks and your original Lemont Brown strip. I didn’t say the others are or aren’t.

#83 Dawn Douglass
January/10/2008
@ 11:57 pm

Okay, here, I found it. I wrote:
“If emphasis is on race (like Boondocks and the original Lemont Brown), then itâ??s an African American strip. If it isnâ??t, everybody is in the same boat, not matter what the color of his or her skin.”

IOW, just because a strip is done by an African-American doesn’t make it an African-American strip. But for those that ARE, you can’t expect to have more than one or two in a newspaper.

#84 Dawn Douglass
January/11/2008
@ 12:13 am

>>Saying The Boondocks was successful because of its art is ridiculous.

Of course, it wasn’t just the art. Writing is always the most important part of a strip, which I say all the time and also get jumped on for.

But you’re wrong about the cluelessness of editors. Editors wanted to draw younger readers, and as I said, his drawing style is what they were looking at most, because manga was so hot with young audiences. (Notice that I did not say it was the *only* thing.)

If you don’t believe me, just ask the Universal Press salemen who were pitching it.

#85 Malc McGookin
January/11/2008
@ 2:51 am

>>Most editors pre 2003 didnâ??t have a clue what manga was â?¦ heck most people didnâ??t.

#86 Malc McGookin
January/11/2008
@ 2:51 am

“Most editors pre 2003 didnâ??t have a clue what manga was â?¦ heck most people didnâ??t.”

Lefitte, you are entirely correct. But most KIDS knew what Manga was, and most kids knew the Boondocks style from a thousand similar comics that had been flooding the US (and Europe, and Australia) for the previous ten years.

McGruder simply ripped off Manga drawings (very badly, I might add) to act as a vehicle for his writing. Editors had no experience of Manga, therefore they, in their ignorance, interpreted his style as original.
Even that I could stomach, if he hadn’t acted like an egotistical twit, comparing himself to Gary Trudeau as though the two were equal colossi bestriding the cartoon world.

#87 Lefitte
January/11/2008
@ 8:22 am

Point taken.

#88 Eric J. Peterson
January/11/2008
@ 12:04 pm

I wish these cartoonists the best of luck. Things like this are sadly necessary to make apparent the racism in our society more present to those who do not experience it. Just as it’s not terribly obvious to me which curbs I walk past do not have handicap-accessible ramps it is not always obvious to some people that prejudice is still abound and rampant.

Does this make me sound like a bleeding-heart? I swear I’m much more macho in real life.

#89 Nat Gertler
January/13/2008
@ 2:24 pm

Shortly after reading this thread, I ran across this strange example of the lightening of an African-American character.

#90 Angela Robinson
January/13/2008
@ 10:50 pm

Nat said,”Shortly after reading this thread, I ran across this strange example of the lightening of an African-American character.”

I’m sure the colorist made an innocent mistake. He/she probably thought Charlie Brown was just wearing a black afro wig to school that day. (LOL)

#91 Angela Robinson
January/13/2008
@ 11:23 pm

I also found a page with both early Curtis as compared to Curtis today.

http://lambiek.net/artists/b/billingsley_ray.htm

#92 Malc McGookin
January/14/2008
@ 1:22 am

I think that’s very telling. I also think that the main reason for lightening black characters is because features are much clearer when converted to grayscale, as probably happens for daily strips?

It would seem to be common sense to alter work for that reason. Otherwise colored characters would be indistinct from the California Raisins.

#93 Eric Burke
January/14/2008
@ 7:22 am

So can you name the young gentleman on the right side of this panel, scanned here from Snoopy Swings Into Action, a 1992 British collection of Sunday strips from 1988?

What was the popularity of Peanuts in England? Where this was a British collection, was it also colored by a British company? My guess is this color gaffe was made by someone unfamiliar with Peanuts. For the colorist, it probably was just another day on the job…

#94 Angela Robinson
January/14/2008
@ 9:32 am

Macl said, “I think thatâ??s very telling. I also think that the main reason for lightening black characters is because features are much clearer when converted to grayscale, as probably happens for daily strips? It would seem to be common sense to alter work for that reason. Otherwise colored characters would be indistinct from the California Raisins.”

Actually, this argument does not hold water. For example, the comic strip characters of the 8 cartoonists that brought up the possible editor bias issue are ALL some shade of distinguishable brown, from light to dark. And, you can still “see” them just fine in both greyscale and color and they’re NOT suffering from the
“California Raisin Syndrome.”

This is just a new thing with Jumpstart and Curtis. On a Sunday page (print or online), at first glance, you can no longer readily tell that both Curtis and Jumpstart feature African-American characters. With the other 8 strips, it is still VERY obvious that they do. Again, this is just my opinion.

#95 Nat Gertler
January/14/2008
@ 9:54 pm

Peanuts had become very popular in the UK well before this 1992 book. There had already been over 100 reprint books (some UK editions of American books, some UK originals.) Which doesn’t mean that it wasn’t just an accident by someone who didn’t know, of course.

(I’ve gotta admit that I actually lightened up a dark-skinned character of my own… although in this case, it wasn’t an African-American or, for that matter, a human. After Licensable BearTM issue 1 came out, I realized that if I dropped the K component of the CMYK color mixture used to define his color, he would “pop” better. So I changed his coloring as of issue 2, then had a story in issue 3 where he’s accused of “fur lightening” and perhaps trying to pass for polar.)

#96 Eric Burke
January/15/2008
@ 7:35 am

Nat, your Licensable BearTM is pretty funny! Nice art work and a good overall look.

Nice way to work in a plug for Licensable…

…hope your having some success with him…

#97 Darrin Ball
February/10/2008
@ 1:47 pm

My last name is Ball, not Bell. I’m just an avid comic reader who happened to notice both Herb and Jamaal along with Candorville doing similar themes today. I did an online search which led me to this post along with the discussion. I would like to make a couple of comments since the funnies are the most important part of any newspaper.

About seven years ago, our local newspaper took out Curtis and replaced it with The Boondocks. About a year later after a few complaints in the letter to the editor section, The Boondocks was taken back out and Curtis was restored. At the time I remember thinking to myself, “What is our newspaper trying to say? That only one ‘black strip’ can be in the funnies at one time?” About a year after that, Jumpstart was added and has become one of my favorite strips.

Curtis is one of the most hilarious strips out there and it is not because the cast is black. Unrequited love (Curtis for Michelle and Chutney for Curtis, Gunther’s Barber Shop, Derrick and Onion as school bullies, the yearly tribute to Kwaanza, Supercaptaincoolman, all these combine to make a unique strip.

It is the same with Herb and Jamaal. The coffee shop, the best-friend friendship of Herb and Jamaal (even though they seem like complete opposites sometimes), Herb’s tiffs with his mother-in-law, Jamaal’s past NBA career, these are all things unique to this comic strip having nothing to do with race.

And a strip I have just recently started reading, so I don’t know all the cast, but Candorville is hilarious having an acute awareness of politics, Lamont’s friend the rapper (the “don’t rub it in” comment slayed me), his overly sensitive fiancee, all these things have nothing to do with race either.

But, BUT, each of these comic strips brings in the subject of race more frequently than strips with predominantly white characters. And note that I have to read Candorville and Herb and Jamaal online as my local newspaper does not carry them. But neither does it carry Cathy, Hi and Lois, Luann, Rhymes with Orange, B.C., Agnes, Mother Goose and Grimm, Mutts, Pooch Cafe (my latest fav) and many other “white strips” which I love to read.

When I visit another city, I give the comics section a glance. I’ve noticed a pattern. Usually only one or two of the strips that are considered “black” are included in their lineup. It is an issue. But what is the solution? I think it lies in exactly what Darrin Bell and Stephen Bentley showed me today. Each strip must be unique and not try to be a ripoff. But by bringing in the issue of race in each of these strips, you face the prospect of being considered “one of those black strips trying to make a statement”. But no one considered it odd that everyone did a tribute to Charles Shulz on the same day. It was warranted.

Keep brainstorming. I like some of the ideas listed above. The issue goes beyond black strips trying to get a break. The issue is racism. People have a predetermined view of what a black strip is going to be like. They’ve already judged the strip based on the color. You can’t fight that in a one day statement. In King’s “I have a dream” speech, he made special mention of those white brothers whose destiny was bound up with the Negro’s destiny. Broaden your efforts. Next time, Dagwood shouldn’t just be mentioned, but Young and Lebrun should be right along side you making your statement.

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

#98 Dale Otteson
February/11/2008
@ 1:33 pm

Switching races on characters is a bad idea. The idea is interesting, and might well make the point, but the downside is likely to be unbelievably deep. Some of you have already drawn it. Look at Corey Thomas’ strip a couple of weeks or so back.

The token Canadian/cartoonist innocently drew a cartoon using symbolism that was completely misinterpreted by his target audience. He was pilloried by the activists in the student body, further alienated his roommate and may have lost his girlfriend, although we’re still waiting on that one to be resolved. Since then, he’s only ventured out of seclusion long enough to sit on a bus bench and participate in the cartoon sit-in.

I can’t imagine the switch would go well. Icons is icons, and Wiley Miller was right.

#99 Geoffrey Thorne
February/15/2008
@ 10:49 am

I think these guys are doing something brave and necessary.

This is a common phenomenon in entertainment circles where stories, ANY sort of stories, that feature non-whites are immediately lumped together into one catchall category. Never mind that one is a western, one is a comedy set in the roman territories and the third is a spy thriller set in an alternate dimension.

White is the norm and non-white is considered to be divergent.

It’s a pile of crap viewpoint, of course. Not only are most of the human beings on the planet “non-white” but, as Americans, non-whites have been following the adventures of James Bond and Hamlet and Dagwood (among thousands of others) with little ill effect for decades. Centuries in Hamlet’s case.

There is nothing “other” about these strips and there’s nothing “niche” about their approaches.

If you don’t educate your public, your audience, you will never grow that audience. Ignorance is bliss, certainly, but it’s also superglue.

And, by the way, all the strips were funny. Even those reusing the same lines.

Good work on all levels. Keep it up. You rule.

Geoffrey Thorne
scifi writer

#100 Kevin Kobe
February/18/2008
@ 5:19 pm

A lot of valid points here. I really liked the Feb 10 strip idea and how it showcased that not just African Americans, but the entire demographic of daily papers can’t be pigeon-holed into only being interested in cookie cutter strips where they can predict the wholesomeness. As someone who owns 3 dogs, Marmaduke does not even seem funny and it amazes me that there is still any creativity to the strip. But thats only an example and props to being able to keep the gag up I’m not going to bash any creative outlet.

The issue of “lightening” of the color is one that is very tricky, because we are talking about a social issue, a visual appeal issue, and a social appeal issue. When the Curtis and Jump Start examples were posted earlier, I thought about it, and imagined the strips as if they were colored DARKER instead of lighter, and to me, it screamed of the “Negro/Mammy” Caricatures of old, which would could hurt the situation, depending on if you view your readers as being able to discern the ethnic origins of the artist. With that said, I don’t think shade of color matters as much as being able to discern them from the ethnic backgrounds of the other characters. I absolutely look forward to Candorville every day because it is rarely about “Racial” issues and more about “Social” issues and the difference between the newer generations and the established mindset. Which there are many people who would call me insane for not calling Candorville a racial comic, but I see the difference between mindset issues, many of which are racially overtoned, and inherently racial struggle issues. Keep up the good work Darrin. Most people who “Group” comics, would group Candorville in with some of the other strips above. I look at it as just another strip that shows the changing times in society and the generational gaps, just as Foxtrot and Zits, even though they are viewed as in a different category.

Which goes to show that labels and categories rarely work. Marmaduke is in the family section on comics.com even though if you don’t read it on a regular basis you wouldn’t know that Marmaduke ever had a “family” that owned him. (again with the Marmaduke bashing, not intentional, I swear)

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