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Bi-racial cartoons getting cold shoulder from newsppaers?

Charlos Gary, who launched Cafe Con Leche earlier this year about a Hispanic and African-American couple has asked if newspapers are ready to embrace strips with bi-racial characters. On his blog he writes:

Looking around, I remember reading something about another cartoon about a bi-racial couple that didn’t find much success. I remember a comic strip called “Color Blind” by Orrin Brewster and Tony Rubino. It ran from 1998 to 1999. Like Cafe Con Leche, it was also about a bi-racial couple. It was gone in less than a year.

One of my favorite cartoons is “Candorville” by Darrin Bell. There is also a bi-racial couple in Darrin’s strip, though that isn’t the main focus of the Candorville. Its doing well, but isn’t widely distributed. Then there’s the new “Maintaining” strip by Nate Creekmore about a bi-racial student. So far, it hasn’t taken off like, say, “Lio” did last year.

What’s up with that? Is it that comic editors at newspapers just want to ignore the subject or do they just go with their “2 minority-based cartoons per newspaper” trend that I’ve been seeing? I think American tastes are changing and some places might just be ready for cartoons like ours. All we need is that chance.

Community Comments

#1 Charles Brubaker
October/30/2007
@ 6:13 am

I vagely remember “Color Blind.” Around 1998 or so, I discovered that syndicates have websites, so I checked around to see some comics that I’ve missed. At one point, I went to Creators Synd. site and they had “Color Blind” on their lineup. For some reason, I stopped visiting these websites and by the time I looked again, “Color Blind” was long gone.

I do have an Cartoonist PROfiles issue that has an article on the strip (it was when it just began).

#2 R Pyle
October/30/2007
@ 12:20 pm

What about “Clear Blue Water”? Eve is biracial and liberal, her husband Hispanic and right-wing. They have tweens, twins and an autistic son. She has a gay best friend and the strip covered their wedding. That’s a lot of diversity for one family.

#3 abby frantz
October/30/2007
@ 2:37 pm

how ’bout the strip with the cop and the nurse, who are black, and their neighbors, who are a biracial couple? i’ve enjoyed that for a long time.

regards,

#4 Alex Hallatt
October/30/2007
@ 2:37 pm

As many of us on this board know, it’s a tough market for any strip to launch into, so I hope that is the reason and not the ethnicity of the characters as Cafe con Leche is well drawn and funny.

#5 Rich Diesslin
October/30/2007
@ 2:39 pm

Most cartoonists are looking for an angle or character or perspective to get their cartooning foot-in-door, so maybe Charlos’ argument will be compelling to some, I just don’t see it.

With the difficulty of getting any strip into print, why would someone blame failure to do so on ethnicity? We have about a 1 in 10,000 chance of getting considered by a syndicate whether it be an ethnic strip or a strip about a cute little dog? If anything, based on the bias of most newspapers, a strip with an ethnic-themed cast might increase the chances of it being considered, raising the odds from zero to “slim-and-none.”

#6 Dominic Bonacci
October/30/2007
@ 3:18 pm

“how â??bout the strip with the cop and the nurse, who are black, and their neighbors, who are a biracial couple? iâ??ve enjoyed that for a long time.”

That’s “Jump Start” by Robb Armstrong – and I am also a fan. Armstrong does a great job of appealing to a wide audience but still finding the humor and truth in race.

– Dominic

#7 Tak Toyoshima
October/30/2007
@ 7:28 pm

My strip Secret Asian Man also features a bi-racial couple and is wildly successful! Wait, no it’s not. But it’s picking up speed! It’s hard to gauge that kind of bias unless it’s expressed clearly. And what editor is going to do that?

The point Rich Diesslin made about artists finding an angle is a good one. Some people write about childhood, others about being a woman and still others about being a caveman. In some ways I see having an Asian comic strip as a selling point. But it can also be a crutch and the last thing I want to have is an editor who takes the strip based solely on the fact that they want to get an Asian strip in their paper. So am I going to say no to an editor that does? Probably not. But my goal would be to show that editor that they made a good choice because the strip can stand on it’s own and hopefully readers feel the same way. I give readers a lot of credit. They can smell pandering a mile away. If all there is going for a strip is its one schtick, it’s going to be replaced sooner than later.

That being said, I agree with Charlos’ last statement about attitudes changing and more readers ready for a little more mix on their comics pages. The trick is to figure out how to get on there without alienating readers who don’t want to be confronted with race issues because of the sensitivity of the subject. Clearly I lack that sensitivity but in the end if you entertain and make a good point I think you’ll win the audience over. –TAK

#8 Rich Diesslin
October/30/2007
@ 9:38 pm

Well said TAK. Perhaps someday you will really be saying “my wildly successful strip” and I’m sure it won’t be due to pandering! Very cool that your foot is in the door!

Do you think the reader is really looking for the nuances, or just entertainment? I suppose it varies, but generally I’m looking for the latter.

#9 Ed Power
October/31/2007
@ 12:07 am

“My strip Secret Asian Man also features a bi-racial couple and is wildly successful! Wait, no itâ??s not. But itâ??s picking up speed!”

LOL! I hear you on that one.

You want to talk about bias though, try doing a comic about a platypus!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as glad that the League Against Monotremes Prejudice (aka L.A.M.P.) is around as the next guy, but I’m worried they may make ‘My Cage’ a newspaper pariah.

Seriously though, I come from a reacially diverse family and it is nice to see the more and more diversity on the comics page. If it’s going slower than expected/hoped for, I think/hope it due to the lack of space for new strips out there in general.

-Ed “I still have my beat-up ‘Wee Pals’ compilation book on my book shelf” Power

#10 Ed Power
October/31/2007
@ 12:09 am

BTW: reacially = racially.

Just because my heart’s in the right place, doesn’t mean I can type well (or proof read). :D

#11 Eric Burke
October/31/2007
@ 5:47 am

I love Candorville, but in terms of how many papers it’s in I think has more to do with the selling force of the smaller syndicate(Washington Post) v. the larger syndicates(King, Universal,etc.).

BUT…when you think about the older demographic that seems to be the majority of newspaper readers, you wonder if there isn’t a bit of truth in the theory that there is racial bias, even on the comics page…

Tak,
Have you had any luck getting into the Boston Globe or the Boston Herald? I would think a hometown cartoonist would have an easier in than most…

#12 Dawn Douglass
October/31/2007
@ 8:16 am

Nothing has taken off like Lio did last year. And half the strips that are launched are gone within one year or two. I don’t think you can draw any conclusions from this kind of “evidence.”

#13 Tom Racine
October/31/2007
@ 10:50 am

By the way…”Secret Asian Man” is easily the best titled comic strip ever. I’ve been singing the 60’s Johnny Rivers song all day. :)

I’d love to think that comics are eventually judged by how entertaining they are, but I’m a 40-ish white guy in America…I’m the least predjudiced-against person on the planet, so I’m sure I’m missing a lot of that sort of stuff. (And I’m generally a naive cartoonist type who just wants to make people laugh, so again, I miss a lot of that stuff.)

This is the sort of thing that would make a great round table discussion at a convention. There’s nothing like stirring up fiery debate, baby!

#14 Bill Holbrook
October/31/2007
@ 8:03 pm

I’d also like to mention “Safe Havens,” distributed by King Features. He’s the URL: http://www.safehavenscomic.com

#15 Tak Toyoshima
October/31/2007
@ 8:22 pm

Rich: “Do you think the reader is really looking for the nuances, or just entertainment? I suppose it varies, but generally Iâ??m looking for the latter.”
I think most people just want to be entertained. But when you have a message that you want to get through to readers I think it’s important to gauge the current climate if you want to be effective. It’s like tempering when you cook. Force something to mix too quickly and you get curdling. For the most part the comics pages are very tame and safe and have been for a really long time. It doesn’t take much to upset readers, especially when you start throwing in sensitive subject matter. In the end I just like to focus on producing strips I love to write/draw, look up every now and then to see how people are reacting then go back to work.

Eric: “Have you had any luck getting into the Boston Globe or the Boston Herald? I would think a hometown cartoonist would have an easier in than mostâ?¦”
I’ve been running in an alt-weekly called Boston’s Weekly Dig (www.weeklydig.com) that I’m the art director for. It’s been running there since 1999 and is my flagship paper. We’re distributed in metro Boston so I made the request to keep it that way. The closest paper other than that is the Patriot Ledger which is in the South Shore of Boston. Still a pretty big paper around these parts. They’ve been great and very supportive. While it may not make sense to want to run once a week instead of daily I can only chalk it up to stubborn loyalty.

Tom:”This is the sort of thing that would make a great round table discussion at a convention. Thereâ??s nothing like stirring up fiery debate, baby!”
I totally agree. It’s funny. Race is such a hot topic that EVERYONE has an opinion about yet it’s a very taboo subject. Probably because everyone has an opinion about it. I think that’s why I like talking about it so much. There’s an element of danger but fueled by curiosity and the desire to get a greater understanding of what makes people tick.

#16 JeffM
October/31/2007
@ 11:36 pm

Is it really racism, or is it lack of talent?

I don’t care what color the characters are, I have to enjoy the strip to read it.

Maybe this guy’s strip isn’t funny or engaging. Maybe it’s not drawn very well.

#17 R Pyle
November/1/2007
@ 9:21 am

Is anyone on Safe Havens really biracial, or is it simply a multiracial cast? With all the mermaids and gene splicing, I’ve lost track.

#18 Rich Diesslin
November/1/2007
@ 11:58 am

Tak, good points. In looking at your strip, I can see that you are on a mission of sorts, but you do it in a way that is generally humorous enough not to be offensive. Including some surprising twists and fun with stereo types (both true and false ones)! Having no agenda for my general single panel cartoons, entertainment value is my main focus. Anyway, I hope your strip continues to pick up papers.

If your strip succeeds it runs counter to the logic of Carlos (about papers not being ready to deal with bi-racial and ethnic characters), since your strip directly deals with these issues. He might be right in one sense, that being that Hispanic issues may be more tense (than Asian) due to the attention currently being given to illegal alien and border control issues. I still think there isn’t much to the race argument preventing a strip from being syndicated. It would be more edifying to speculate on why a strip IS picked up for syndication (defying all odds) vs. why they aren’t.

#19 Bill Holbrook
November/1/2007
@ 1:06 pm

The central relationship in Safe Havens is between the main character Samantha Argus, who is black, and Dave Hamper, who is white. It does have a multiracial cast, including mermaids and genetic alterations, as you remembered. :)

#20 Garey Mckee
November/1/2007
@ 2:01 pm

The most successful stories involving interracial relationships are the ones that don’t even address the issue or make a big deal out of it. Portraying a married couple where one just happens to be black and the other just happens to be white is much more effective than portraying a married couple that contantly makes a big fuss over it.

#21 Mark MacGeorge
November/1/2007
@ 5:19 pm

You have got to check out the crazy irish chick
http://thecrazyirishchick.blogspot.com
Funny as hell cartoons!

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