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Black comix

February 16, 2008 |  6:59 am

Here's 50 years of "progress" in the portrayal of African Americans in newspapers' Sunday comic strips. The top panel is from Windsor McCay's "Little Nemo in Slumberland," as published in The Times on Feb. 9, 1908. To be fair, McCay used this Valentine's Day piece to caricature all the characters in his strip--which is, granted, a fantasy--but Imp comes off the worst by far. I love McCay's draftsmanship and I've always wondered why someone who drew so beautifully was so terrible at lettering. But Imp, even making a generous allowance for the context of the prejudice and stereotypes of the early 1900s, pains me, and I find the character deeply offensive. Which is why "Little Nemo" rarely shows up in the Daily Mirror



Then we have the great strides in human compassion and equality as shown in "Tarzan," by Dick Van Buren and John Celardo, published in The Times on Feb. 16, 1958. Granted, blacks are no longer so grotesquely caricatured, but the superstitious native tribesmen still need a smart, brave white man to boss them around and the "Ape-Man" to save the day. Of course, the natives are merely foils so Tarzan can leap in and catch the villain, in this case, a murderous, plotting Frenchman. (And for the record, even as a kid I thought "Tarzan" was a stupid strip and refused to read it).



It will be decades before we get to strips like "Jump Start," "The Boondocks" and "Candorville" (below, a panel from Feb. 10, 2008).



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