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22 April 2004 @ 19:05
Comics in black and white  

Some of you may have correctly inferred, from comments here in A Roguish Chrestomathy and also in w1ldc47's blog, that I have a certain fondness for Aaron McGruder's comic strip The Boondocks. Partly this is because I can frequently identify with Huey Freeman (as in today's comic), but I also find it heartening that sometimes I just don't get it. It seems to me that if, in a comic about the life of young black kids in suburban America, all the jokes were intelligible to a white academic living in Canada who knows sfa about hip-hop culture, that would not reflect at all well on the comic's ability to "keep it real."

Anyway, as Rad Geek (who, by the way, actually uses the abbr tag for its intended purpose) mentions, there's an article about McGruder by Ben McGrath in the current (April 19 & 26) issue of The Beau and the Butterfly. Two things struck me about the article.

First, I think there are a couple of lacunae in McGrath's cursory history of black Americans in cartooning. For one thing, there's no mention of the man who may have been the most celebrated black cartoonist ever. Of course, nobody seems to be quite sure whether George Herriman was, indeed, black like Pushkin, and perhaps it doesn't matter, since Krazy Kat zirself was black only in the literal, ink-bottle sense of the word. Still, the speculation might deserve a line or two. I also found it strange that, although Garry Trudeau is mentioned a few times and even quoted, there's no mention of the various black characters who have appeared in Doonesbury over the years. Calvin, Rufus, Ginny, Clyde, and Ray are, I think, just about the best any white cartoonist could hope to do in the way of portraying black characters: Trudeau neither makes their race their defining characteristic nor pretends that it's irrelevant. (Oddly enough, these five are also not mentioned on doonesbury.com's cast list, being shoved aside in favour of such crucial white figures as Zeke, President King, and Mr. Butts.)

The other thing that struck me was the tone of the complaints voiced by McGruder's critics in the black community:

Larry Elder is not alone among black voices in decrying the negativity of "The Boondocks." Robert Johnson, the chief executive of BET (that's Black Exploitation Television, or Butts Every Time, according to Huey), has said that his employees do "more in one day to serve the interest of African-Americans than this young man has done in his entire life."

Is it just me, or is that the same shit (mutatis mutandis) that was being flung at Mordecai Richler forty-five or fifty years ago? (And couldn't Riley Freeman, with a little more ambition, be the Duddy Kravitz of his time and place?) The Canadian Jewish community has long since recovered from whatever damage Richler's unsentimental hilarity inflicted, and he's now generally viewed as a (peccable) paragon of CanLit. There's been a major black American community for much longer than there's been a major Canadian Jewish community; it is a sad thing indeed if the former is stuck now in the same embattled position that the latter occupied in the 1950s, in which it is widely deemed dangerous or even treasonable for any member of the community to poke fun at any other member.

Nuværende humør: thoughtfulthoughtful
Nuværende musik: Leoš Janáček, Glagolitic Mass