(Ed. Note – This here is a guest column by my good pal Etrane Martinez, a truly funny dude and a first class geek. A ton of research and effort went into this one, so be sure to leave comments for him, or track him down and T.P. his trees. He likes that.)
From the moment the Golden Age of comics hit the shelves of drug stores and penny candy stops, the mythology and lore created by comic books has become a part of not only American, but global culture – so much so that the images and names of many characters are well-known in every corner of the world. Everyone knows the origin of Batman. Children know the name Superman. Teens across the world relate to the hardships of Spider-man, but what do people remember the most about such characters?
If anything else, the character’s name is the beginning of what defines them, who they are, and what they stand for. Captain America – there is no question what he’s all about. Hell, you want to go low brow? How about Cherry Poptart? Even if you never heard of her I’m guessing that you can take an easy guess at what this adult book is all about. Often times before an artist even begins to first sketch their creation, a lot of thought and revision goes into creating strong and fitting names that best defines the core of the character. The result can truly be amazing… and sometimes it becomes one of the most racially insensitive things ever published and distributed to the masses. Examples of which pop up from the early stages of sequential art to modern-day creations, and everything in between. So much so that sometimes all you can do is shake your head and laugh. Without further ado, here’s my list of The Top Ten Racially Insensitive Comic Book Characters!
10.) Indian Fighter (1950)
Indian Fighter was just that. The book told tales of the old west where the heroic white man helped to tame and battle “injuns”. Not as much of a racist character as it is a racist book all together. Every issue told a western story about the might used to overcome the “savages”. The fact that 99% of all Westerns at the time did the same thing is the main reason why Indian Fighter is #10. Though, “Native American Fighter” just sounds creepy and wrong…or even…wrong..er?
9.) Shamrock (1982)
In 1982, Marvel set out to create a character that truly represented the pride and culture of Ireland, but instead they made this. Molly Fitzgerald was given “luck” powers and became the superhero known as Shamrock and she was as lame as she sounds. Though she supposedly has the real “luck of the Irish” as her super power, Marvel gave her a crap life. In one story she is even drugged by her own father, hoping to steal her powers – the shame. Later the character announced her retirement and became a hair dresser. They later brought her back to the Marvel Universe and she was then presented as having become overweight since retiring. Since Shamrock first made her appearance in Marvel Super-Heroes: Contest of Champions #1, she has been more of a filler for meeting a social quota then a true attempt at a culturally based character… and did I mention she is LAME?!!!
8.) Li’l Eightball (1939)
Right after Universal Studios swooped in and bought up the studio that created “Oswald the Rabbit” out from under Walt Disney, they hired Walter Lantz to create this comic book character in order to make light of the everyday life of minorities. The pages were full with the type of slap stick and buffoonery that one can imagine goes hand in hand with such a depiction of black stereotypes. Cartoons where also made starring Li’l Eightball. The first one was called Stubborn Mule. Yes, there was more than one. Have you been able to work out why he’s named Li’l Eightball yet? Not that hard. In the book he lived with his “Mammy” and he often had adventures with his girlfriend Honeysuckle Jones. In 1947 the editors dropped the character after protests by The Cultural Division of The National Negro Congress.
7.) The Yellow Claw (1956)
This Marvel Comics “Fu Manchu” style supervillain was created by EC Comics great Al Feldstein and artist Joe Maneely. There is nothing better than using racial terms to help name a new character. The Yellow Claw? That’s no more wrong than naming Aquaman “The White Fish” or calling John Stewart “The Negro Lantern” (The superhero, not The Daily Show guy). Mmmm, the Negro Lantern… I bet BET would be all over that.
6.) Ebony White (1940)
Ok, this one hits close to home because I’m a huge fan of the book that spawned this character; but hey, there’s nothing like being a little racist – it’s like being a little pregnant. His own name being a racial pun, Ebony White was the creation of Will Eisner and was the taxi driving sidekick to The Spirit. Ebony was a classic portrayal of a “minstrel” character. I once had the chance to ask Eisner himself about Ebony and he had mixed feelings over this good-hearted character. At the time they were aware of what they were doing but they were also practicing a form of racial humor that was the norm at the time. He went on to compare the use of Ebony to Dickens’s own use of stereotypes in his stories. Which is true, but that doesn’t seem like an excuse that would hold much weight in East L.A.
5.) Steamboat (1941)
Steamboat was created by artist C.C. Beck in order to draw Black readers to the Captain Marvel comic book. Unfortunately he offended them instead and Steamboat was unceremoniously killed off after a delegation from a black civil rights group visited the editor’s office in protest. Steamboat was a servant and was meant to be a permanent character. He was found offensive due to his huge lips and kinky hair and because he spoke in a stereotypical slang. Here’s to tolerance and brotherhood, SHAZAM!
4.) Chop Chop (1941)
Dude, the 40’s sucked! Weng “Chop Chop” Chan was a member of the Blackhawks, created by Will Eisner, Chuck Cuidera, and Bob Powell. He was a pilot for the ‘Hawks, as well as a mechanic and cook. He was the embodiment of a walking stereotype. He was short and fat with buck teeth and a knot top hairstyle. He also spoke in broken English and surprisingly enough, he was a very popular character in the series; offering the title some morally wrong comic relief. In later years he was rebooted and modernized… and he still came out racist.
3.) Everyone In Africa from ‘Tintin In The Congo’ (1931)
The French book Tintin in the Congo follows the adventures of Tintin as he travels to Africa and comes in contact with angry natives, savage wildlife, and…American gangsters? The story revolves around a diamond smuggling plot, but what really stands out is the depiction of Native Africans. To say he drew them to look like monkeys is a major understatement. They almost look alien monkeys. Herge, the cartoonist behind Tintin was very regretful later in his life for the way he presented Africa, the people, and their everyday life. He was very embarrassed and called it “the horror of his youth”. Nice, He wrote his own closer.
2.) Egg-Fu (1965)
The first Egg-Fu was a campy and incredibly racist caricature from the Silver Age of DC Comics. He was introduced as a villain in the Wonder Woman series. He was a Chinese agent for the communist party who had transformed himself into a bomb. Yup, that’s what I said – a living bomb. Later on, Egg Fu the Fifth (a relative to the original) appeared to once again fight Wonder Woman; sporting all the same stereotypes, mustache and all. The current updated version is a deadly mastermind from the planet Apokolips who collects Mad Scientists. That’s one way of fixing it.
1.) Memin Penguin (1940-?)
Why is Memín Pinguín #1 you ask? Well, for one specific reason. This comic about a young Cuban boy was introduced in Mexico in the 1940’s and is STILL IN PRINT TO THIS DAY! He might be adored in Mexico but he is starting to gain attention from the other side of the border. Though the book did a good job of tackling racial and cultural issues head on, Memin received the majority of its criticism due to the way the characters are portrayed. It would be like animating Martin Luther King giving his famous “I Have a Dream” speech but drawing him in black-face. Wal-Mart stopped selling Memín comic books after a customer in Texas complained about the racially insensitive appearance of Memín and his mother, who looks an awful lot like a mix of Aunt Jemima and an old school Sammy Sosa. The book remains popular in Mexico, Panama, Peru, Chile, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Venezuela. Viva la Racism…?
Well, there you go folks. I wish I could say that doing research for this didn’t make me laugh, but it did. Hopefully you got a chuckle or two at of what I found. It’s obvious that we’re not out of the woods yet in regards to racism in comic books, but luckily that fact is greatly over shadowed by the many strong and positive characters of color in mainstream comic books. Like Black Lightning…and Black Manta…and, ummm…there was that one time they made The Punisher black. Well, nothing is perfect. At least it’s not the 1940’s again.
Etrane Martinez is a local stand-up comic and media producer. For more info, check out his Facebook page.