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Guest Spot: Scalped and the Stereotype That Wasn’t There

by John Lees (check out John’s column, Comic Book Club, at ProjectFanboy here)

Okay, so who reads Scalped? For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Scalped is a sprawling crime drama by writer Jason Aaron and (for the most part) artist R.M. Guera, published by DC Comics’ celebrated Vertigo imprint. Set on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation in South Dakota, it tells the story of Dashiell Bad Horse, a prodigal son returning to his childhood home and falling under the sway of community leader turned gangster Chief Red Crow. The comic has been widely met with critical acclaim, not least from here at Comic Book Resources. As well as regularly reviewing the book, CBR has prominently featured Scalped right here on the Comics Should Be Good blog. The comic is a constant fixture on What I Bought by Greg Burgas, who offers plenty of insightful commentary on the developing narrative. Brian Cronin, meanwhile, devoted an entire week of 2009’s Year of Cool Comic Book Moments to Scalped. CBR ranked the series at #5 in its Best of 2009 list. Looking beyond this site, Jerome Maida of the Philadelphia Daily News not only ranked Scalped as the best comic of 2009, but as one of the greatest comics of all time.

But the response to the book has not been universally positive. Some detractors have accused the comic of
perpetuating negative Native American stereotypes, even going so far as to condemn those who praise Scalped as part of the problem. As readers of Scalped, are we guilty of promoting racism? Well first, I would suggest arguing on these lines takes us up a blind alley where we don’t look too closely into the facts and simply accept that Scalped and its author are racist, knowingly or otherwise. So I am going to take things back a notch, and ask: is Scalped really racist?

To answer this question, we need to take a closer look at Scalped, and see how the comic itself holds up against such accusations. The most common complaint is the idea that the comic portrays all Native Americans as criminals and lowlifes. While yes, there are violent characters in Scalped and many laws are broken, this is a crime story, and is therefore by its very definition going to focus on criminals. But it should also be noted that thoroughly decent, law-abiding Native characters such as Granny Poor Bear and Franklin Falls Down challenge the notion that the book presents all Indians as scum, while the very worst figures in the book, those most devoid of redeeming qualities – such as psychotic killer Diesel or the amoral, vindictive FBI agent Nitz – are white.

One line of criticism I have encountered demanded more balance, that for every Native American engaging in crime or wallowing in drunken despair we should see another doing good for the local community or enjoying a happy and contented life on The Rez. This to me seemed like an odd request, not only because it would be utterly incongruent with the somber tone established in this particular comic, but because it clashes with the very dynamics of the genre as a whole. Should a comedy have balance by having half its content be harrowing drama? Should a horror have balance with extended sequences devoid of any suspense or peril? Why should the crime genre not be too much about crime? Perhaps, as I shall touch on later, it is more to do with the color of the characters committing the crimes.

I think part of the problem could be that much of this criticism is based on the first few issues of Scalped, or on the first graphic novel collecting the series: Indian Country. In these early chapters, the focus seems to be less on character than action, and while I wouldn’t necessarily say the characters are presented as racial stereotypes, one could see them as noir archetypes: the outsider, the gangster, the wise old drunk, the femme fatale. While there were some glimpses of the depth that was to come – take, for example, the series of near-misses and miscommunications that prevent Gina Bad Horse from getting in touch with her son in issue #4, which in the next issue are given tragic significance – in its beginning, the series felt more like a conventional crime thriller, well told. I’d argue that it was with the collection of issues contained in the second graphic novel, Casino Boogie, that Jason Aaron really began to stretch his wings and the book’s unique voice was truly established. From this point on, the intricate experimentation with time and chronological structure made Scalped less about constant action than dwelling on a single moment, reflecting on it from different perspectives and examining its causes and consequences. Characterization came to the forefront, and those archetypes began to get a lot more complicated, turning into nuanced, multi-faceted individuals. As a result, critiques based solely on the first handful of issues don’t just seem outdated, but rather it’s like they miss the point of Scalped entirely, almost as if they were talking about a different comic.

As an example of this, one character that has been a target of particular scorn is Lincoln Red Crow. Based on his first appearance in the first issue, it might be easy to dismiss him as a one-note caricature, just a typical gangster heavy. In his first appearance, he has just finished scalping some unknown victim, so it is perhaps understandable to assume the character is to become a stereotypical Indian villain. But as the series develops, Red Crow evolves into a fascinating, tragic figure. Red Crow’s soul has been steadily eroded by the moral compromises and Faustian pacts he has made to open his casino. Driven by a desire to bring prosperity to the struggling Oglala Lakota tribe, this casino for him represents these lifelong dreams becoming a reality.

After decades of fighting to secure his people’s future, he has succeeded, but at the cost of becoming the very thing he hates the most. “You done spent too long playin’ the part a’ the poor, old pissed-off ‘skin who wouldn’t be caught dead workin’ for the man,” sneers one associate, “Cause now you are the man, and you don’t know what the hell to do with yourself.”

But still, some would continue to disregard this complexity, concluding that the book’s readers will only view him as a “savage Indian” or a “greedy Indian”. Not only is this an inaccurate appraisal of Red Crow’s story – classic themes like “the loss of idealism” and “power corrupts” are universal, not exclusively Indian – but it severely underestimates the intelligence and morality of the comic’s readers, assuming they must all be as racist as its author is imagined to be. What is the more likely scenario? That deep down, all readers of Scalped secretly hate Indians, and they were attracted to a comic with Native criminals through an insatiable desire to validate their own bigotry? Or that readers of Scalped just happen to like strong storytelling and compelling characters?

Red Crow is a mass of contradictions, with Aaron encouraging the reader to alternatively view him as a tragic hero, a monster, an optimist, a tyrant, a loving father, an abusive father, a mentor, a traitor, courageous, cowardly, spiritual, violent, a man on a downward spiral of despair. But these racially-charged arguments against the book can only see Red Crow as an Indian, with all these other aspects of his character becoming secondary, simply ways of commenting on him as an Indian. In this line of thought, it seems a white criminal can be a fully-fledged character in his own right, but an Indian criminal must be seen as a representation of all Indians. Who then, out of Aaron and his detractors, is more racially progressive?

Here is a scene featuring Red Crow from the conclusion of a 2009 storyline…

It has been said that the reader generates just as much meaning from a text as a writer does, and as such no matter how fair and nuanced writers become in their depictions of Natives, the possibility of someone (over)reading a subversive racist subtext into everything will always remain. I believe Scalped to be the victim of what I call the stereotype that wasn’t there. By this, I mean that it is easy to assert that a creator is racist, but it is more difficult for said creator to conclusively prove that they’re not, meaning a piece of fiction can be burdened with a vague stigma of racism even without any substantial evidence to actually confirm what, with Scalped, too often amounts to overreaching assertions built on skewed interpretations.

Sadly, this mindset only hinders the representation of Natives (and other minorities) in fiction. It can be a vicious cycle, with writers reluctant to tackle minority-based stories for fear of being perceived as racist and so contributing to the underrepresentation of these minorities in fiction. And when a minority character does see the light of day, are they to be portrayed in a manner more “sensitive” (some would say patronizing) than their white counterparts, so as not to offend anyone? What a regressive view of minority characters, where their loftiest aspiration should be to not be offensive! Some critiques go so far as to suggest we should only allow white characters to be featured in crime stories, to be sure no one can equate any minority to criminality. I would say this is a dangerous precedent to be setting in the name of “equality”. It seems like backwards logic to me, that because there aren’t enough minority-focused stories out there, we should further limit them by branding certain genres out-of-bounds for anything but white characters. Isn’t it a better solution to stop viewing characters as “white criminals” or “Indian criminals”, to look past their color for more substantial ways of defining them?

With Scalped, Jason Aaron demonstrates that a Native American character can be just as flawed and damaged as a white character. Far from being racist, I would suggest that is a necessary step towards that sought-after equality.

One could argue that Scalped is too violent, too foul-mouthed, too unrelentingly bleak and depressing. These are all complaints based on what is right there on the page, ready to be received by its audience in one way or another. Accusing the book of racism, however, is dependent on leaps of logic and speculation on both the writer’s intention and the response of other readers that are insulting to both writer and reader alike. For those yet to read the book, my recommendation would be to check out Scalped for yourself – there are currently five graphic novel collections available – and make up your own mind about it. But please, judge it on its merits as a crime story or a character drama rather than on its stereotypes or lack thereof, because Scalped is so much more than just an “Indian comic”.

61 Comments

Great post, very well reasoned. I think Scalped is a great book and many things, but “racist” is quite a leap. Scalped is first and foremost a crime story, secondarily featuring Native-American protagonists. That said, it’s kind of hard to tell the story you want to tell without *some* Indians engaged in criminal acts.

To me, it’ s the same tired argument that gets trotted out with the depiction of Italian-Americans in things like The Godfather, Goodfellas, or The Sopranos. Why should those writers have to mention the noble work of people like Enrico Fermi, Mario Cuomo, Antonin Scalia, or hell, Carmine Infantino for that matter, when they have nothing to do with a crime story featuring Italian organized crime? If that’s what it’s about, that’s what it’s about – it’s not an indictment of an entire ethnic group, and I doubt that’s the authorial intent.

It’s a bit lik saying, oh, I don’t like the Super Bowl because it just perpetuates the idea that the Super Bowl is only about football. Silly.

Thanks for the reply, Gort!

Good parallel with Italian-Americans. I just think such reasoning sorely underestimates the intelligence of a lot of people. With all the possible responses that could be drawn from watching a cinematic masterpiece like “The Godfather” or “Goodfellas”, I highly doubt there’s too many people that walked away thinking, “Oh, I guess this means all Italian-Americans are criminals.” I think such a heavily racial reading is lowest-common-demoninator stuff, and if you really can’t get over the stumbling block of a character’s ethnicity to judge them as a rounded human being the same way you would a white character, then I’d propose the issue lies more with you than with the person telling the story, or with the rest of the audience for not having a problem with it.

I will say that I was one who after the first graphic novel thought Scalped was indeed another “Sopranos” for its depictions of the Native Americans. However after reading Dead Mothers and The Gravel in Your Gut at the library one day, I could see where Aaron was evolving the characters and stories.

Well done and even handed article John…I liked that you gave thought to both sides of the issue…

Thanks, Daryll B. I’m glad that you decided to give the book another chance. Quite a few people I’ve talked to have said they weren’t quite sure what to make of “Scalped” after reading “Indian Country”, but by the time they got to “Casino Boogie” – and the later graphic novels you mention – the series had truly won them over. Even Jason Aaron has talked about how much he felt the book improved as he went on. I think some of the title’s critics might get a different perspective if they were to try “Dead Mothers” and “The Gravel in Your Guts” like you did. Thanks again for the response!

"O" the Humanatee!

March 16, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Scalped is probably my favorite current comic: It’s smart, suspenseful, rich in characterization, and beautifully drawn (at least when Guera’s doing it). I agree with pretty much everything said above, but I do think it misses a couple of problematic points, both of which have to do not with the characters per se but the setting of the stories:

First, the book shows not just the crime story centered on the main characters, but a portrayal of life on the “Rez” – a life that is filled with crime and addiction of various sorts. Certainly there are exceptions, and sometimes these situations are plot-relevant (as when the cops invade drug houses), but often they are depicted even in background scenes. It could be argued that such things are common on reservations, and certainly I’ve read for years about major problems with addiction among Native Americans. Indeed, it could be argued that this circumstance is one reason the Rez is such a good, rich setting for Scalped, along with the very real situations of putting casinos on reservations and the thinly disguised analogue for the militant side of the American Indian Movement (AIM). But showing such degradation as widely prevalent does tend toward tarring all Native Americans with the same brush.

Second, every time one makes a narrative decision not to use a “default setting,” that feels like it signifies something that setting the story among, say, ethnically nonspecific white people does not. So it’s a bit too simple to say we should all just treat the Rez as like any other setting when it is indeed an unusual setting. In the long run it’s ideal that we should treat all characters and settings as equal, and in some cases we’ve more or less gotten there: a black doctor or policeman is pretty unremarkable nowadays on, say, mainstream TV (though even there race is sometimes addressed). But it’s more problematic when ethnicity (or sexual identity, etc.) is identified with a setting, as when black people are shown (only) in the ghetto. The Rez is a ghetto, considering the history in which the US government essentially penned up Native Americans. (Sure, there’s a limited right to self-government, but that doesn’t make up for other inequities.

I personally don’t find that either of these issues detracts from my appreciation of Scalped, but I do think they’re somewhat more subtle and insidious than the issues John Lees addresses.

Thanks O, for pointing out that abstracting away the story from its setting and the ethnicity of those involved is a problem in and of itself.

I really want to read this article but I’m about 8 issues behind. Any major spoilers in the article?

I appreciate you for bringing this issue up, O and Julian. This issue of setting is one I have considered, and one I’d like to talk about at more length, but with a word limit to keep in mind it became a casualty of unpursued ideas. “Scalped” is such a rich story so full of layers and nuance, I almost feel like I could write a book on it, with its use of setting being a chapter in of itself. But for now, I’ll try and touch briefly on some of my observations about setting.

First, to Julian, you do raise a valid point. When I talk about how not everything about a story should be defined by the ethnicity of the characters involved, I did not intend to suggest that it was of no relevance whatsoever. I mean, with Bad Horse, Jason Aaron is obviously keen on portraying both his heritage and where he grew up as being a big part of who he is. One of his major arcs as a character stems from these twin influences pulling in different directions to turn his back on his heritage and his community and run like hell, and to – with the urging of Catcher or even his mother in dream sequences – to embrace his heritage and protect Prairie Rose. Then there’s the chapter in “Dead Mothers”, where we see him as a child rejecting the old stories his mother is trying to tell him, only to then as an adult to pass them onto the bereaved son. I guess what I’m trying to say is that a story can be about a setting or a race without necessarily casting judgement against said people or place, and that their ethnicity is part of who these characters are, not all of who they are.

O’s discussion of setting is a bit more tricky. There’s no getting around it that Prairie Rose is portrayed as a miserable place to live. But I don’t think that this necessarily equates to us thinking all the people living there are “filthy animals”, as one attack on the book stated. As bleak as the setting is, we see characters who are not just good people in spite of where they live, but arguably because of it. Characters like Granny Poor Bear and (before she died) Gina Bad Horse are driven by a pride of their community and what is once stood for, while we see how Franklin Falls Down’s spirituality and cultural heritage has given him strength in dark times.

But all this is bringing us back to character, what about setting? Is it a Catch-22, where Aaron is faced with on one hand really creating a gloomy picture of life on an Indian Reservation, or on the other hand compromising the grim nature of his narrative by showing more of the good side of the community? I think “The Wire” was a show that faced a similar dilemna. It certainly did the city of Baltimore no favors (I doubt their tourist trade has been boosted much), with much of the city’s culture and positive elements overlooked in favor of exploring crime, beurocracy at city hall and the broken school system, but for the message the show was trying to put forward, showing us all the nicer stuff wouldn’t have helped any. Are you doing good by exposing the problems, or are you hurting more than helping by perpetuating the idea that the place is really bad?

It’s difficult, and I don’t know if there’s an easy way of resolving it. I do think “Scalped #35″ was a big step in the right direction, though. I would like to see more standalone stories like this peppered amidst the main crime plot of the series. Here, we saw a couple who loved where they live, who had made a happy life for themselves, and we even got an upbeat ending. Little stories like this give us a different insight into the world of “Scalped”, showing its about more than death and misery. I personally would love to see a Granny Poor Bear one-shot down the line, maybe dealing with her nursing Dino back to health, and maybe even guiding him away from the black hole of crime that was threatening to swallow him up.

I hope this maybe went some way to answering your queries, O, and I apologise for not getting round to covering it in the main article. Still, thanks for reading, and for the thoughtful response.

Hey JackKing, you should be alright to read that. I don’t make any reference to the stuff that goes on in “High Lonesome”. I think I even avoided mentioning the spoiler at the end of the first issue!

Great article. I agree that handcuffing the stories by not allowing to portray negative sides on minorities is more racist than telling said stories. I am Mexican American and I know that there are chicano criminals just like there are chicano heroes.

Well said, Enrique. And I’ve certainly read reviews from Native readers and critics who commend “Scalped” for depicting this world, and even for showing the bad.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 16, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Although nowhere near as realistic – I don’t think Scalped is in anyway trying to say ‘this is reality’ – accusing Scalped of racism is very much the same of accusing The Wire of racism.
It ignores the authors intent, the content of the story, and the complexity of the characters.

Heck, should I take offense to the recent Criminal Omnibus?
The only story where characters had good intent, even if it soon fell away, were issues starring African-American characters.
Any story with a Caucasian lead started with the person as a criminal, two of the three being characters raised by criminal fathers.

will say that I was one who after the first graphic novel thought Scalped was indeed another “Sopranos” for its depictions of the Native Americans.

What does that mean?

To say Sopranos was specifically about Italian-American mobsters kind of misses the entire show – it was using that setting, and those characters to talk about the state of family and America as a whole.

Any racism, even latent is odd – FBI recordings had mob members discussing the show, and trying to figure out which character was meant to be which real life member of the mob.

Not to mention, the show did a brilliant trick in the early seasons, with the psychiatrists estranged husband, himself an Italian-American, angry at Tony for bringing down the image of Italian-Americans by being a mobster.
I thought that was a nice wink at the audience, and a nice way of showing the oddness of such claims, and the required persecution complex required to take one person or portrayal as an indictment of a group of people.

Here, we saw a couple who loved where they live, who had made a happy life for themselves, and we even got an upbeat ending. Little stories like this give us a different insight into the world of “Scalped”, showing its about more than death and misery.

I read Scalped for the death and misery!

The setting and it’s world are secondary!

Even in poverty and misery, people get a sense of “home” from where they live or grow up. With that comes a sense of pride. The pride may be to mask the knowledge that they can’t afford to or don’t have the will to move anywhere better, but it’s still there. The young, especially, don’t know any better. Witness Dino’s solo issue, in which he lists all the reasons to stay on the rez. It’s not pretty, but it’s the only home he knows.

Here is my big problem with your piece Brian, well-written and nuanced as it is:

You tackle:

Is the depiction balanced, with good depictions for every bad one?
Should noirs be balanced period?
Are they stereotypes or noir archetypes?
Is it unfairly based on early storylines rather than the whole book?
Is it a strong step forward to show Native Americans can be as flawed as white characters?

These are all good questions and all, but you miss one major question that isn’t so politically correct:

Is there any real-life truth to the stereotypes?

This is something that doesn’t even seem to be considered in the piece. For example one of my best friends grew up on an Indian reservation, and she paints a far from glowing picture of life there. Her stories were very bleak, violent, depressing and dysfunctional.

I grew up on the Canadian prairies, I’ve spent significant amounts of time on a few different reservations. Jason Aaron has definitely done his homework.

I’d suggest anyone who considers the representation of Prairie Rose “unfair” spend a few days on Hobema, in Alberta, among many others. To witness the prevalent social problems; crime, gang activity, band corruption, substance abuse, etc. “Scalped” doesn’t paint it’s characters as one-note either, I love that about it. These are people who have dealt with very serious problems throughout their lives, and just like in real-life, some of them were broken by the weight, and some of them were strengthened by it. Jason Aaron makes no apologies for presenting his characters as flawed, and damaged, and real, and it actually makes the book connect to actual people much more strongly.

FGJ’s use of the Wire as an example is great. It does show the negative of the black ghetto more than the positive, but that’s only because there is a lot more negative in a black ghetto than positive, just like in any poverty-stricken area regardless of the color of the people inhabiting it. It’s not racist, simply accurate, which is probably why the show is so popular in the black community.

” This is something that doesn’t even seem to be considered in the piece. For example one of my best friends grew up on an Indian reservation, and she paints a far from glowing picture of life there. Her stories were very bleak, violent, depressing and dysfunctional. ”

There’s no denying that stereotypes are grounded in at least some kernel of truth. But would you want to perpetuate a negative truth about a group, even if that truth applies to a significant portion of the group, if it adversely affects the individuals in said group and prevents them from becoming something else?

Which is why I couldn’t read Scalped past the first trade, however much I love Jason Aaron’s writing. Like the columnist said, this isn’t inherently racist. It is, however, presenting a representation of a defeated, corrupted culture, where being able to do horrible things is an asset. It wasn’t a story where anyone was doing anything to change their hopeless world, so it wasn’t something I wanted to read.

I’m reminded also of the complaints about the L Word and Queer as Folk, TV shows that depict the gay community and have been accused of depicting all gays as promiscuous and inconstant in their relationships. These complaints too miss the point. These shows are soap operas, they’re mainly about the drama and complications of relationships. It would be a very boring soap opera if half or more of the characters were in solid, long-term, satisfying, happy, mature relationships.

Political correctness can’t be allowed to trump the underpinnings of a genre.

Not to mention, it’s far better to be depicted with all the blood and sweat that comes with the territory when you’re a human being than being depicted as a completely well-adjusted (and fake) role model.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 16, 2010 at 6:11 pm

It is, however, presenting a representation of a defeated, corrupted culture, where being able to do horrible things is an asset.

Who is doing horrible things an asset for?

Everyone in Scalped who does horrible things is either living a terrible life, by any standards, or really hates themselves.

It wasn’t a story where anyone was doing anything to change their hopeless world, so it wasn’t something I wanted to read.

That’s what noir is all about!

Maybe that’s part of the problem – people have gotten to used to the hollywood style of noir, which is more aesthetically driven – and maybe a character makes a couple of bad choices but is still left standing – as opposed to the more novelistic approach where people’s choices just lead them closer and closer and closer to their own destruction.

Some really interesting discussion and debate going on here, guys. Nice to see people discussing “Scalped” in such detail!

T, as regards the question of “is there any real-life truth to the stereotypes”, I would say that there is certainly problems with crime and alcoholism with SOME people in SOME reservations, but hardly with all of them. And I don’t think Jason Aaron is trying to suggest that all Indians fit the stereotype. But by telling a story on this particularly bad reservation, he is highlighting the difficult conditions that the worst off have to live with.

But here’s the thing that irks me. The criticisms I’m reading, it isn’t just limited to “the portrayals of reservations are inaccurate.” It’s “the portrayals of reservations are inaccurate because Jason Aaron is trying to portray all Indians as filthy savages.” And I don’t think that’s fair. The relationship between poverty and crime is hardly a stereotype exclusive to Indian reservations. You take a small, isolated community, that’s poor, that have been wronged and cheated by others throughout recent history, and throw in people disillusioned with their place in society, and you’ve got a melting pot from which a crime story can rise with lots to work with. I don’t think there’s anything about the story that suggests there’s something wrong with Native Americans, specifically, that makes them more likely to be criminals than people of other ethnicities.

Also, some good observations about noir, FunkyGreenJerusalem. Noir is about more than the aesthetic. People think noir is all private eyes, femme fatales and fedora hats. But I think a movie like, say, “A Simple Plan”, is a film that really adheres to the principles of classic noir, but too often people don’t recognise it as such because of the unconventional setting and the altered aesthetic. With “Scalped”, especially in those early issues, I think there was the same problem, and people got those noir stylings mixed up with stereotypes. They saw the “crime boss” archetype as the “greedy Indian” stereotype. They saw the femme fatale archetype as the “promiscuous Indian” stereotype. They saw the “wise old drunk” archetype as the “drunk Indian” stereotype, and so on.

But in addition to noir, the more “Scalped” goes on, the more I’m seeing it taking on the structure of a Shakespearian tragedy. Which is quite appropriate, seeing that noir took a thing or two from those in the first place…

Also, thanks to Ty and T for sharing some first-hand accounts of living on reservations. It provides a perspective that a Scotsman like me can’t.

T, as regards the question of “is there any real-life truth to the stereotypes”, I would say that there is certainly problems with crime and alcoholism with SOME people in SOME reservations, but hardly with all of them. And I don’t think Jason Aaron is trying to suggest that all Indians fit the stereotype. But by telling a story on this particularly bad reservation, he is highlighting the difficult conditions that the worst off have to live with.

Oh yeah, don’t get me wrong, my friend wasn’t telling me that all Native Americans were bad, just that reservations have a disproportionate concentration of bad elements. And not because the people are Native American but because of the conditions they live in and their history.

She was very, very pro-Native American and actively celebrated the culture but very anti-reservation and did not look back on it very fondly.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 16, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Noir is about more than the aesthetic. People think noir is all private eyes, femme fatales and fedora hats.

When noir started as a genre, in film it was with the movie Detour, it was all contemporary – it’s just that people wore fedora’s, and there were private eyes (No blame divorce killed that profession).

But I think a movie like, say, “A Simple Plan”, is a film that really adheres to the principles of classic noir, but too often people don’t recognise it as such because of the unconventional setting and the altered aesthetic.

I’ve not read it, but apparently the novel keeps going after the film’s end, as that one moment of greed continues to make the main characters life a living hell until the end of his days.

With “Scalped”, especially in those early issues, I think there was the same problem, and people got those noir stylings mixed up with stereotypes. They saw the “crime boss” archetype as the “greedy Indian” stereotype. They saw the femme fatale archetype as the “promiscuous Indian” stereotype. They saw the “wise old drunk” archetype as the “drunk Indian” stereotype, and so on.

Vertigo series often have a problem with not really kicking off until the second arc, or collection – Sandman, 100 Bullets, Fables, Lucifer – and I think Scalped is one of those.
Not sure if it just takes the set up of the first arc to get it to a place where the writer can get more stuck into themes rather than plot, or they want to be more true to a chosen genre to try and attract as many fans as possible before twisting it.
With Scalped, I think they needed the first arc just to get the ball rolling – it would have moved to slow at the start, at the way it moves currently, and probably lost a lot of readers.

That said, for those who stuck with it, I think it really works that it brought all these noir stereotypes to mind – watching them dissolve is part of the fun.
For instance, I’ve said before on the CBR Vertigo board and here, for me, the real tragedy of Red Crow, is he’s aware of who is, as opposed to what he wants to be.
He knows how far he has fallen from his own goals and standards, and even though he hurts, he has accepted his lot.
All the others seem to think there’s going to be a day where they can leave it behind, or escape – Nitz with his revenge, Dash thinking the job will end.
When the book started I didn’t think Red Crow would become a figure of tragedy to me, but I don’t know if I’d be as impressed if I hadn’t started out with him slotted into a ‘scary crime boss’ mold in my head.

Wow, that’s one of the best assessments of Red Crow’s character I’ve ever read FunkyGreenJerusalem. I may have to steal that in future!

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 16, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Wow, that’s one of the best assessments of Red Crow’s character I’ve ever read FunkyGreenJerusalem. I may have to steal that in future!

Cheers.

It’s a credit to Aaron that he’s written a crime series as open to discussion as this one – yet still delivers a ripper of a plot.
Every time a new trade comes out, I read it, and then go back to the beginning and read them all over again (including the one I’d just read) – nearly always pick up something new.
Such an amazing series.

Tom Fitzpatrick

March 16, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Rather funny, that comparison of The Sopranos to Scalped.

I sure HOPE that Mr. Aaron doesn’t end the Vertigo series the same way David Chase ended the Sopranos.

That might actually piss me off! ;-)

Gort wrote:

“To me, it’ s the same tired argument that gets trotted out with the depiction of Italian-Americans in things like The Godfather, Goodfellas, or The Sopranos. Why should those writers have to mention the noble work of people like Enrico Fermi, Mario Cuomo, Antonin Scalia, or hell, Carmine Infantino for that matter, when they have nothing to do with a crime story featuring Italian organized crime?”

I think the issue here, and perhaps also with the complaints about Scalped, is that people are responding to a specific representation of a problem that they probably feel is more systemic. We can admit that there’s organized crime based around a system imported from Italy, yes. We can also admit that there are Italians worth discussing that aren’t criminals. But there’s a wealth of movies that drive the cultural perception of Italian-Americans as mobsters, and a comparative lack of those that represent positive aspects. And the continuous broadcasting of these criminal elements affects not only the non-Italian-American perspective, but also the children now growing up in Italian-American communities. See this article for some interesting examples and statistics: http://www.examiner.com/x-21385-NY-Culture-Examiner~y2009m9d8-The-portrayal-of-Italian-Americans-in-film-are-they-offensive

Or, think of it in comic book terms. How many Italian-American superheroes can you think of off the top of your head? And how many of those have origins related to organized crime?

I’ve only recently moved away from an area near a reservation, and I can tell you that there is plenty of poverty, and all the horrible aspects that go with it: crime, alcoholism, poor education, etc. There are plenty of bums. There are plenty of folks who are hard-working and incredibly welcoming. And of course, there are plenty of people in between. That’s human nature. I’ll admit that I haven’t yet read Scalped, but Sherman Alexie’s novels and story collections do well to explore the full range of rez life.

But, as with the gangster films, perhaps what people are reacting to is not the representation in this specific comic, but a lack of even representation (it’s either ghetto criminals or “noble savages” — the proud native in full traditional dress who cries when people litter, ironically played by an Italian-American, Iron-Eyes Cody) in comics over all. One feels more likely to effect change when raging against something tangible than it is when raging against the system.

Oh, and speaking of comics, the subject of ethnic representation in media always makes me think of this fantastic comic by Adrian Tomine:

http://www.npr.org/programs/atc/features/2008/mar/in_character/donger_1.html

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 16, 2010 at 10:05 pm

But there’s a wealth of movies that drive the cultural perception of Italian-Americans as mobsters, and a comparative lack of those that represent positive aspects.

Actually, it pushed more that mobsters are Italian-American – all those films have plenty of Italian-Americans that aren’t mobsters in them, but all the mobsters are Italian-American.

As for equal representation – there isn’t enough cultural differences, and too much cultural assimilation, with most European immigrants these days – particularly after a century of it, that there’s not much stand out difference of anyone’s background.

I don’t want to be a ‘It’s PC getting out of control’, because that normally brings out the actual racists, but did anyone in the history of ever, watch the Godfather and assume that meant every Italian American is like that?

Oh, and speaking of comics, the subject of ethnic representation in media always makes me think of this fantastic comic by Adrian Tomine:

Tomine’s Shortcomings has a couple of interesting racial takes – the lead character is obsessed with race way more than anyone around him, to the point it alienates others – he feels discriminated against based on nothing – and his ex has suddenly started to force herself into feeling the need for the feeling of a racial heritage she’d never needed/wanted before – earlier in life.

The Donger strip is pretty funny – I only saw the film a year or two ago, and I couldn’t believe the donger was ever acceptable… kinda like Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

But it might be argued that, pretty much, all of the other Italian-Americans in the film are complicit in the mobster system, if not mobsters themselves. And I think the issue is not so much with the Godfather, but with the “average of 9 mob movies a year over the past 30 years.”

“As for equal representation – there isn’t enough cultural differences, and too much cultural assimilation, with most European immigrants these days” — I can see your point, but I could see this as exacerbating the problem: The only thing that makes Italian-Americans different from everyone else is their propensity for being criminals.

I haven’t read Scalped, so I can’t comment on it directly, but I’ve heard similar complaints about all sorts of films and TV shows and books. And you’re right about how people can get carried away with this fear of negatively portraying any oppressed minority. You end up with minority characters being flawless people with no personalities. And since fiction never works well with such dull characters, these lifeless minorities end up demoted to tokens who stand around in the background and don’t do much.

As far as I can tell from what is written here, the only thing that sounds objectionable is that you said Red Crow scalps somebody at the beginning, which is of course a blatant Indian stereotype and which is not a commonplace gangster activity. But I assume that since you don’t go into that, that there must be a reasonable explanation for it in the story.

I live in Oklahoma, so I have known many Indians in my life. We don’t have reservations here, though (aside from Osage County, but it has a large White population in addition to the Osage, as well as some non-Osage Indians. I’ve only been there a few times, but what I saw looked like any other part of Northern Oklahoma, and I never would’ve known it was a reservation if I hadn’t read about it in several authoritative books), for the most part, Indians and Whites are pretty well-integrated in Oklahoma. So we don’t have the problems many reservations are infamous for, being isolated economically and politically from the greater American society. But still, there is a lot of discrimination here, and poverty, even if it doesn’t approach Pine Ridge conditions.

I was wondering about the names in Scalped. Most of the Indians I’ve known have boring, commonplace Anglo names, like Roberts and Carson and Kent. But you almost never see that in fiction. Do all the Indians in this series have names like Red Crow and Bad Horse? I’m sure the prevalence of stereotypical ‘Indian-type’ names varies by tribe, and such names might be very common amoung the Lakota. (And we do have names like that here. They’re just not the majority.) But this stereotype has been bugging me for years. It would like if every Black character in movies and TV and books were named DeShawn or LaQueetah or Chantelle, and nobody was ever named George or Steve or Cindy.

"O" the Humanatee!

March 16, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Following up on my original comment and a number of others since:

When we are assessing whether or not a work of art is racist (which I’ll use as a generic term for a lot of different kinds of prejudice, not all of them based on race), there are really a couple of questions. (1) Is the creator racist, and is that showing in the work? For example, a depiction of all Jews as hook-nosed usurers is almost certainly racist (so long as it’s not satirical or otherwise a commentary on stereotypes). I definitely don’t think this is the case for Scalped. (2) Does this portrayal of the group tend to engender prejudice? (As an old Jewish joke goes – and yes, I’m Jewish – “But is it good for the Jews?” – though in the joke the question can be applied to anything, no matter how distant from real Jewish concerns.)

The latter is an especially tricky question, and can at least apply to Scalped in principle. It depends on such things as the life experience, the critical faculties, etc. of the reader/watcher/listener. Also, it depends on how the work of art fits in the larger scene of how the group is portrayed in other works of art, and in society in general. It’s easy enough to say an artwork shouldn’t lead to prejudice among intelligent readers, and to dismiss all others. But if there are enough of the latter, then there can be a legitimate societal concern – especially if, as Eric points out, there is a relative lack of more positive portrayals (which doesn’t have to mean namby-pamby, deracinated, boring, what have you). “Relative” is a key word here. Among racists, it has not been uncommon to talk about “the good negroes [or other terms].” But that very usage indicates that the good ones are being contrasted against a norm for whom no adjective is necessary. (Plus, “good” in this case means “well-behaved” and “not uppity” as opposed to being an equal worthy of respect.)

If almost all one sees of other groups is negative, one may well wind up prejudiced. This is why it matters if groups are depicted in predominantly negative ways in art, even if any individual artwork cannot be labeled racist.

Also, can we have more love for R.M. Guera? Comics is words and pictures, remember?

"O" the Humanatee!

March 16, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Mary: Most of the characters in Scalped have non-stereotypical first names: for example, Dashiell (a clear noir nod) Bad Horse, Lincoln Red Crow, Carol Ellroy (though she’s Chief Red Crow’s Daughter, who, says Wikipedia, probably married a non-Indian just to spite her father); Franklin Falls Down. (Hmmm … Lincoln, Franklin – is there something there?) But with respect to last names, they’re largely though not entirely in “Injun” territory.

I was only speaking about last names. I already assumed they had typical first names. (And in case anyone gets the wrong idea, I don’t object to Indians having Indian-type names. After all, many do. I just get tired of it ALWAYS being the case, since it isn’t that way in the real world.)

The simple answer is: Of course its racist.

For a more nuanced and articulate explanation of the simple answer, see O’s discussions.

"O" the Humanatee!

March 17, 2010 at 6:09 am

@Ryan: While I appreciate your endorsement, I wouldn’t want my comments reduced to “Of course it’s racist.” I tried to outline several senses in which something could be racist, so that simply stating that something is racist is meaningless without qualification.

Let’s put it this way: The herpes simplex virus can cause various symptoms. But if you had a cold sore in your mouth, I don’t think you’d appreciate someone running around announcing that you’ve got herpes. (Sorry, it was the first analogy that sprang to mind for some reason. And no, I don’t have either form of herpes.)

Some intriguing points are being brought up here. Too many criticisms of “Scalped” have gone the easy route of using Jason Aaron as the evil racist strawman trying to paint Natives as modern-day savages, and it takes the discussion of race to a dead end. It’s too black-and-white (no pun intended). But there definitely are some issues to explore and discuss regarding how negative portrayals of a setting like Prairie Rose – not just in terms of crime, but in terms of poverty and unhappiness – can enforce negative feelings, not just amongst outsiders, but amongst those living in situations, as regards to how they shape their own cultural identity.

I think it should be noted that this idea of negativity begetting negativity is bigger than an Indian issue, bigger even than a race issue. It’s something that can be systemic in fiction, particularly dramatic fiction. Narrative is largely dependant on conflict, and in a lot of case conflict requires some degree of negativity. You could argue that the depiction of affairs and unhappy marriages could damage the reputation of the institution of marriage and enforce negative ideas about it, yet just having a happy marriage with no conflict is lacking in drama. It was this percieved Catch-22 that led Joe Quesada to conclude the Peter Parker/Mary-Jane marriage had become untenable. Or you could say that it hurts the image of government agencies when “24” portrays CTU as full of bumbling incompetents and riddled with double-agents, but if they were a smooth, well-oiled machine that resolved a crisis as soon as it emerged, you’d likely run out of drama to sustain viewers over 24 episodes. With “Scalped”, if the community was thriving and contented, with crime’s influence kept to a bare minimum, there would be a lot less story to tell.

I think the issue is, that you’re dependant on the response of the reader. Like I said in the article, a lot of the time the reader does just as much to generate the meaning of a text as the writer does. So while it’s not full-proof, I think the hope is that we can trust in the readership to take the grim millieu as a statement on character and theme, rather than on race and place.

Take Red Crow’s casino. One critic talked about how the place was decadent and obscene, how having strippers and scantily-clad waitresses dressed up as Indian girls or naming the place the Crazy Horse Casino after a highly-respected historical figure was whoring out Indian culture. This particular reader took these sequences as meaning that Aaron felt all Indian gaming establishments were this way, which was an inaccurate stereotype as in real life they tend to be modest, respectable, family-run establishments. However, the way I saw it, was that the depiction of the Crazy Horse Casino was a specifically targeted comment on Red Crow himself. Yes, the casino is decadent and obscene, heck I’ll throw in tacky as well. Because it’s SUPPOSED to be. To me, I’d say the intended reading isn’t “look at what all these Indians are doing with their casinos,” but rather “Look at what RED CROW is doing with HIS casino.” It’s part of the tragic irony of the character, that he’s spent his whole life campaigning for Native American rights, for his people to stop being exploited, but now he’s the one that’s doing the exploiting.

But even if that’s my reading, that doesn’t change the fact that there is a different reading of the same scenes possible. You can’t dictate what people think, but just because it’s possible to draw a racist message in one subsersive reading, does that make the original text itself racist? It’s a murky gray area, and I’m definitely interested in seeing it discussed further.

Some well thought-out posts, Mary Warner. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really any explanation regarding the scalped guy in the first issue. We never find out who he was, and he’s never spoken about again after his face-down appearance in this one scene. Even when Red Crow reappears later in the same issue, he’s handled with more nuance and sophistication, leaving the earlier scalping moment feel incongruent even within the context of the issue, never mind the series as a whole. I still think it’s an awkward scene, and one of the weakest depictions of Red Crow in the entirety of the series. It’s just unfortunate that it also happens to be his first appearance, which may explain why some detractors still hold onto the idea of him being a racist caricature. First impressions, and all that.

***SPOILER WARNING***

The only real justification I can think of for the scalping scene (besides giving the “bad guy” a suitably shocking and memorable entrance) is that later on, another character is killed and scalped, and we’re supposed to think that Red Crow did it. It’s later revealed to be someone else, but the fact that we already saw that Red Crow is capable of scalping someone singles him out in readers’ minds as a prime suspect.

Wonderful. I think that what a lot of people don’t realize is that stereotypes usually exist because someone embodies them. Organized crime and corruption are huge problems within real native communities. If anything Aaron is bringing some much needed awareness to an issue that doesn’t get enough attention.

@O

I agree that calling Scalped racist without qualification is of meaningless. This is so because racism, conscious or unconscious, is a near unavoidable component of American culture, language, and thought. Elements of culture invariably fall back upon or argue against cultural norms that were, have been, and continue to develop in a racist society. Thus Scalped, as another piece of this culture, is racist. This should not be surprising because, in light of the above, nearly every comic is racist. Scalped happens to engender this discussion because of its provocative setting and subject matter. Its my personal opinion that Jason Aaron and R.M. Guerra do not consciously write a racist Scalped. As some of the people in this thread have noted, Scalped sometimes successfully deals with racialized situations rather beautifully. At other times the book is not successful in this regard (Indian Country).

You make a fair argument, Ryan. I think it is more reasonable to think of “Scalped” in terms of unconscious racism than active, Indian-hating racist polemic as some have accused it of being. I still ultimately disagree, but I think it’s a more valid stance, with – as I touched on above – more within the text that could possibly be percieved in this way than with the latter interpretation of racism, in which case the critics have really had to reach.

I personally think the problem is that “racist” is such a heavy, loaded term, and so in this case even saying Jason Aaron and RM Guera could be guilty of “mild racism” can still be very damaging. It reminds me a bit of the “mild treason” joke in “Arrested Development”. I think there should be some other term for what is being discussed here, in that while on many occasions racialized situations are dealt with, as you say, rather beautifully, on some occasions – such as the aformentioned scalping scene or a moment in “Scalped #3″ where there is an incongruous totem pole just leaning against a meth house – Aaron and Guera fall back on easy imagery. I don’t think stereotyping is the right word, as in neither case does the moment make any kind of catch-all assumption about Indians as a whole – perhaps cliche. But it should also be noted that the successes far outnumber the failures, and that as touched on in the original article the latter is mainly found within the first few issues.

[…] Cronin har en bra artikel på Comic Book Resources om anklagelserna för rasism som Jason Aaron och R M Guéras Scalped har utsatts […]

"O" the Humanatee!

March 17, 2010 at 1:31 pm

@Ryan: Now you’ve gone way, way past anything I said. In fact, “past” is the wrong word, since your thoughts are in no way more extreme variants of mine. You write: “Elements of culture invariably fall back upon or argue against cultural norms that were, have been, and continue to develop in a racist society. Thus Scalped, as another piece of this culture, is racist. This should not be surprising because, in light of the above, nearly every comic is racist.”

Such an analysis is of the most facile “cultural studies” sort. It’s one thing to say society is “racist” because it shows a predominant collective attitude about race. It’s another thing to reverse the chain of logic and say that therefore all individual elements of the collective are themselves racist. Let’s take a far more neutral situation: If I say that men are taller than women, which is statistically correct, it does not mean that “nearly” all men are taller than “nearly” all women. (Or in terms of logic, A –> B does not imply B –> A.) Racism is a far more complex concept than height, but as far as I can see, the same logical considerations of argument apply.

Moreover, even if one accepts that that virtually everything cultural is tinged with issues of race (a claim that I won’t accept without much more consideration of actual evidence), it doesn’t mean that everything cultural is racist. For example, you say that “argu[ing] against [racist] cultural norms” is racist. That would imply that the arguments would be against themselves!

Your argument also leads to circular reductiones ad absurdum (had to look that plural up). For example, it yields conclusions like: an artwork that shows no evidence of racial content whatsoever (to take a clear example, an abstract expressionist painting) is racist, because it must be concealing its racism or avoiding racism, rather than simply lacking racism. Basically the argument commits the logical fallacy of assuming that which is to be proved.

All I was saying was that an artwork can be racist either in the sense that it reflects and embodies the creator’s individual racism or that it can be racist in the sense that regardless of the creator’s attitudes, it seriously risks engendering individual racism in a substantial number of its readers/watchers/listeners, etc. That’s different from saying that an artwork necessarily reflects society’s collective racism. On second thought, It’s probably better not to use the term racism at all in the latter of my two cases.

A very strong rebuttal, O, that grasped the key points of Ryan’s argument and responded more eloquently than I could have.

We all know that context always colors content, and I believe that DC/Vertigo’s marketing is largely responsible for any perception that Scalped’s content is about race. Their entire marketing was based on the line “Scalped is Sopranos but with Indians” — literally, based on initial solicitations and interviews. So if half their sales pitch is focused on the race of the characters, of course everyone is going to read the book being extra conscious (and sensitive) about race.

That actually prevented me from buying the book for the first 18 issues or so. I love crime fiction, but I didn’t want to read a book that preached about race.

Luckily, when I gave it a try because of overwhelming positive reviews online, I found a deep story crafted about escaping one’s heritage and past. It has nothing to do with race. It’s about a character who hated his heritage so deeply he went undercover to destroy the place he came from, only to find himself so deeply tied to that place that he is no longer sure of his own motivations.

It has nothing to do with The Sopranos and the characters could be any race.

It’s pure, brilliant crime noir.

"O" the Humanatee!

March 17, 2010 at 2:08 pm

@Dasbender: All excellent points, and your description of what the series is about is eloquent and spot-on.

Even putting DC/Vertigo’s pitch aside, none of us has commented on the name of the book itself. “Scalped” sure calls to mind a lot of negative Native American stereotypes!

Yeah, O, “Scalped” is certainly a title that carries negative connotations as regards American Indians. But at the same time, I think it works in the context of the series, as like the story itself, it’s raw, harsh, uncompromising. It was actually the title of “Scalped” that first attracted my attention to it. It’s one of those bold, in-your-faces titles that demand to be noticed, like “100 Bullets”. First the title caught my eye, then I read about what seemed like a really engaging crime story. It was only later that I learned more and discovered it was set on an Indian Reservation. “Scalped” invokes images of violence and brutality, but I don’t think it necessarily encourages us to think Native Americans specifically are all violent and brutal.

Also, I think “Scalped” works because one of the central overarching stories of the series is the twin murder mystery, one in the past with the FBI agents and one in the present with Gina Bad Horse, where in each case the victims were scalped after death.

Great post, Dasbender. Like O says, that’s a great description of Dashiell Bad Horse’s character arc.

Heh, nowadays everything that depicts large casts of morally grey characters involved in violent situations is called “The Sopranos but with…”

"O" the Humanatee!

March 17, 2010 at 2:49 pm

They should set a noir story at an opera house so they can call it “The Sopranos but with sopranos.”

There was a totem pole in Scalped? In South Dakota? Well, that sounds pretty inaccurate. Aren’t totem poles a Northwestern thing? (Well, I do know that culturally inaccurate items are sometimes found on reservations, particularly when they’re aimed at tourists. I once saw the Eastern Cherokee reservation in North Carolina on TV. There was a man greeting tourists in full Northern Plains regalia, with beaded buckskins and a full feather-bonnet. Nothing even remotely Cherokee in the way he was dressed. But it was what the tourists wanted to see.)

That’s the area I just moved from that I mentioned above, Mary. They had tipis on the side of the road too. On one hand, it’s a shame to see the marketing of a mainstream view of a culture instead of the culture itself. On the other hand, it’s their right to earn money how they see fit. On yet a third hand (if you can borrow one), who are we outsiders to insist that they keep to traditional culture? As an Indian (as he self-identified) friend of mine pointed out, I’m Scotch-Irish, but I don’t go around wearing a kilt.

Stick ball is awesome though.

The simple answer is: Of course its racist.

For a more nuanced and articulate explanation of the simple answer, see O’s discussions.

Um…I don’t think you and O are saying the same thing at ALL.

After reading further in the comments I realize O said the same thing to Ryan himself. Oops.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 17, 2010 at 8:29 pm

But it might be argued that, pretty much, all of the other Italian-Americans in the film are complicit in the mobster system, if not mobsters themselves.

How so?

Nearly all these films have Italian-Americans who aren’t in the mob, and are against the mob.

And I think the issue is not so much with the Godfather, but with the “average of 9 mob movies a year over the past 30 years.”

The biggest and most influential of these films – The Godfather and Goodfellas – were written and directed by Italian Americans.

Also, I work with foreign (non-US) films, and Italy makes as many films about the mafia, whilst the Japanese have a whole heap about the Yakuza.

It fascinates people, these organised crime cartel’s, and they are organised along racial lines – a few Italian-Americans feel it makes people discriminate them – film depictions, and the mob itself – but we really only have their word for it – I don’t think anyone actually does.

I can see your point, but I could see this as exacerbating the problem: The only thing that makes Italian-Americans different from everyone else is their propensity for being criminals.

Welcome to the multi-cultural world – the biggest issue I see, from portrayals in media and comments, is any hyphen American, be it Italian-American or Irish-American – they are just Americans, who generations ago, had a family member who came from another country.

Any identifier is pretty much there by personal choice in this day and age.

Also, can we have more love for R.M. Guera? Comics is words and pictures, remember?

RM Guera absolutely deserves heaps of credit for his contribution to “Scalped”, I didn’t mean to question that by leaving him out. But this particular discussion – about accusations of racism in “Scalped” – seems to be more in the domain of the writer than the artist.

Though one visual aspect that I’ve seen brought up in these racialised arguments relates to Jock’s covers – namely, the use of familiar Native American iconography (such as the headdress Bad Horse sports on the first issue’s cover) that don’t actually appear within the story itself. What are people’s thoughts on this?

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 18, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Whoops, on my last post I quoted the bit about RM Guera, but forgot to mention how awesome he is!

He’s really awesome!

Manages to give every scene a feeling of impending doom, and the griminess of the world seeps off of every page.

Though one visual aspect that I’ve seen brought up in these racialised arguments relates to Jock’s covers – namely, the use of familiar Native American iconography (such as the headdress Bad Horse sports on the first issue’s cover) that don’t actually appear within the story itself. What are people’s thoughts on this?

I like the covers – Jock is a good designer, and so the covers are especially eye catching, which is what they are meant to do.

That said, they probably play a bit in simple minded folk jumping to the conclusion that the book is racist.
That said, it does help contrast the actual story and characters with the legends and myths of the Native Americans – for instance, having Dash dressed in the headdress brings to mind the ‘noble warrior’, which is a complete contrast to who he actually is.
It plays upon people’s expectations of a story featuring Native Americans, which helps make the contrast of the books reality more prevalent.

That’s an interesting explanation for the #1 cover, FGJ. It could also tie into the previously-discussed idea of the weight of Bad Horse’s heritage and cultural identity pressing down on him no matter how hard he tries to fight from it and escape from it.

However, to play devil’s advocate, it could also tie into that such items – the headdress, the totem pole, the facepaint – have become quick visual indicators for Indian-themed stories, and so including them highlights this aspect of the narrative in an eye-catching manner. It is a kind of play on the already-existing stereotypes within our own minds, where we see these things and associate them even now with Native Americans. I’m Scottish, and I guess the equivalent would be telling a story about a modern-day protagonist in urban Glasgow, but the cover of the first issue shows him wearing a kilt. In both cases, you are using the visual cues people associate with a culture to instantly tell them in a single image that you’re telling stories with people from this setting. And to bring it back to your point, in the case of “Scalped” you can then subvert the expectations created within the story itself.

But is this kind of tactic really racist, even if it plays on notions of racial identity? Or is it the equivalent of making the cover of a superhero comic a dynamic fight between a superhero and supervillain, while in the actual issue itself the two characters never meet and the hero never even gets into costume? IE, using the cover to capture a sense of atmosphere and the general mood of the comic, rather than literally depict the content within.

I cant recall any single moment where characters flaws are presented as being a result of their race, rather they are mostly characters who survive through extremely hard circumstances and more often than not the fact they are native americans is associated with strength of character. The evil elements such as gangsterism and drugs are all outside influences that have corrupted and destroyed the good traditional ways. If anything I believe it will have opened many people to the often forgotten problems of native americans.
Still its intention is entertainment and relies on possibly exagerated levels of violence and stereotypes though I believe reality often beats fiction. For example the The Corner by David Simon and Ed Burns tells a true story that is just as harsh or more that their fiction series the Wire.

Also, saw this the other day,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Nv7n5jhrHGQ&gl=ES

looks like Prairie Rose is based on Pine Ridge Reservation due to many of the events that have happened there.

PS I love this comic

Thanks for the response, seph! Glad to know people are still reading this! :P

[…] Scalped and the Stereotype That Wasn’t There […]

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