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Comic Book Legends Revealed #467

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Welcome to the four hundred and sixty-seventh in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and sixty-six. This week, did Fawcett Comics come up with a code of ethics specifically to eliminate a racist stereotype character? Did a group of schoolchildren petition Fawcett to get rid of that same character? Was Kieron Gillen’s Loki run originally intended to star an adult Loki instead of the “kid” version it ended up being? Finally, did the U.S. government use Al Hirschfeld’s cartoons for training purposes?

Let’s begin!

NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).

EXTRA NOTE: There are actually four pages this time around because two of the legends this week really wouldn’t work without each other but I didn’t want to shortchange y’all, so you get a BONUS legend!

COMIC LEGEND: Fawcett Comics created a code of ethics to eliminate the racial stereotype character, Steamboat.

STATUS: False

A troubling aspect of a number of 1940s comic books is the way that African-American characters were depicted, even those that are clearly intended by the creative team to be POSITIVE characters.

A famous example of this is Billy Batson’s valet, Steamboat, who appeared frequently in the pages of Captain Marvel Adventures. Here he is in a 1941 story…

steamboat1

steamboat2

A few years back, my buddy Zack Smith did an AWESOME Oral History project on Captain Marvel.

In the third part, the topic of Steamboat (and similar depictions of minorities) was discussed.

The great Chip Kidd noted:

“One thing Michael Uslan pointed out is that it’s about putting it in historical perspective. This really was an attitude that was widely held at the time, even if it wasn’t right. And to deny the publication of something that was not intended to be racist, basically, is to deny an audience some really terrific work.

“One thing I included in my book was a series of guidelines that Fawcett sent to their writers and artists in the 1940s which regarded eliminating racial stereotypes, indicating that ethnic groups were not to be not to be ‘ridiculed or intolerated.’ So they eventually did away with that.”

Kidd is correct, Fawcett DID do that. Here it is…

fawcettcode1

However, that was written in 1942!

Steamboat, though, continued appearing regularly all the way until 1945…

steamboat3

Isn’t that amazing? That you could specifically have that written into your code and STILL have a character like Steamboat appear?

Then again, as we saw last week in our spotlight on the Captain America villain the Black Talon (a villain fueled by having an evil black man’s hand), certain viewpoints just were so ingrained into people’s mindsets that they likely did NOT seem to the creators as though they were being offensive.

Thanks to Smith, Kidd and the awesome TwoMorrows book, the Fawcett Companion, for the information (and in the case of the Companion, the actual code itself).

Read on to the next page to learn how Steamboat was finally taken out of the book (note that the 1945 drawing I just showed was his last appearance)…
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Check out my latest Movie Legends Revealed at Spinoff Online: Did Michael Jackson seriously not actually do his own singing when he guest-starred on The Simpsons?
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158 Comments

They’re all in the hair on the bottom right, in case anyone’s wondering.

I don’t have a problem with the way he talks, or his role in relation to Captain Marvel. Both are probably pretty accurate for the time period. That said, it’s hard to defend that ridiculous monkey face. But I guess the differences in the way our races look was more of a novelty back then.

C.C. Beck comes off as a bit of a douche. He’s saying, “We weren’t wrong for depicting every black person as a half-witted, big-lipped, monkey-faced half-wit. Those schoolkids were wrong for not getting the joke.”

Brace yourself for the angry apologists saying that there’s nothing wrong with those depictions as they rail against the ravages of political correctness.

The racism denialists will be appearing in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….

Those Nina’s were on a test? I guess I would have passed.

Not by much, but still better than Tintin au Congo.

The existence of the Youth Builders in 1945 also pretty effectively demolishes the rationalization that everybody was just racist in olden times so we should just excuse it or ignore it.

so if all germans wear lederhosen and are blonde, its racism, right?

Once again, I’m afraid we’re going to see the “apologist” comments that often show up in articles with this theme. It doesn’t matter that Steamboat was a good guy and sometimes shown to do positive things. And his character is one the ways black characters were very often betrayed. It isn’t just that a few people drew them or wrote dialogue that way. It was so prevalent in media, it was as if whites who didn’t often interact with them saw them all as this. It’s the same as minstrel shows. They were portrayed as funny, childlike characters. Look how Steamboat doesn’t understand his cousin is speaking French. If this was only a single character treated that way, maybe you can write it off, but that type of character was all over the place. And usually the hero’s servant.

I think sometimes, in a much less racist society, people have trouble understanding this kind of character with any perspective.

This is gonna be a fun comments section.

I’m wondering if Professor Nodine named his class “How Not To Be Seen.” Probably not.

The problem with the “he was only a harmless cartoon character” defense is that the other (white) characters in the first legend are all depicted more realistically. Billy Batson’s boss, the two shady guys in the boat, and the guy with the white cap are all not drawn in a exaggerated manner. It’s amazing how CC Beck could not realize that he was singling out the black characters for ridicule.

And while I’m inclined to be forgiving on account of how ingrained those viewpoints were at the time, I am a lot less forgiving of how Beck was still trying to say he was right and everybody else was wrong, in the 1960s (not sure exactly when he gave the interview to Alter Ego, but that magazine started in the 1960s).

Shame on him.

Jamie Barraclough

April 18, 2014 at 10:12 am

It’s just a comic, people are totally overreacting. Everyone else in this series is a stereotype, NOT doing the black guy would be racist.

@Jamie: You have to be trolling, right?

I believe Jamie is giving us a quick succession of standard responses to this topic, as a bit of a joke.

It’s kind of fantastic that Rene and Jamie’s comments are right next to each other.

But yes, I think Brian is correct about the purpose of Jamie’s comment. Though it’s definitely an accurate portrayal of how many people think about the subject.

its a black thing, i think.

See DC happily reprinting buck tooth Jap’s on Action-Comic covers, yet they wont touch proper Captain Marvel reprints – oh well, f*** them, im gonna buy the originals.

Hoosier X –

There are no good reasons to excuse or ignore racism, ever. Racism was, is, and always will be a cancer, an absolutely evil idea.

It’s just that a historical perspective can help explain how lots of otherwise “respectable” people could hold racist views.

It’s not that everybody was racist in olden times, it’s just that racist ideas were far more mainstream, and far more widespread. Also, as America entered into open conflict with Nazi Germany, racialist views started to gradually become less widely accepted.

@mckraken

so if all germans wear lederhosen and are blonde, its racism, right?

If all Germans are depicted as half-witted servants with big lips and monkey faces at the same time they are wearing lederhosen and being blonde, then, yes, that would be racist.

Good luck in finding a single comic book like that, let alone a whole era where every single German was a half-witted blonde servant wearing lederhosen.

(Compare Baroness Paula von Gunther to Voodoo Annie and get back to us.)

A lot of defenders of Binder in the Black Talon entry were saying there was no evidence of racism in the author. Now that I read these stories by Otto Binder, I wonder if they’ll even entertain the idea now, or if they’ll stick to the gun. (Just kidding, I don’t really wonder that. I’m pretty sure of the answer.)

so if all germans wear lederhosen and are blonde, its racism, right?

German isn’t a race, so no.

making fun of visual appearance, heritage and country of birth can be fun and good satire.
There were a lot of black servants back then. They usually didnt have education at all.

Its racist when its mean spirited. In the case of Captain Marvel I dont see that.
Steamboat was a severe stereotype (including exaggerated features) but not racism.

What’s truly sad is to see the same type of racial stereotyping in comics you love and by creators you admire. I’ve been a huge Spirit fan since I laid eyes on it (in Maurice Horn’s World Encyclopedia of Comics), and have devoured Will Eisner’s graphic novels. His work gave me insight into not only the urban experience (I’m from a Midwestern farm town), but the Jewish and immigrant experience. His To The Heart of the Storm has some fine illustrations of anti-Semitic behavior. And then, I read a Spirit story with Ebony and wonder how someone who had experienced intolerance could depict the same in his work. Yes, Ebony was better portrayed than many characters, but the stereotypes were there. You make heroes of people you admire; but, usually end up learning that they are mortals with human failings. As for Beck, I don’t want to assign a racist attitude to him, but the term curmudgeon is definitely apt (he had a column in the Comics Journal, titled “The Crusty Curmudgeon.”). I suspect he just couldn’t see the forest for the trees in the Alter Ego interview. At least, I hope so.

I suppose you could cite Hirschfeld as one of the early purveyors of the “easter egg.” One of the more enjoyable aspects of Keith Giffen’s run on Legion of Super Heroes (circa The Great Darkness Saga) was his use of “easter eggs” and homages. Same with Art Adams and in books like Alan Moore’s Top Ten and Smax.

Schnitzy Pretzelpants

April 18, 2014 at 10:49 am

What I don’t understand is – why, in response to the Youth Builders do they decide to kill off Steamboat?

First, why KILL him? Why not simply have him leave and go off? And to kill him off in story – I assume the one that is printed last in your post – that seems to be throwing in yet more racial stereotypes onto the page: overweight-Aunt-Jemimah-like black women, overblown superstition AND voodoo? Jesus, it was as if the writers were saying “Fine, if we are getting rid of Steamboat we’re going to pull out all the racist stops on this comic.”

Second, why not instead alter Steamboat to become a positive and accurate depiction of an African American instead?

Kudos to the poster who rightly pointed to the existence of Youth Builders as a strong argument against simply accepting such stuff as accepted in the day.

Don’t get me wrong – I am NOT for political correctness, and I am NOT for censorship. I think these stories should be printed in trade, because I don’t believe in whitewashing history (no pun intended). We should be reminded of these things, and we should squirm. Reminders of where we have come from serve to propel us further along, and provide and opportunity for discussion and learning.

I don’t know if Beck or Binder (or Kirby or Stan Lee) were racists, and I don’t think I’ve ever implied that I thought they were. Such depictions were widespread, and I think you could make a case that they became a cultural shorthand that a lot of writers and artists and etc. followed without really thinking about it.

But that doesn’t make the images any less insulting or derogatory. And, yes, the images are racist even if the artists or writers were just careless in their thinking.

What’s important is realizing at some point that these images are insulting. And then to stop doing it. And even better to say something about it. That’s why I respect Dr. Seuss for his statements apologizing for some of his degrading depictions of blacks in some of his early cartooning. And Myrna Loy, she apologized for some of the stuff she did in her early career, portraying evil gypsy girls and evil Eurasians and especially Fah Lo Suee, the sadistic, perverted daughter of Fu Manchu. (Which is a great movie. But, yeah, you cringe a lot.)

But, man, C.C. Beck. Decades later, he’s accusing schoolkids of not having a sense of humor over Steamboat. Wow!

Its racist when its mean spirited. In the case of Captain Marvel I dont see that.

If you, your friends, or your families were consistently depicted like that when others weren’t you wouldn’t find that mean-spirited?

@mccraken

We just have a different definition of racism, I guess. We also have a different definition of mean-spirited.

I think depicting every single representative of a single race as a monkey-faced, big-lipped half-wit is mean-spirited.

You seem to think it’s fun and games.

One thing that really surprises me about the Steamboat legends – once they realize he was offensive, I’m surprised they killed him off, rather than just quietly stopping using him, or attempting to retool him into something that would be less offensive, which would be more common ways of dealing with that stuff (vis: Ebony White or Tom Kalmaku).

I don’t know if Beck or Binder (or Kirby or Stan Lee) were racists, and I don’t think I’ve ever implied that I thought they were. Such depictions were widespread, and I think you could make a case that they became a cultural shorthand that a lot of writers and artists and etc. followed without really thinking about it.

I don’t think all racism is created equal. Like, I wouldn’t put those guys on par with people who lynched people or burned crosses. Some people are passively or unwittingly racist, some are accidentally racist when trying to do a benign thing. (A great example of the latter is the white teacher on the show Everybody Hates Chris. She is a well-meaning liberal who tries to respect the black student’s heritage, but her perception of his heritage is just a collection of offensive stereotypes. However in her mind she’s being culturally sensitive.) Sometimes the extent of one’s racism is just not caring enough to get someone’s culture right or to treat them with equal humanity.

Did they actually kill him off? I assume they just retired him as I’d never heard of the character dying.
Schnitzy, portraying Steamboat as a positive figure would have involved treating him like an equal with the white people which might have alienated lots of white people. Many people (and no, not just in the South) were happier with stereotypes that didn’t raise any questions about the relationship between the races.
The book The Censored War shows the government was very careful about this during WW II. It wanted to promote black servicemen contributing to the war effort but blocked photos showing blacks as doing anything that might look too successful to white audiences or implied a position of superiority. Even in the 1960s, Charles Schulz got some complaint letters about showing Franklin, a black kid, attending the same school as Peppermint Patty.
Better to have no black characters than risk flak.

Hoosier X –

Here is a tip that will save you some headaches: just ignore mckracken. Most of us do. The guy is a hater, pure and simple. He hates 99% of comics ever published, and just posts one sentence posts re-affirming his hatred.

Though, until now, I hadn’t realized he is a hater in other ways too.

Schnitzy –

I also think those comics should be in publication. People should not try to forget or adulterate the past. We should know how easy it is for “common” people to be seduced by hateful ideas.

@Hoosier X

I’m black and this stuff is just funny to me. Nobody thinks I’m a dumbass because I’m black, or a servant, or less than equal. I’m just a human being. And stuff like this was the least of our problems back then. Now it’s just hilarious! Maybe because you’re white it’s more disturbing to you, but you should just let it go so we can all move on.

As far as German stereotyping goes, they came off much better than the Japanese in comics. And more so in the movies, which made regular efforts to show good Germans were just as hostile to Nazism as Americans. It was almost unheard of (Behind the Rising Sun is the only exception I know of) to present Japan as anything but pure evil.

I used to work in the Museum of Television and Radio. There were a lot of Hirschfield prints in the halls and the staff always played “spot the Nina”. Good catch!

I mean seriously, this is my favorite character in the series! He’s great! My family loves him.

StupidInventor, I know they said back in the 1970s that this was why reprinting the series would be a bad idea, but I don’t know they had got to the point of “We should do it … no, we shouldn’t.” Though a hardback Captain Marvel collection from some years back did reprint the opening and closing segments.

I love how twenty five people who anticipate apologists sneak in before any apologists do. Don’t worry guys, your cred is assured!

I’m black and this stuff is just funny to me. Nobody thinks I’m a dumbass because I’m black, or a servant, or less than equal. I’m just a human being. And stuff like this was the least of our problems back then. Now it’s just hilarious! Maybe because you’re white it’s more disturbing to you, but you should just let it go so we can all move on.

I’m black “also” (and I use also in quotes because I’m skeptical you’re really black and not a sockpuppet for a race apologist). I disagree with your opinion. So I guess we cancel each other out.

I agree there’s something to be said for reprinting them. Saying “Steamboat and Voodoo Annie are racist stereotypes” doesn’t have the same effect as actually seeing how bad they are. The same way no amount of reading about the racism of Birth of a Nation prepares you for actually seeing the KKK defeat the evil black rapists swarming over the South in Griffith’s bizarro version of history.

[…] Steamboat was the first black character in any of the Captain Marvel Adventures. His contributions seemed to be only comic relief. The character currently doesn’t even rate a Wikipedia page. Fawcett Comics had a code of ethics that should have prevented such a character from even appearing in the first place. Check out more on that here. […]

Did they actually kill him off? I assume they just retired him as I’d never heard of the character dying.

Yeah, Beck is mistaken (as were the articles at the time about the character being removed). They didn’t kill him off. He just stopped appearing.

@T.

Or you need to lighten up man. And thanks for doubting my race, :\ I won’t do that back.

@Randal

I love how twenty five people who anticipate apologists sneak in before any apologists do. Don’t worry guys, your cred is assured!

I love it how you love something that isn’t true. The first apologist snuck in at #2, before any of the anticipators could get a word in. And there were a few more before we reached #25.

@Charlie

I’m glad you and your family get so much enjoyment from Steamboat.

@T.

Looks like all the problems are coming from you.

@Charlie

I’m curious. What do you and the members of your family think of Birth of a Nation?

@Randal, I jumped in early mostly because as a long time reader of this site, I know the kind of reaction these articles get. So, I figured I’d throw my opinion in on why the depictions aren’t silly cartoons. Just kind of making a pre-emptive strike.

@Charlie, I’m not going to doubt you’re black. To many of us it may seem funny, but I’m just looking at it from a historical perspective. From what I know, the character is representative of many black characters at the time, whether or not every single artist and writer who followed along with it later was actually being malicious is one thing. But the original sources of those kinds of caricatures weren’t innocent.

How little has change. One contemporary commentator states:

“I don’t have a problem with the way he talks, or his role in relation to Captain Marvel. Both are probably pretty accurate for the time period. ”

But it’s okay to have a problem with degrading stereotypes of black people in the 21st Century. Nothing wrong with that at all.

I read a Spirit story with Ebony and wonder how someone who had experienced intolerance could depict the same in his work. Yes, Ebony was better portrayed than many characters, but the stereotypes were there.

To Will Eisner’s defense, he would in latter years acknowledge see that despite what he had thought to be good intentions, he was completely wrong headed in the manner in which he portrayed Ebony– and in his published writings criticized his younger self as well as endeavored to write and illustrate better portrayals of African-American characters.

He certainly did not take C.C. Beck’s approach and lash out at his critics.

Ethan is correct that certain stereotypes, whether relatively benign or defamatory, were so prevalent in both popular entertainment and folklore that they often trumped any real life encounters comic book creators might have had of actual living human beings. and thus led to grossly distorted attempts at even “positive” portrayals as well as utterly insensitive apologetics.

As to the Black Talon legend of last week, it’s fairly obvious that because of the crudity of the printing process, it’s fairly obvious that the easiest way to to represent that the villain had been corrupted by a murderous evil hand was to to portray the hand as belonging to that of another race– essentially, racism as a path of least resistance. A more sensitive era would have tried to find a less racially charged way to represent it– perhaps using a more science fiction or fantasy explanation like the hand of a dead god (as with Michael Moorcock’s Corum books.)

A more deconstructive approach might have made the character a once virtuous black artist corrupted by the hand of a white supremacist.

Looking at that history of racial portrayals in visual art forms, I can better appreciate how Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill reconceived the Goliwog character: Since human beings don’t remotely look like that they reimagined him as an extraterrestrial.

@Hossier X

Haven’t seen it. But guys in cloaks riding around trying to lynch me not being an issue anymore is something to celebrate! We’ve come a long, long way.

My point is Steampoint is a blip of a blip compared to even Birth of a Nation, which is just a blip of a blip compared to what ACTUALLY was going on then. And it’s not anymore! The monster that created those blips is dying or even dead. I’m equal just the same as you, and treated that way too. Those blips are just raindrops off my back now.

Steamboat isn’t a problem. It’s a symptom of what used to be a problem. It’s a fossil, and its teeth are now dust.

Here’s a black comic character created by someone who knew better back in 1942. http://www.blacksuperherofan.com/2009/07/john-smith-a-respectable-black-sidekick/

@Charlie, I get your point there. I think most of us are just looking at that character thinking, “Wow, isn’t it terrible that used to be acceptable?”

It’s one thing to say…

Steamboat isn’t a problem. It’s a symptom of what used to be a problem. It’s a fossil, and its teeth are now dust.

and a whole other to say…

I mean seriously, this is my favorite character in the series! He’s great!

To Will Eisner’s defense, he would in latter years acknowledge see that despite what he had thought to be good intentions, he was completely wrong headed in the manner in which he portrayed Ebony– and in his published writings criticized his younger self as well as endeavored to write and illustrate better portrayals of African-American characters.

He certainly did not take C.C. Beck’s approach and lash out at his critics.

I dunno. If Beck lived as long as Eisner did, I bet he eventually would have had similar comments. It took Eisner a looooooong time to ever really begin to apologize for Ebony.

Mckracken are you serious when you state “making fun of visual appearance, heritage and country of birth can be fun and good satire.” How about when you are ridiculing a group of people who not many years earlier were considered property, savages and sub-human and treated as such being denied the right to vote, to speak in public or to be a part of mainstream society. How is that good fun?

No this comic strip on its own isn’t the “great evil” but it was an example of a society in which it was perfectly okay to be openly racist. In fact it was expected in those times and that’s what is horrific.

@Ethan

You can feel that. I wouldn’t want to take that from you. It was awful how we were treated. But to me it’s benign…there isn’t a person alive who doesn’t know how ridiculous that character is now! He’s powerless! Like I said, he’s a fossil of monster poop. We can pick him up, examine him, even laugh at him and play around with him without being scared of catching the disease. This attitude should be part of recovery, and I think these scars left by racism that make people so touchy are extremely unpleasant. Because I’m not being treated like an equal when people think I’m damaged goods that can’t handle a stupid stereotype with big lips.

You guys are hand wringing honkies and I hope you can take that with a smile :)

I dunno. If Beck lived as long as Eisner did, I bet he eventually would have had similar comments. It took Eisner a looooooong time to ever really begin to apologize for Ebony.

It’s very charitable of you to say that Eisner ever really even began to apologize for Ebony. I really don’t feel he ever did at all.

I’m a black man and this is what I have to say about Steamboat and other depictions of black people in comics, movies, etc. in the the early part of the 20th century: Learn from this. Don’t ignore it. Don’t dismiss it. Don’t apologize for it. Don’t rationalize it. Don’t excuse it.

I’ve read these Capt. Marvel stories and it hit me hard when I was a kid. But my parents taught me that we don’t gloss over the past to make a better today. We may look at these stories now and wonder, “what the hell were they thinking?”, when they did them, but every misstep along the way has been to make a better today and future for EVERYONE.

I collect comics (old & new), I love old Warner Bros. cartoons, and I love classic movies from before 1960. I know what I can expect when I see or read some of this stuff. It used to piss me off, but I finally realized it’s just ignorance of those who did it. I may still cringe when I see it, but I can understand that we’ve come a long way since then and attempt to enjoy the craft if not the depiction.

It was awful how we were treated.

What do you mean how “we” were treated?. You weren’t treated anything like what a black person in 1943 was treated, and neither was I. The idea that we have the right to minimize something they went through back then based on OUR current reality of being black in America, a current reality that only exists precisely BECAUSE they were making a big deal about stuff like this back then, is beyond insulting to the people who REALLY had to go through the bad stuff, as well as coming off insensitive and ungrateful.

It amazes me, but I swear only black people do this. I doubt I’d ever see a Jewish guy on a message board about Nazi propaganda from 1941 is something harmless for example.

It’s very charitable of you to say that Eisner ever really even began to apologize for Ebony. I really don’t feel he ever did at all.

I think that that is a fair description of it, that you could take Eisner’s comments in his later days one of two ways – one, that he was beginning to apologize for Ebony or two, that he was still trying to argue that it was somehow different than, say, the depiction of Fagin in Oliver Twist (which Eisner famously was angered by, setting off a whole “tone deaf” debate with regards to him, as well). I think it is the first, but I can certainly see the second.

But yes, one thing is for certain and that is that Eisner never definitively apologized for his depiction of Ebony White.

I’ll let the racism debate rage on without me (not that I don’t have an opinion, I just don’t think I would add anything to the conversation), and comment on something else that caught my eye: Roy Thomas and P. Craig Russell did an “Elric” series? That sounds amazing!

Also, it would appear that Gillen definitely developed a fondness for the Kid Loki character. Not only did he supposedly do great work with him in “JiM” (I say supposedly because I have heard nothing but good things, but I unfortunately haven’t read it), but also made him the focal point, in many ways, of his recently wrapped “Young Avengers” series.

I probably sound like a broken record on this by now, but MAN that “YA” series was great. If anyone hasn’t read it, you should.

Someone above mentioned Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as possibly racist, and I was trying to figure out where the comment came from. Stan and Jack gave us the Black Panther, Stan and Gene Colan gave us the Falcon, and Stan and John Romita gave us Robbie Robertson. While their portrayal of African and African-American characters may not have been incredibly nuanced they certainly were trying to bring diversity to mainstream American comics.

@ Charlie

Because I’m not being treated like an equal when people think I’m damaged goods that can’t handle a stupid stereotype with big lips.

I’m sorry you got the idea that anybody thought you were “damaged goods” that couldn’t handle a stupid stereotype. I certainly hope that nothing I said made you think I was pretending to speak for you.

Fortunately, The Youth-Builders in 1945 were able to speak up, and Fawcett listened.

@T.

“I doubt I’d ever see a Jewish guy on a message board about Nazi propaganda from 1941 is something harmless for example.”

Nazi propaganda had malicious intent. And I would never tell someone who had personally experience the level of racism that was present in the 40’s how to feel about Steamboat. But hopefully they’ll be able to recover like some of us have been able to and enjoy how silly he is.

Sorry Charlie, but I don’t take being called a racial slur with a smile. No wonder you’re ok with racist stereotypes.

@Freedy

Someone above mentioned Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as possibly racist

Here’s the quote I think you’re talking about:

I don’t know if Beck or Binder (or Kirby or Stan Lee) were racists, and I don’t think I’ve ever implied that I thought they were.

I mentioned them because there was a post on this site a few days ago about a story in Captain America #10 and Lee and Kirby were both discussed in the comments. As you can see, I didn’t say that Lee and Kirby were possibly racists, though I do admit I could have phrased that a little better.

Brian –

It’s strange but it’s exactly things like Fagin the Jew and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that really enrage me about Eisner, and come off so hypocritical. I used to buy his stuff, and if he honestly just never apologized period I’d be much better with it than to see him in text pieces in those books defend his Ebony White depictions while at the same time railing against anti-Semitic stereotypes.

I haven’t read EVERYTHING Eisner said about Ebony White, so I’ll allow for the fact that there may be stuff out there I haven’t read yet that strikes more of a conciliatory tone than what I read. What I DID read from him on the topic could best be described as defiant, more concerned with making excuses for himself, and seemed more annoyed with the fact that people kept bringing it up to him and that he was being made to respond to the claims than with showing any empathy. And again, if it wasn’t for the hypocrisy that came out when I read him stuff on Jewish stereotypes, I could actually forgive it better.

The implication, to me, was clear. With Jews it’s unacceptable, but with blacks it is acceptable. Why would that be the case unless blacks are clearly inferior, are somehow less human, have less a full human experience and range of emotion and cognition, less of a basic humanity. His dismissive and impatient reaction and nonapology, to me, would be the response someone would have if they were confronted about mocking animals and depicting animal cruelty and told that it was equivalent to mocking a human being. It’s a shame because he could totally see the humanity in a lot of other people and was a great depictor of the human condition, but it really seems to me that he couldn’t fully fathom full humanity in blacks.

Lee and Kirby were mentioned only because both worked on Whitewash Jones, a similar character to Steamboat, over at Marvel. Whitewash Jones was created by Otto Binder, who also likely created Steamboat.

Take a step back, Tom. I’m not sure that the guy who used the word “honky” isn’t somebody name-jacking Charlie. And even if it is Charlie, it’s not something to scuffle about.

It’s strange but it’s exactly things like Fagin the Jew and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that really enrage me about Eisner, and come off so hypocritical. I used to buy his stuff, and if he honestly just never apologized period I’d be much better with it than to see him in text pieces in those books defend his Ebony White depictions while at the same time railing against anti-Semitic stereotypes.

I haven’t read EVERYTHING Eisner said about Ebony White, so I’ll allow for the fact that there may be stuff out there I haven’t read yet that strikes more of a conciliatory tone than what I read. What I DID read from him on the topic could best be described as defiant, more concerned with making excuses for himself, and seemed more annoyed with the fact that people kept bringing it up to him and that he was being made to respond to the claims than with showing any empathy. And again, if it wasn’t for the hypocrisy that came out when I read him stuff on Jewish stereotypes, I could actually forgive it better.

For years, he WAS unnecessarily defiant (and that’s why I think it is a bit unfair to compare Beck to him, as I imagine that the odds are that Beck would have eventually capitulated, too, if had lived into the 21st century like Eisner) and kept harping on the whole “black people liked Ebony, so he wasn’t offensive” angle, but in his very later years he began to at least throw out stuff along the lines of “Maybe I am mistaken.” Stuff like that. It’s why I can understand why that could be seen by people as not REALLY beginning to apologize but I think that that was his intent.

Nazi propaganda had malicious intent.

And this doesn’t?

At the time this was printed blacks were still getting lynched with impunity in large numbers, segregation was still legal, eugenicists had mainstream credibility, open discrimination in hiring and real estate was the norm, and there were sundown towns (google it) in existence. It was acceptable to hose down and sic dogs on black people, including women and children, who dared to agitate for basic rights.

Do you know how all societies where such widespread systematic oppression resolve the cognitive dissonance that comes with treating other people so badly yet still considering yourself a decent, God-fearing person? It does so by dehumanizing, or “otherizing” that group. You have to find ways to remind yourself that such people lack a basic humanity that you yourself have. Less range of emotions, of empathy, of cognitive ability, of familial bonds, of empathy, lower moral values, of basically everything that makes a human being fully human. The closer to a dumb animal you can depict them and convince yourself they are, the easier it gets to oppress them. Even if all you want to be is a passive bystander who doesn’t actually actively oppress the other group but rather just doesn’t stand up against it, you still need to believe in that inferiority to a degree to allow yourself to feel good about your inaction.

It’s a major reason why in any area where one group has overwhelmingly abused another, such caricatures and depictions pop up. It’s textbook group psychology. To say that this stuff is harmless simply isn’t true, because it had an enabling role. Anything that reinforces the idea of the natural inferiority and inhumanity of any group enables the abuse of that group.

I don’t think Steamboat compares to Nazi propaganda but to the more traditional stereotypes of the hook-nosed, money-grubbing Jew? Pretty much in the same vein, though with a different tone.
That said, if Charlie looks back and thinks it’s nothing, that’s his privilege. Conversely, anyone who doesn’t shrug it off as nothing is entitled to their reaction too, even if they were born after the death of Jim Crow.

Because I’m not being treated like an equal when people think I’m damaged goods that can’t handle a stupid stereotype with big lips.

Like Brian said, it’s one thing to say I’m not going to let a stereotype ruin my day and convince me I’m damaged good, and it’s quite another to say he’s “hilarious,” is “your favorite character,” and your family loves him. There’s a whole range of possible reactions beyond those two extremes you know.

I don’t think Steamboat compares to Nazi propaganda but to the more traditional stereotypes of the hook-nosed, money-grubbing Jew? Pretty much in the same vein, though with a different tone.

Context matters. I don’t think being a Jew in Dicken’s England was that similar to being a black person in 1941 America. Slavery only ended 76 years earlier. They were still being lynched, kept from owning property, etc. Jews in Victorian England didn’t have it near as bad.

I have slightly mixed feelings about the Black Sidekick trope from on the Golden Age (and movies from the same period).

On the one hand, Steamboat is literally a racist cartoon. His appearance and manner of speaking are stereotypes lifted directly out of minstrel shows, which were the dominant media in much of America in the 19th century. It speaks to how deeply embedded those stereotypes were that the persisted almost half way into the following Century.

On the other hand, he is at least there. Depictions of black folks totally vanished through much of the Silver Age. Marvel was fairly diverse with its 99.9% white New York. The fear of depicting non-white characters offensively prevented a lot of white creators from depicting black characters at all. Basically, it is the lazy man’s political correctness.

I mean, the one core truth of American history is black people and white people have always co-existed here. You cannot really separate the history, language, culture or even DNA of one population from the other. Erasing characters, like Steamboat, never seemed like a good solution to me. However, converting characters into less offensive forms (e.g. Chop-Chop to Weng Chen) has not really yielded diversity either.

@Fraser

“That said, if Charlie looks back and thinks it’s nothing, that’s his privilege.”

Privilege? To feel like a normal human being? To not be haunted by the past? This should be considered the status quo, not a privilege. It sounds like being affected by a character like Steamboat is an enormous burden, and one that makes people very unhappy. I’m not saying it’s easy to get to the root of those emotions and recover, but conquering them and moving on is what we should all be aiming for.

@T.

And it’s your experience to be within that range. But I’ve moved on. I can laugh at him, and I hope you can too someday. Me and my family find him endearing. That’s our experience.

I can laugh at him, and I hope you can too someday. Me and my family find him endearing. That’s our experience.

I’ll thank you not to hope any such thing for me.

Also, “endearing?” You have to be a troll.

But I’ve moved on.

You haven’t “moved on” because you were never “there” to begin with. You have to fully fathom the meaning of something in order to “move on” from it. Blissful ignorance isn’t moving on, it’s avoidance.

On the other hand, he is at least there. Depictions of black folks totally vanished through much of the Silver Age. Marvel was fairly diverse with its 99.9% white New York. The fear of depicting non-white characters offensively prevented a lot of white creators from depicting black characters at all. Basically, it is the lazy man’s political correctness.

I hear what you’re saying, but I’d much rather the whitewashing than the stereotypes. Using the Marvel example, when they eventually did have blacks appear it was rather respectful for the most part.

GONE WITH THE WIND, the most beloved film in the US.
Racist HATE propaganda.

Dont watch it. Burn every copy. (and not just because its kitsch)

When I was very young we ate at a restaurant called ‘Sambos’ I even have an old stuffed animal from that place. Man, I had no idea and I don’t think my family did either. I didn’t know what ‘Sambos’ was based on.

You think Captain Marvel used to date his mom’s friends? I kind of wondered that. I mean, he’s grown up when he’s Captain Marvel.

@mckracken

GONE WITH THE WIND, the most beloved film in the US.
Racist HATE propaganda.

Dont watch it. Burn every copy. (and not just because its kitsch)

Did your post did get cut off in the middle of your thought?

You sort of missed ending your comment with a point.

Hoosier –

Please take Rene’s advice and ignore mckracken. He’s just an attention-hungry troll. Trust us it’s better that way.

yes, trust them. lol

“Context matters. I don’t think being a Jew in Dicken’s England was that similar to being a black person in 1941 America. Slavery only ended 76 years earlier. They were still being lynched, kept from owning property, etc. Jews in Victorian England didn’t have it near as bad.”
True, but that stereotype goes back centuries and existed well beyond England. It goes back (or so I believe) to the medieval days of ghettos and booting the Jews out of England; I wasn’t thinking of Fagin in particular though now I see it must have sounded like I was.

I think it’s kind of interesting that the “no promoting intolerance or ridicule of ethnic groups” guideline is basically the only one of Fawcett’s original seven guidelines to which modern comics strictly adhere. Sadistic torture, wanton/sexy drawings, vulgar language, portraying respected institutions as ineffective/stupid, and depictions of crime that throw sympathy with the crime/criminals are all now frequent in comics. Ridicule or attack on most religious groups remains off-limits but Christianity is fair game, so that guideline is only partially still in effect. And I’d assume divorce would be portrayed in a positive light in comics if anyone ever actually got divorced, rather than just having their marriage erased from reality.

Fraser, ok I get you now. In that case I agree. If you’re talking the centuries earlier Jewish caricature stuff during the times of pogroms and stuff I agree.

Could you give us a recent example of one of these “fair game” attacks on Christianity?

The Gillen legend is rather superb – love seeing how creatives can ‘make it work’ when things shift on them. In this case he made it work!

This site cracks me up.
It is funny that anyone with a different view is automatically called a troll.

Okay, I’m pretty sure those are Carol Channing and Leonard Nimoy, but who’s the first one?

LouReedRichards

April 18, 2014 at 2:52 pm

I’m actually amazed that this thread has gotten mckracken to type a response that is more than one sentence long.

@TJCoolguy

“I’ll let the racism debate rage on without me (not that I don’t have an opinion, I just don’t think I would add anything to the conversation), and comment on something else that caught my eye: Roy Thomas and P. Craig Russell did an “Elric” series? That sounds amazing!”

Agreed, I think I said all I have to say about this years ago when the “Mistakes Of A Past History” column debuted.

As far as Elric goes:

I have fond memories of the Elric in the Dreaming City Graphic Novel Marvel put out back in the early 80’s. I got it secondhand in the early 90’s and it was a thing of beauty, and trippy as hell.

I recently picked up the first issue of the Pacific Comics Elric series that Russell did and it wasn’t nearly as good as I’d hoped it would be. I don’t know the timeline of when they were created, but the Marvel graphic novel’s artwork is FAR superior.

If you’re a fan of Russell or Elric I’d say get it, Russell’s art work is breathtaking

It is funny that anyone with a different view is automatically called a troll.

Can you point out the specific instances where EVERYONE with a different view was called a troll?

This site cracks me up.
It is funny that anyone with a different view is automatically called a troll.

First Randal claims that twenty-five apologists chimed in to anticipate apologists before the first apologist even popped up, when in actuality the first apologist popped up in the second comment.

Now you’re claiming that everyone with a different opinion gets automatically called a troll, when it’s actually only been two specific over-the-top people.

Why do you guys have to blatantly lie to make a point? It’s not even a lie that make sense, since we all can just scroll upwards and look at the comments thread for ourselve and see within seconds that you’re lying. It’s not even a lie you can plausibly get away with.

“Could you give us a recent example of one of these “fair game” attacks on Christianity?”

Have you ever heard of Garth Ennis? He’s pretty good, you should look into him.

@ Rob L

It is funny that anyone with a different view is automatically called a troll.

I only count one person getting called a troll. I don’t think that counts as “anyone with a different view” because there have been numerous people on this site with differing views.

I didn’t call anyone a troll. And the person called a troll by others wasn’t “automatically” called a troll. It is my impression that he has a history.

Garth Ennis.

OK. So that’s one comic book writer who apparently is critical of Christianity. How dare he.

@T.

“You haven’t “moved on” because you were never “there” to begin with. You have to fully fathom the meaning of something in order to “move on” from it.”

I have moved on. Me and my family could’ve very easily gotten caught up in the bitterness and sensitivity plaguing other black people, but they put enormous effort in raising us to have perspective and mercy. If you boogyman-ify simple stuff like these silly little symptoms of their time like Steamboat, they grow in strength and actually become effective tools for racists to use against you. In many ways, you choose to become a victim to these things. But you’re always able to stand taller than that if you try.

You don’t know me, and you don’t know my family. But I wish you future peace.

Charlie –

I am Brazilian, and our definitions of who is white and who is black are somewhat different than an American’s. We never had the one-drop rule in Latin America. I am copying this from wikipedia, because it sums up the situation pretty well:

In the United States, “If you are not quite white, then you are black.” However, in Brazil, “If you are not quite black, then you are white.”

This is a long way to say that, in the US, I might be considered black, because my mother definitely had a lot of black blood, even though I took much more after my white father. And my wife would definitely be considered black in the US. My wife’s nephew is considered black even here.

And let me tell you, seeing those racist depictions in cartoons makes me seriously pissed off and sad.

And racism is still a real problem. Even though people are rarely physically attacked by being black around here, there are still a thousand of little everyday incidents. That black nephew I was talking about? He helped us move in our new apartment, and the building’s doorman was rude to him for a moment and tried to stop him entering, until I explained that he was with me. What was funny was that the same doorman never tried to stop my brother (who looks even whiter than me) from trying to enter.

Blacks, particularly if they are young and male, are still more likely to be viewed as potential criminals and troublemakers. The stereotypes of blacks as “savages” are still alive and well, and so I don’t know how someone could laugh it off when we see such stereotypes cropping up in that Captain America story, and Birth of a Nation.

> He certainly did not take C.C. Beck’s approach and lash out at his critics.

Yeah, he did, albeit dryly. His cartoon about the subject from the sixties is a very contemptuous non-apology.

> Birth of a Nation, which is just a blip of a blip compared to what ACTUALLY was going on then.

Birth of a Nation actually *caused* a lot of what was going on then. The Klan was dead as a doornail until that movie (and its endorsement by president Wilson, who already written very fondly of the Klan in his history of America) revived the organization throughout the south (and many places in the north) in a much more vicious form.

@Rene

Rene, I’m sorry that you’ve experienced so much racism. Racism expressed towards people is always a problem, and needs to be fought. I wish you future peace.

Guess it’s time for me to deep throat the Luger again…

@Hoosier X

I may have misread it as well. Now I’m going to go check out this article about Captain America #10.

Thanks.

Sad to see the comments hijacked by useless political discussions two weeks in a row. I love comics.

Attacks on Christianity and religion in general are not exactly rare in mature comics. Almost every Vertigo-style writer has done them. Warren Ellis sometimes is even more virulent than Garth Ennis when it comes to religion. Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison are, at best, irreverent about traditional religion, though they’re more open to alternative paths, seeing how Moore and Morrison are into magic.

I have mixed feelings. Religion is not like race or sexual orientation, in that it’s not something that is innate to you. So I think it’s more of a fair target for criticism and discussion. Not to mention organized religions’s role in attacking other groups.

On a more personal note, as a Spiritualist, I’m used to being attacked by both atheists and traditional Christians. My religious views are in the minority, so I suppose I’m just used to have to be on the defensive about my religion.

Yeah, he did, albeit dryly. His cartoon about the subject from the sixties is a very contemptuous non-apology.

Yes, and he kept that thinly veiled contempt toward his critics well into later decades, even after his pro-Jewish stuff. The staggering hypocrisy actually makes his reaction even more obnoxious than Beck’s in my book.

Brandon –

What do you mean, hijacked? With the stuff Brian presented, it would be impossible not to get political. It’s not a column about who is stronger, Thor or the Hulk. It’s a column about racism in comics.

Sad to see the comments hijacked by useless political discussions two weeks in a row. I love comics.

I’m sorry to hear that there was something on the Internet that you weren’t interested in. I hope things get better for you.

I have moved on. Me and my family could’ve very easily gotten caught up in the bitterness and sensitivity plaguing other black people, but they put enormous effort in raising us to have perspective and mercy. If you boogyman-ify simple stuff like these silly little symptoms of their time like Steamboat, they grow in strength and actually become effective tools for racists to use against you. In many ways, you choose to become a victim to these things. But you’re always able to stand taller than that if you try.

You’re engaging in a strawman argument. No one is saying to get caught up in bitterness or sensitivity. No one is telling you not to have perspective and mercy. No one is telling you to boogeyman-ify anything or become a victim. No one is telling you not to stand tall. All these things you are bringing up are a response to arguments no one made. It’s very disingenuous and self-serving for you to portray yourself as arguing against people opposed to any of those things

Everything you say are good things. However I don’t see how you make the jump from not being bitter or sensitive, having perspective and mercy, not being a hypersensitive victim, and standing tall to calling Steamboat Bill your “favorite character,” saying your family loves him, describing him as “endearing,” saying it was “hilarious.”

You seem to live in some weird world where your only two options as a black man are to be a shellshocked hypersensitive victim blowing everything out of proportion and constantly pulling the race card or to be an apologist with full-blown Stockholm Syndrome.

You don’t know me, and you don’t know my family.

Based on what you describe in these comments, that your family loves Steamboat, he’s your favorite character, they find him endearing and hilarious, etc, I may not know your family but I know enough about them to make the statements that I did.

Besides, you don’t know any of us, but you seem comfortable enough to decide we are hypersensitive alarmists advocating for blacks to blow things out of proportion and be eternal race-card holding victims.

Well, for a while anyway, it was a great cultural revenge for Monica Rambeau to get to be Captain Marvel for the 1980s and early 90s. Of course, the way in which she was “demoted” from using the name– and several successive code-names– is another form of passive-aggressive disrespect…

@Hoosier X –

You really need to calm down. It looks like you are the Comment Police.
And the person (mccracken) you called a troll has been posting on this site a long time.

@Rob L

I didn’t call anyone a troll.

Here’s exactly what I said:

I only count one person getting called a troll. I don’t think that counts as “anyone with a different view” because there have been numerous people on this site with differing views.

I didn’t call anyone a troll. And the person called a troll by others wasn’t “automatically” called a troll. It is my impression that he has a history.

I’m sorry that you think I am the Comment Police. Please tell me exactly how to act so that I don’t displease you anymore.

@Hoosier X

You can start by getting off your high horse.

@Rob L

No, I always have to start by correcting your misinformation.

@Hoosier X

If you know where to start why are you asking me?
From your moniker I can only guess that you come from the Midwest: Land of Ass Backwards.
I am done with you and I know you can’t leave it alone.
You are welcome to the last word.

@Rob L

I think we would have gotten along better if you didn’t get so mad just because I pointed out that you were saying things that weren’t true. For example, you accused me of calling someone a troll when I did no such thing. Instead of admitting you made a mistake, you called me the Comment Police as if my expectation of being represented fairly was unreasonable.

I have been very polite to you, but I have spoken up when I saw someone saying things that are easily proven to be untrue. I am very sorry that you have taken offense.

@Rob L

Here’s what I said:

Did your post did get cut off in the middle of your thought?

You sort of missed ending your comment with a point.

I did not say: “Real posters end their comments with a point.”

I don’t see why my expectations of good faith from my fellow CSBG participants makes me the Comment Police.

@Mary Warner

Reverse image search says Harry Lorayne, a magician

Interesting article, but as a journalist in another field, may I point out that there is NO such words as “anyways”? Anyway is plural unto itself.

Oh, wow, that stuff with Steamboat and the other black characters in Captain Marvel is sooooooo wrong!

Just imagine if Otto Binder had created the Black Talon (recently spotlighted by Brian Cronin in Things That Turned Out Bad) for Fawcett instead of Timely / Marvel. We then could have had “Steamboat vs The Black Talon!” Two horribly offensive racial stereotypes for the price of one!

“The United States Pentagon” isn’t actually a thing. It is either referred to as The Pentagon or the Department of Defense, but the way you’ve written it is not correct usage.

So…………………….,

Anyone want to discuss Chop-chop (Blackhawk) or Pieface (Green Lantern)?

(Quickly ducks out of the room…)

As late as in the mid 1970s we still had characters such as Hulk’s friend “Crackajack” Jackson, introduced in the same storyline that gave us Wolverine.

It took a long time for society to let go of blackface and similar conceptions. It is not all that fair to single out Will Eisner or C.C. Beck for that.

Speaking of Chop-Chop, Jim Steranko once stated that presenting him as a “quasi-caucasian” was more offensive than early portrayals. I am surprised that he felt so.

On the other hand, I also remember people complaining that those issues of Fantastic Four around the time of Civil War had Tchalla (the Black Panther) having facial proportions noticeably different from those of Reed and Johnny. That to me was going too far. Tchalla is not supposed to look like a black caucasian, and his portrayal was not at all caricatural.

“Isn’t that amazing? That you could specifically have that written into your code and STILL have a character like Steamboat appear?”

That’s America, baby.

It took a long time for society to let go of blackface and similar conceptions. It is not all that fair to single out Will Eisner or C.C. Beck for that.

I single out EIsner because he could be so defiant, dismissive, and rude in his defense of Ebony White well into the late 20th Century, all the while being preachy and condemning over the EXACT SAME THING happening to Jews. It’s his galling hypocrisy well into the 21st century that makes him worthy of singling out.

Brian from Canada

April 19, 2014 at 5:45 am

@T.:

If there’s anything more insulting in this threat than Steamboat’s portrayal it’s your lack of knowledge about the problems Jews had in Victorian England. Waves of Jewish immigration to escape the pogroms in central Europe were met with open hostility. They lived in slums, notably Whitechapel. Jack The Ripper was both blamed on the Jews and accused of being a Jew — so much so that the police washed away such an accusation of a crime scene before it could be photographed. And the most celebrated Jew, Benjamin Disraeli, actually gave up his relationship to the community in order to get into politics.

Moreover, it didn’t die out but flared up when those Jews went to America. Hank Greenberg experienced rude comments and harsh attitudes decades before Jackie Robinson. More importantly, Walt Disney’s “Three Little Pigs” is about as anti-semitic as you can get — the original, that is: the present version was cleaned up during the war. As a Jew myself, THE JAZZ SINGER is anti-Jewish propaganda made by Jews: it doesn’t even portray the Testaments as being part of the same Bible!

Where attitudes to Jews changed was the fact that so many Jews got into the creative arts and pushed for more positive presentations — and avoided the stereotypes, focusing on more realistic ones like the doting grandmother or kibitzing old man. African Americans have not been so successful at the latter part, because every positive role model is up against the “gangsta” and racial joke. (Snoop’s portrayal of Huggy Bear, for instance, was insulting because it celebrated a stereotype that had been pushed away.) Hispanics are fighting that too now.

In terms of the dialect and occupation, I think that blame goes back to the early talkies: just hear Buckwheat’s voice, or other early African Americans’ portrayals — and you’ll see an attempt to replicate that without the realization that not everyone talks that way. (Marvel’s depiction of the southern redneck is equally offensive in its dialect.) For a bunch of New York Jews barely making enough to survive and working majorly long hours, the movies would have been how they depicted anyone outside of their immediate world. (Remember: this is the days *before* television.)

Is it insulting? Yes. Is it something that should be hidden? No. As insulting as these characters are in their depiction, they ARE portrayed as heroes. And it’s impossible to track the evolution if you hide the past.

Shylock and Fagan are two examples of anti-Semitic portrayals, but Nazi Germany’s output was certainly copied in America during the 1930s and 1940s. In fact, reports of the Concentration Camps and other killing of Jews in the war were muffled on purpose by the US and UK governments to focus it more on Germany taking territory that wasn’t theirs. Too much of THAT has been buried, and it hurts the education of future generations that it’s gone.

I recently had the chance to catch a documentary called “White Scripts and Black Superheroes,” which doesn’t hit on this discussion exactly but does look at the evolution of black characters created by white writers and artists.

http://blacksuperherodoc.com/

Steamboat was a symptom of a larger system that privileged white folks at the expense of people of color that still exists today.

“A few years back, my buddy Zack Smith did an AWESOME Oral History project on Captain Marvel.”

Awesome that he practically defends racism? Those stories could only be good for you white folks.

Brian from Canada:

I know all that. I wasn’t saying Jews in Victorian England didn’t have it bad. What I was saying is they didn’t have it as bad as blacks in America in 1941 did. Being only 80 years removed from almost four hundred years of multigenerational slavery alone creates a huge difference in conditions between the two cases.

Brian from Canada:”If there’s anything more insulting in this threat than Steamboat’s portrayal it’s your lack of knowledge about the problems Jews had in Victorian England. Waves of Jewish immigration to escape the pogroms in central Europe were met with open hostility. They lived in slums, notably Whitechapel. Jack The Ripper was both blamed on the Jews and accused of being a Jew — so much so that the police washed away such an accusation of a crime scene before it could be photographed. And the most celebrated Jew, Benjamin Disraeli, actually gave up his relationship to the community in order to get into politics.”

Brian, one cannot compare Jews in Victorian Britain to Blacks in the pre-’60s USA. Your reference to Disraeli actually highlights the dichotomy. Converting to the Church of England allowed Disraeli to become Prime Minister. Blacks could not “convert” to being White in the USA in 1941.

T:”Yes, and he kept that thinly veiled contempt toward his critics well into later decades, even after his pro-Jewish stuff. The staggering hypocrisy actually makes his reaction even more obnoxious than Beck’s in my book.”

I tend to agree. It’s Eisner’s hypocrisy that really offends me. Attacking Dickens when it would have been far more interesting to have seen him fully recognizing the latent racism in his own work.

Brian, one cannot compare Jews in Victorian Britain to Blacks in the pre-’60s USA. Your reference to Disraeli actually highlights the dichotomy. Converting to the Church of England allowed Disraeli to become Prime Minister. Blacks could not “convert” to being White in the USA in 1941.

Exactly. No such assimilation or disavowal option was available for blacks back then. It took until 2008 for a Black President to be elected, and it was a half-black one who did not actually come from African-American slave descent. His bloodline is from East Africa, and he isn’t descended from American slaves, or any Transatlantic slaves for that matter. So Disraeli’s accomplishment back then is still something that has yet to be proven possible for full-blooded African-Americans of slave descent even today in 2014.

That said, I admire Brian’s tenacity because it’s something I find very admirable about a lot of Jewish people I meet. He felt I was minimizing the insults his people faced (which I wasn’t actually intending to do) and he tried to check me on it. They have a very tenacious “never again” and “never forget” attitude about this type of stuff, and rarely ever actively campaign to minimize its impact. Even Jews who are accused of being self-hating, the most I usually see them do is simply keep quiet and be politically apolitical and silent. You rarely see Jewish falling over themselves to be apologists for antisemitism the way so many black people publicly do. I can’t imagine a Jewish person, in order to prove that he’s not an uptight agitator with a victim mindset, overcompensating to the degree of saying an insulting antisemitic stereotype was endearing, his family’s favorite character, highly entertaining, or hilarious.

Mention of Chop-Chop above reminds me: is he the only one of these characters to have started as an offensive racial stereotype and to have gradually evolved into normal character? If you trace him from his early
rodent-toothed appearances, through the 1960s where he has the same Chinese waiter costume but at least looks human, to Evanier and Spiegle finally giving him a Blackhawk uniform, and to Chaykin giving him an attitude, it’s an interesting visual and character progression.

And if you’re going to talk about Jews in Dickensian England you should at least mention Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Current Labour party leader Ed Miliband recently declared he wanted to be the UK’s first Jewish Prime Minister, to great amusement. You’re 150 years too late for that honor, Ed.

Brian from Canada

April 19, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Actually, Rob, he’s not. Disraeli gave up his faith to become Prime Minister. He was basically Christian but from a Jewish background.

And to T & Marlowe: while conversion wasn’t an option for African Americans in 1941 America, you’re also forgetting that African Americans were, by then, considered citizens. Jews in Victorian England were continuing to pay the annual bribe to remain in London and other UK cities in order to prevent similar expulsions in other countries. Anti-semitic crimes were wholly acceptable in every country in Europe.

There’s a reason Hitler was able to target the Jews in Germany: it was institutionalized for centuries, and part of the Catholic doctrine until after the war.

America hated its Jews too until the war. It’s in the movies, it’s in the books, it’s in the social movements. It’s not until the Holocaust that anti-semitism was considered wrong. And even then, it wasn’t a complete institutional erasure like the push for civil rights seemed to get: anti-semitism is believed to be higher now than before the war. :-(

All of this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look at the past presentations as somewhat shameful from lack of knowledge or experience. But it doesn’t mean we should look at them as all evil either — context, often forgotten, is a big key to growing our societies.

Brian from Canada

April 19, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Sorry, I meant visual presentations. And there are some that ARE evil. But I was trying to speak of the general, comic-centric presentations. (Don’t want people to get confused!)

Yes, I’m aware of Disraeli’s religious background. However, he was still ethnically Jewish. Ed Milliband is an atheist, which I think means he’s no more or less Jewish than Disraeli was.

Brian –

By saying that blacks at least had “full citizenship” in the 1940s, you’re making the same mistake of many naive historians: the belief that the official line had anything to do with everyday reality. I remember one prominent Libertarian that made the bold assertion that women had it great in 19th century America, because there was little in official documents that made them second-class citizens!

But of course, Jews were seen with suspicion in pre-WWII America. Literature by WASP writers usually presented Jews as shifty invaders that you had to watch out for. Not a favorable portrayal, but at least Jews were “inside” the house, even if they were disliked and not trusted. Blacks, on the other hand, were not even fit to mingle with WASP society, except in a very subservient role. A Jew having sex with a non-Jewish white woman? Distasteful! A black having sex with a white woman? Rape! Bring in a rope.

In any case, the main problem I have with guys like Eisner and Otto Binder (and Binder wasn’t a Jew) is that they kept trying to defend the shameful stuff even after they had to know better.

Brian from Canada

April 19, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Is Ed Milliband officially an atheist? Or is he just non-practicing? So long as you can prove Jewish heritage and believe the basic tenets of Judaism, you are a Jew. In Disraeli’s case, he may have had the former but his father gave up the latter for them, so they were not Jews.

Ethnically Jewish isn’t Jewish. He was Anglican when he swore the oath and is therefore an Anglican Prime Minister. There has been no Jewish leader of a modern state outside of Israel.

@Rene: I am talking legally. Jews had questionable rights in Victorian England. Napoleon only ended the Inquisition two decades before Victoria took the throne, and hatred of Jews was strong enough for the police to destroy evidence in the Ripper case in order to prevent a riot that would burn down Whitechapel.

Yes, there was stronger hatred of blacks in America, but there was also hatred of Jews too. Hank Greenberg, the first openly Jewish baseball player, had to deal with other players looking for his horns and tail as they were told in Sunday school. They were not “in” the house either: Jews were barred or given quotas when it came to higher education, and inter-religious marriage meant ex-communication from most religious communities.

(Jews didn’t have to worry about being in a subservient role, since in urban areas on the east coast they had been the low labourer class who stayed in their communities because they mostly didn’t speak English. The generation that did have better integration — outside the celebrities and very rich — were the later generations who had shed a lot of their “jewishness” to fit in to America.)

But going back to your point: after learning it was wrong, it was still a product of its time and a proud product at that. Eisner and Binder cared that their work was beloved and — to be fair — they didn’t want to see it locked away in a vault never to be seen again like the Disney stuff that’s been deemed “offensive.” Disney denies there was ever a racist “Three Little Pigs” short, and won’t re-release Song Of The South ever again. (Though sadly not The Three Amigos too.)

True, apologizing to new readers that they didn’t mean to offend should be there, in my opinion, but also the awareness should be made that what they portrayed was based on the representations of the time. Personally, I find today’s offences worse because everyone should know better by now.

In any case, the main problem I have with guys like Eisner and Otto Binder (and Binder wasn’t a Jew) is that they kept trying to defend the shameful stuff even after they had to know better.

Beck, not Binder. I don’t think Binder ever spoke about this stuff. He died 40 years ago.

Brian –

I think we both agree that Jews had a hard time in early 20th century America (and in a lot of other times and places too), and that blacks had a even harder time.

But I don’t think it depended on Eisner’s lack of apologies whether the material would be made available for future generations. Someone said above that the Captain Marvel stuff is out of print, so certainly it didn’t helped that C. C. Beck was unapologetic about it. It’s more or less like mother of the criminal son saying that “he was such a nice kid”, as if that would keep the kid out of jail.

In any case, I find it very hard to not call Eisner out on his moral myopia, particularly regarding Charles Dickens and Fagin. I side with T. on that one.

But hey, Eisner was only human. Humans are selfish. Humans are sensitive to affronts to their own groups while being oh-so-dismissive of affronts to other groups. Eisner is still a genius and his works are still to be admired.

Jeff Nettleton

April 19, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Chop-Chop did evolve, in the hands of a younger generation. They eventually reduced Pieface to Pie, and just Tom (Kalmaku). Of course, even the more progressive later eras had problems. Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu took some grief over the coloring of Fu Manchu and Shang Chi’s skin, until they finally stopped trying to depict Asians with different skin tones from the Caucasian characters (though it still varied, a bit).

Brian from Canada

April 19, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Rene: Dickens’ presentation of Fagan WASN’T built out of stereotypes presented in the media, it was built on the acceptable presentation of Jews for centuries. Hell, they were expelled from England for demanding repayment for bailing out Richard (which is a key part of the Magna Carta no one in Britain really talks about).

More importantly, Fagan was never apologized for nor presented as evil. Even in university classes on literature, Shylock and Fagan are never presented in context: that is acceptable presentation of Jews in literature for the period.

T. is completely wrong here. Portrayals of African Americans in modern comics have mostly been recognized as products of acceptable stereotypes, and those who worked on them either unapologetic for producing something that was not intended as insult or apologetic after the fact. There has RARELY been any apology for anti-Jewish presentations in American comics or fiction. It’s always been “There was the Holocaust. We found out. We changed.” (Which, based on what happened in Kansas last week, is completely false: the US still has a strong anti-Jewish contingent in it that never went away.)

Brian from Canada:”Ethnically Jewish isn’t Jewish. He was Anglican when he swore the oath and is therefore an Anglican Prime Minister. There has been no Jewish leader of a modern state outside of Israel.”

Well, the state of Israel disagrees with you on that one.They allow right of return to people who have one Jewish grandparent, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Of course, Brian.

Salt in your wounds is salt.

Salt in another man’s wound is not salt. It’s a healing balm.

Have a nice day.

t’s strange but it’s exactly things like Fagin the Jew and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that really enrage me about Eisner, and come off so hypocritical. I used to buy his stuff, and if he honestly just never apologized period I’d be much better with it than to see him in text pieces in those books defend his Ebony White depictions while at the same time railing against anti-Semitic stereotypes.

I have read Fagin The Jew and Protocols– I just don’t have either physically accessible to me right this moment, but if memory serves me, Eisner’s introductions to both books expressed embarrassment at his younger self’s attitudes as illustrated in the figure of Ebony White.

Explaining that it was a different time, and acknowledging that unlike some of his contemporaries, he had failed to question the dominant attitudes of that time, is not excusing past behavior– only expressing why he was late coming to understand the harm caused by racial stereotypes and noting that his lateness was due to his own personal failings.

Hypocrisy is something quite different– i.e. if he had created Ebony White in the same time period in which he had made the above mentioned books– but instead, they were written and illustrated many decades apart.

“I’m black and this stuff is just funny to me. Nobody thinks I’m a dumbass because I’m black, or a servant, or less than equal. I’m just a human being.”

If you are indeed black, you are literally the first black person I have ever talked to who claims to have never experienced racism in their entire life. You should consider yourself very privileged.

“Because I’m not being treated like an equal when people think I’m damaged goods that can’t handle a stupid stereotype with big lips.”

Ah, even better. The old “The only racism I’ve ever felt is people trying to be politically correct” argument.

“Jews in Victorian England didn’t have it near as bad.”

I don’t want to make this into a “Which minority was more damaged by racism?” off, but Jews in Victorian England had it pretty bad. They were generally barred from most employment and residential areas. They had had the right to vote for far fewer years than blacks in 1941 (though likely with fewer restrictions in the respective presents we are comparing); literally three years prior to ‘Oliver Twist’, they couldn’t vote.

I’d agree blacks had it worse overall, but the comparison isn’t as specious as you seem to think.

“More importantly, Fagan was never apologized for nor presented as evil.”

Dickens did, in fact, apologize for Fagan later in life, and added a positive Jewish character (otherwise gratuitous) to ‘Our Mutual Friend’ as an attempt to make some kind of amends.

I don’t think it’s particularly productive to make general pronouncements of which group had it worse. This varies a great deal from generation to generation and from location to location. One election or a move to another town can make a tolerable situation intolerable.

If we want to discuss specifics, we can get a lot more mileage because it allows us to understand the different ways people are oppressed and the different forms of defamatory stereotypes there are. Even when one finds a racist who hates Jews and Blacks with equal passion, one finds that his beliefs about each group are actually quite different.

Dickens did, in fact, apologize for Fagan later in life, and added a positive Jewish character (otherwise gratuitous) to ‘Our Mutual Friend’ as an attempt to make some kind of amends.

Dickens also edited a revised edition to Oliver Twist which reduced the number of times that Fagin was referred to as Jewish or to which his criminality was attributed to his Jewishness.

Saying “this has no effect on me now” does not invalidate that it was racist. That’s like saying “Ted Bundy never killed anyone”. I’m in absolutely no danger of Ted Bundy killing me. It has no effect on me now. That doesn’t make the killings not happen though. And to try to claim that it’s not racist because it has no effect on you or your family currently is just as ridiculous.

Logan –

That’s a great analogy, but it doesn’t go far enough. It’s also like saying “Not only did Ted Bundy never kill anyone, but to say he did back then would be to give serial killers control over my life today. It would be like saying I’m weak and am an eternal victim and am living in constant fear of them and allowing them to run my life and determine my self-worth. Therefore, Ted Bundy didn’t kill anyone. Because I’m no victim. In fact my family LOVES Ted Bundy. He’s a role model!”

I dunno. If Beck lived as long as Eisner did, I bet he eventually would have had similar comments. It took Eisner a looooooong time to ever really begin to apologize for Ebony.

Having read quite a few of C.C. Beck’s diatribes in interviews and his Comics Journal column over the years I seriously doubt that Beck would have ever have mellowed that much. The man was pretty much… curmudgeonly would be a polite way of putting it; a miserable SOB would be more accurate.

…Bah. I think you kids are missing the *real* issue here. Hirschfeld got Nimoy’s ears wrong.

:OM:

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