for February 10 comic strip demonstration
On February 10, 2008, about a dozen cartoonists of color (and a few who are not) united to help bring attention to the lack of diversity on newspaper comic pages. In order to show the world that our comics are not all interchangable, we all did our own version of a strip that was originally done by Cory Thomas. Unless you have ever been in our shoes, it may be very difficult to see the uniqueness and frustration of our predicament. And when you see the responses to our "protest" (and you will), I'm sure you'll hear things like "Black cartoonists are given the same shot as everyone else" and " we pick strips based on quality, not race."
But how else could they respond? In my opinion, and I know I'm not alone, when it comes to equality, the comics pages are still way behind other forms of entertainment. When I first created Mama's Boyz back in 1992, the two biggest blockades were "it's too much like Curtis," and "people in the midwest will not be able to relate." Fortunately for me, a lot has changed in the past 15 years. Now I hear "it's too much like Boondocks, and people in the Midwest won't be able to relate!" When, thank God for change or I may have lost my mind years ago. In fact, I went out of my way to create a strip that didn't have kids in it, and still heard that it was too much like Boondocks.
So here in a nutshell, is what I see as the problem. Many comic syndicates and newspaper editors still see Black comic strips as something that only Black people will read. Of course there are still some who feel that Black people don't read the paper, but that's a rant for a whole 'nother day. I once called a paper in the south to ask if they were running my strip and was greeted with "Mama's Boyz? Son, is that that ethnic strip? Well we don't have no use for that this part of town." And that polite southern accent even made that sound cute. Thankfully, the rest of the entertainment world realizes that it's not only "us" who listen to Beyonce and go see Denzel movies. And by the same token (no pun intended) why don't these same editors think that only enlisted men read Beetle Bailey? And when was the last time you saw a Viking reading Hagar the Horrible? And if the problem is that mainstream America can not relate to another culture then take a look at what cartoons are on TV these days. Pokemon, Yugi-Oh, Shaolin Showdown... Obviously middle America has no problem relating to the Asian culture. And I ain't mad at 'em.
The next is what I like to call "the Highlander Syndrome." Based on the movie Highlander which revolved around the concept of "there can be only one." Meaning, in many cases, if a paper picks up Curtis, they will decide to drop Jump Start or Herb and Jamaal. As a result, it makes it very hard to feel a sense of comraderie with peers who are a direct threat to your income. Boy that Willie Lynch is still alive and well.
I remember talking to Morrie Turner, who is one of the pioneers of African-American cartoonists, who told me that when he first started his goal was to open the door for generations to come. But instead he felt like he got stuck in the door with no way for others to get around it. Morrie is definitley someone who should have garnered more attention during his illustrious career. And speaking of careers, how come I've never seen a "Curtis" book?
Below are a few links to what others have said on this topic as well as samples of some of the strips that were done and a little about the creators. Thanks for taking the time to read this.
Jerry Craft creator of Candorville, I mean Mama's Boyz. (They look so much alike that even I get confused!)
Editor & Publisher - David Astor
Washington Post - Teresa Wiltz (Registration required)
St Petersburgh Times - Eric Deggans
TheRoot.com - Helena Andrews
The Daily Cartoonist - Check out the debate
The strip that started it all was Cory Thomas's "Watch Your Head" shown below.
Watch Your Head
A comic strip about an African-American mother raising her two teen-aged sons while running the family bookstore. Distributed weekly by King Features Syndicate since 1994.
Herb and Jamaal
Check out his cartoons and visit his salute to the Pioneering Cartoonists and learn more about the African-American artists, illustrators and graphic designers who created and drew "the Funnies" of the Black Press during the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s and into the 1960s. It is their legacy that paved the way for others like us in the cartooning industry.
Humor turned on by people and gadgets. An online syndicated comic panel through Mae Johnny Communications
Universal Press Syndicate- www.gocomics.com/compu-toon
Murray does two nationally syndicated features for DBR MEDIA, JET NEWS,
THE GOLDEN YEARS and THREE self-syndicated features for the PITTSBURGH
COURIER and the CHICAGO DEFENDER : THOSE BROWNS (once distributed by
Sammy Davis,jr Enterprises in the mid late '70's ), EBONY LAUGHS and
The K Chronicles
San Francisco-based rapper and award-winning cartoonist. Creator of two self-syndicated weekly comic strips: "the K Chronicles" and "(th)ink".
Cafe Con Leche (Creators Syndicate)