Race in the Funny Pages


I’m a sucker for a good comic-strip stunt, so I’m good and jazzed about this — a bunch of comics by African-American and Hispanic cartoonists, all with the identical script, to draw attention to minority issues in comics:

But for one day — this Sunday — 11 cartoonists of color will be drawing essentially the same comic strip, using irony to literally illustrate that point. In each strip, the artists will portray a white reader grousing about a minority-drawn strip, complaining that it’s a “Boondocks” rip-off and blaming it on “tokenism.” “It’s the one-minority rule,” says Lalo Alcaraz (“La Cucaracha”). “We’ve got one black guy and we’ve got one Latino. There’s not room for anything else.”

Plans for the protest began with Cory Thomas, a Howard University grad whose strip, “Watch Your Head,” deals with college life at a predominantly African American university. Thomas, Trinidad-born and D.C.-bred, says he was frustrated by the number of times his strip was turned down by newspapers that didn’t feel the need to sign him up, because, well, they already had a black comic strip. Most editors, he says, only allow for one or two minority strips, viewing them all as interchangeable. Never mind that his strip is a world away in sensibility from the scathing sociopolitical musings of Darrin Bell’s “Candorville” or the family-focused fun of Stephen Bentley’s “Herb and Jamaal.”

So Thomas drew a strip addressing that, and then enlisted the help of Bell. From there, they got others to agree to participate: Bentley, Jerry Craft (“Mama’s Boyz”), Charlos Gary (“Cafe con Leche” and “Working It Out”), Steve Watkins (“Housebroken”), Keith Knight (“The K Chronicles”), Bill Murray (“The Golden Years”), Charles Boyce (“Compu-toon”) and editorial cartoonist Tim Jackson. Alcaraz, who says he found out too late to meet his deadline, will be chiming in on Feb. 11.

I think it’s a fair question. Sure, there are economic factors to consider — most newspapers have been shrinking their comics pages (and the comic strips themselves!) for decades, and they only have a limited amount of space on their pages for what seems to be an ever-growing number of cartoonists with new strips to offer.

But on the other hand, there are a lot of comics pages that look a lot like the one we have here in Lubbock — just about the only non-white face you’ll ever see is Lt. Flap in “Beetle Bailey.” For a country as large and diverse as we got, surely there’s gotta be some room for other kinds of characters, right?

Besides, anything that gets Keith Knight a little more publicity is a good thing, ya know?

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