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Hergé's depiction of Africans etc.

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#1 · Posted: 25 May 2004 09:41 · Edited by: tybaltstone
jock123 said (from the Jo, Zette & Jocko topic):

The fact that the American market was thought to be unable to accept images of black and white people together, leading to frames being re-drawn (for example, Alan Thompson losing a black crew-man, and gaining a Puerto Rican), is surely overt racism, not a lessening of it?"

I agree with jock123 - the American publishers asked for changes that got rid of black characters for quite racist reasons. It's ridiculous to think you couldn't show a so-called 'mix of races' together in a children's book. Truly terrible. Hergé's depiction of native Africans was very simply the cartooning style of the time and today does look less than politically-correct, but then was just the short-hand style to show a certain type.

It's amazing to think that only until a few years ago, 'golly-wogs' were still being marketed in British children's comics - they seem awful now, but at the time I think it was just accepted as the norm, and not even seen as racist. Today we are both more aware of other cultures and more sensitive to them too, rightly so.

To me, Hergé very much seems a citizen of the world, much like Tintin - race doesn't come into his prejudices, just good and evil. He was just a product of his times. None of my grandparents were racist, but they did make comments concerning race that would make me cringe - it's just the way the world worked, sadly, when they were being formed as young men and women.
#2 · Posted: 25 May 2004 09:47
Just a lack of knowledge on Herge's part really, never having been to the Congo, etc. Just had to rely on the views of others. He went out later on and properly researched these places and in many cases dispelled myths (as in the Blue Lotus)

Also when working in B&W as Herge early did, it would be hard to portray black people as any color other than pure black, giving the stereotypical early drawing of pure black faces and white lips.

#3 · Posted: 25 May 2004 10:11 · Edited by: tybaltstone
It's quite easy to draw black or asian people using just black and white, it's well-accepted now that people can tell a race from smaller pointers such as hair style or shape of mouth, nose and eyes. In the 1970s and early 80s it was still acceptable to show a negro or asian character by drawing diagonal 'shade lines' across their skin, but this is not seen as acceptable now. You're right though, jocksojungle, Hergé was just drawing in the style of the time.

Going back to the middle of the 20th century, it was acceptable to draw a black person with big lips, large white eyes and their skin completely black because that was cartooning, the same way you might show a person of Jewish origin with a large nose. It's not necessarily racially accurate, but the point of cartooning is/was to make an almost grotesque portrayal of a character for a laugh whether they were black, white or whatever.

If you look at most of Hergé's black characters at face value, they are not racist. What is racist is the history of racism that often went hand in hand with derogatory cartoons and therefore often made that 'rubber-lipped' figure a racist depiction. The Nazis made strong use of cartoon stereotypes to depict the, in their view, 'evil' nature of Jews and the 'stupidity' of any minority race.

Robert Crumb's 'Angelfood McSpade' can be seen as very offensive, until you realise he's taking the mickey out of cartoon racism - though it is difficult to read, but he plays very strongly on that black cartoon stereotype.

In some ways, today it's gone almost too far the other way. When i drew a totem-pole of three children standing on each others' shoulders, one black, one asian and one white I decided to put the black child at the top so no one could accuse me of putting him at the bottom of the heap. It still got strongly criticised, as I'd put the white child on the bottom (almost reverse racism!) and was told I was showing that black people needed to be held up and helped by white people! I encounter this quite a bit, and in all my children's illustrations have to have a very balanced scattering of races - which is fine, but sometimes things go too far.

After that very long ramble - I'm basically saying that Hergé's 'black cartoons' are not in themselves, racist, they're just cartoons - but an unfortunate history attaches itself to them.
#4 · Posted: 25 May 2004 12:58
Totally agree there, it's obvious from interviews, etc. that Herge was not a racist man, it's just the differing views of todays society where anything involving race is seen as racist.

#5 · Posted: 25 May 2004 13:43 · Edited by: jock123
An interesting discussion, tybaltstone! Your knowledge of cartoon history is deep and fascinating.

I would just add that a large part of the equation is context. The Nazis used the Jewish stereotypes to undermine and offend; Hergé used them as short-hand for someone in Palestine of semitic origin. It may be seen to be offensive now, but the offence wasn’t the intention in the context in which it was made.

If we look at JZ&J, I think Hergé’s position, broadly speaking is fair - the Eskimo/ Inuit characters are in no way (that I can see or understand) demeaned, for example.

When one takes the “radio message going round the world” sequence, where he shows people in many countries, I feel the image of the black lady listening to the message is sympathetic: it places her on the same level as everybody else on the planet, although she is perhaps too close to the stereotypic “mammy” character (also found in “Tom & Jerry”) to be wholly comfortable for modern audiences.

However, on the island, it is the context which to me seems wrong: he puts the native characters down, by giving them both stereotypical physical features and sub-par behaviour - low-intelligence cannibals who can be subdued by a pair of white European children. I don’t suggest that means he was anything more than naïve enough to go with the flow of the time, but it does give me pause.

In mitigation, I must also say again that the fact that a gang of low-intelligence white European crooks can be beaten by a chimp with a good throwing arm must also be read into the record for balance: Hergé is more guilty reliance on stereotypes, period, than of racism.

Robert Crumb is a curious case, because it is often hard to see which side of the fence he stands on in so many areas - is his depiction of women pro- or anti-female? What is he doing when he uses black stereotypes? And to a certain extent, that’s the point. He is externalising the doubts and ambiguities within himself, and prompting his readers to look within themselves too.

I wasn’t aware of a problem with using shading lines to denote racial characteristics, so I feel better informed now. Would that now extend to a character like Franklin in “Peanuts”? Schulz is probably the least racist, most integrated cartoonist I can think of, given that he showed children of all sorts of ethnic back-grounds playing and working together.

How do cartoonists get around it in black and white these days?
#6 · Posted: 10 Dec 2005 13:57 · Edited by: tybaltstone
Apologies for digging this old thread up, but I didn't want to start a new topic for a discussion that has already made appearances in a couple or more threads, most recently the Son of Tintin (Tristan) thread.

We know that when the original Congo book was published in the UK (my edition is 1991) it included a foreword by Michael Turner and Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper concerning Hergé's portrayal of the Belgian Congo, and how he "reflected the colonial attitudes of the time" while Hergé himself "admitted that he depicted his Africans according to the bourgeois, paternalistic stereotypes of the period".

With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to quote from the introduction to Dark Horse's English translation of Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy.

"Many non-Japanese, including people from Africa and Southeast Asia, appear in Tezukua's works. Sometimes these people are depicted very differently from the way they actually are today, in a manner that exaggerates a long time past or shows them to be from extremely undeveloped lands. Some feel that such images contribute to racial discrimination, especially against people of African descent. This was never Tezuka's intent, but we believe that as long as there are people who feel insulted or demeaned by these depictions, we must not ignore their feelings.

We are against discrimination, in all its forms, and intend to continue to work for its elimination. Nonetheless, we do not believe it would be proper to revise these works. Tezuka is no longer with us, and we cannot erase what he has done, and to alter his work would only violate his rights as a creator. More importantly, stopping publication or changing the content of his work would do little to solve the problems of discrimination that exist in the world.

We are presenting Tezuka's work as it was originally created, without changes. We do this because we believe it is also important to promote the underlying themes in his work, such as love for mankind and the sanctity of life. We hope that when you, the reader, encounter this work, you will keep in mind the differences in attitudes, then and now, toward discrimination, and that this will contribute to even greater awareness of such problems."

- Tezuka Productions & Dark Horse Comics (© 2002, as information).

Much longer than the Casterman forword, but nicely put I thought, and echoing similar sentiments.
#7 · Posted: 1 Apr 2006 07:45 · Edited by: SingingGandalf
Going back to the middle of the 20th century, it was acceptable to draw a black person with big lips, large white eyes and their skin completely black because that was cartooning

Sadly that still happens. Their is a black person just like that in the Asterix book - 'the falling sky', made in 2005.

the Eskimo/ Inuit characters

If I was completely politically correct I would have to accuse you of racism. 'Eskimo' is considered derogatory as the Inuits call themselves Inuits (meaning 'the people') Just a point to say that it's getting so ridiculous that you can hardly say something that's not racist. I am in no way saying you are racist, jock.
#8 · Posted: 3 Apr 2006 10:46 · Edited by: jock123
If I was completely politically correct I would have to accuse you of racism. 'Eskimo' is considered derogatory as the Inuits call themselves Inuits

Trust me, I chose my words carefully! Actually only some Eskimoan people are Inuit - you have Inupiaq (sometimes Inupiat) and Yupik too; you therefore can’t make a substitution in all cases, and at least one current reference suggests that “Eskimo” is the only all inclusive term we have.

Hence why I used both terms - sometimes there’s method in my madness!
#9 · Posted: 3 Apr 2006 10:49 · Edited by: SingingGandalf
Oh well, I suppose if I was completely PC, I'd now have to accuse myself of racism now for leaving out ethnic minorities. This PC thing is getting way out of hand.
#10 · Posted: 3 Apr 2006 13:40
It isn't "political correctness," rather "correctness." Example: I hate it when people (in Europe mostly) use the term "Red Indians." Depending on the nation, you'll be anywhere from a light olive (like me!) to a deep brown. There's a huge importance in getting terms right--it shows that you respect people enough to work on showing them respect.

The JZ& J books are nearly impossible to get here, so just out of curiosity, was Inuktitut used in the book?


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