BAME! POW! Comics get diverse (part 3)
A continued history of black, asian and minority ethnicity characters in 2000AD.
|Art by Paul Marshall|
And so heading into the Rebellion years, in which lessons had largely been learned. Basically, the modern approach to comics seems to be: keep mixing up the ethnicities of more and more characters, both in named and leading roles, but also in background characters. If a character doesn’t have a reason to be one ethnicity rather than another, then why make them white British? I don’t suppose it’s a perfect system, and it’s certainly not my place to offer any sort of ‘yes, all good here’, but it’s better than it was, right?
A note before we dive into the details: my working knowledge of Progs 1000-2000 is way less intense than what has come before (ah, the lost days of youth, endlessly re-reading the same progs). That, coupled with the fact that there are just way more characters of colours to talk about, means I’m going to miss a lot of examples. Hopefully I will at least name check the main players, and some minor ones besides.
We’ll kick off with Dredd epic* Darkside (Progs 1017-1029), in which we meet small-time crook Rydell, something iof an entry-point character (until he kicks the bucket, anyway).
|Words by John Smith; Art by Paul Marshall|
|Smith n' Marshall|
Another Wally Squadder gets two-episodes, in the Big Hit (Progs 1029-1030) Judge Wishbone:
|Words by Mark Millar; Art by G. Stoddard|
|Art by Kevin Walker|
Then there’s the Space Girls (Progs 1062-1066), which like its real-world counterpart had a token black member in Deep Space.
|Art by Jason Brashill|
Not to mention their various excursions to Mangapore, populated by Japanese / Singeaporean types (actually not on the same planet as Downlode, for reasons I don’t understand). And more recently Generica – which should just be future America, but is also in fact on another planet entirely.
Let’s pick out a handful of actual characters, then:
cop-turned-bartender Rocky Rhodes, and his wife Wendy Deng
|Words by Dan Abnett; Art by Simon Davis|
his partner Cane Broadus (I'm still trying to figure out where the Kal Cutter / Cane Broadus pun is. There must be one somewhere!)
Sinister’s Generican buddy, Missy Solemnis
There are a ton of one-off and side characters across two decades (!) of Sinister Dexter. I've probably forgotten some key exmaples. So be it. Just in time for the Millennium, Mazeworld delivers an evil Doctor (mostly in Book 3, Progs 1151-1160).
|Words by Alan Grant; Art by Arthur Ranson|
|Art by Steve Cook|
|Art by Jason Brashill|
|White policemen truncheoning black men = bad visual.|
But in the context of Judge Dredd, it is somehow progressive to show black characters getting exactly the same treatment as white characters.
Words by Wagner; Art by Ezquerra
and tackles the day-to-day life of Tac Chief Cone.
|Wagner n' Ezquerra|
|Words by Mills via Diggle; Art by Henry Flint|
Far less foibles seem to affect white appropriation of Asian and Hispanic characters, so no one at all gets upset to meet Johnny Woo (Prog 1233)
|Art by Peter Doherty|
Garth Ennis, in order to reclaim his uber-Northern Irish series Troubled Souls, delivered the Dredd mini-epic Helter Skelter (Progs 1250-1261), which starred technician Darien Kenzie.
She’s due for a reappearance one day, no?
Into the Rebellion and Matt Smith years, the trend of increased incidental (rather than tokenistic or comedic) divesity of characters continues.
Meet Daksehban ‘Daksha’ Patel, from Thirteen (Progs 1289-1299)
The Red Seas, a globe-spanning adventure, sustains a vast cast across the years. Series 1 (Progs 1313-1321) includes Julius, part of Dancer’s crew, and Dancer’s Caribbean girlfriend Isabella.
Series 2 (Progs 1371-1379) gets all Sinbad, bringing Alhazed and rival captain Sarita.
|All words by Ian Edginton and art by Steve Yeowell|
Half-alien Holt, from Asylum (Progs 1313-1321; 1406-1414)
And, in Alan Barnes’s Megazine, there’s a multinational cast at work in the Bendatti Vendetta (Megs 4.13-4.18; 209-211), e.g. Miss Sinaro
|The lady will have her revenge|
Words by Robbie Morrison; Art by John Burns
and of course Black Siddha (across three series in Megs 202 - 252), with its extensive cast of British Hindus and mythical superhero avatars, led by hero Rohan
and his girlfriend Mirabai (in the Peter Parker/Mary Jane Watson roles, filtered through the lens of Mills)
|Words by Pat Mills; Art by Simon Davis|
|Art by Arthur Ranson|
and, back in the Prog, gets help from some doomed mercs in Incubus (Progs 1322-1335)
|Words by Andy Diggle; Art by Henry Flint|
Snow/Tiger (1336-1342) co-stars a British Muslim, i.e. Tiger, specifically in order to draw attention to the muddle idiot white people get into when falsely equating all Muslims with terrorist ideology. It's well-intentioned, but really we could have done with a few more stories from this world to get further into this problem, which just has not gone away over a decade later.
|Words by Andy Diggle; Art by Andy Clarke|
|Words by Ian Edginton; Art by Steve Pugh|
|Words by Kek-W; Art by Warren Pleece|
|Art by Andy Clarke|
|Words by Si Spurrier; Art by Cam Smith|
|Wagner n' Ezquerra|
We’re getting close to the present day here, bringing with it a state of affairs that I think is incredibly welcome. 2000AD (and the Megazine) have kind of reached the point where any given character’s ethnicity is hardly a talking point at all, because it’s just typical to expect any new series to show characters from a range of backgrounds, ethnic and otherwise. It’s also increasingly difficult to immediately tell what ethnicity a character is, unless they happen to bring it up in dialogue. This also reflects real life (certainly my experience in London). I suppose if there’s one lingering question, it’s that the comic has never yet managed to recapture one of the unique glories of Harlem Heroes – a strip in which, potentially, every single character in any given episode might just happen to be non-white. And for that to be unremarkable.
Let’s get the most problematic of the new wave out of the way: Stickleback (series 1 Progs 1518-1525). Our ‘hero’ amasses a motley crew of ne’er-do-wells to help him out in his 19th Century London adventures. Adventures that, very particularly, are inspired by literature of the day, e.g. Sherlock Holmes. And although we're far from perfect today, it's fair to label this era of liteature as unenlightened. So we should expect to see what might at first appear to be amazingly racist figures. But then, ideally, welcome the way they're actually written, which often inverts the original trope. Or at least, gives the characters actual personalities. Edginton and D'Israeli tread a fine line, but I think they get away with it?**
|Words by Ian Edginton; Art by D'Israeli|
|Edginton n' D'Israeli|
Zombo (Progs 1632-1640) goes completely the other way. It’s set in the future, a future where, as far as the story suggests, racism has lost. Hooray! Characters of all skin colours and blends are free to hold whatever positions they wish, and to be as heroic or cowardly as a story demands…
In passing, we’ll wave hello and goodbye to zombie protagonist Darren Dead (Megs 287-289), still waiting for a second series.
|Art by John Higgins|
Before hailing Al Ewing once again. He does seem to exemplify the basic tent of 'if I'm going to poplulate my stories with characters, do they have to all be white?' school of modern comics creation. He's currently waving the diversioty flag hard over at Marvel. Long before then, he was in the Megazine with new series Tempest. The p.o.v. character was small-time crook Jonny Kierkegaard:
|He has no idea what a bad day he is in for...|
Words by Al Ewing; Art by Jon Davis-Hunt
The many and doomed crew of the Damnation Station (1677-1692; 1850-1861). The original protagonist of the series was an over-privileged white dude. He soon got killed off / sidelined and superceded by the mutli-ethnic team of soldiers around him. I really need to re-read this series. Seriously, Tharg, put it in a Meg floppy already!
|Words by Al Ewing; Art by Mark Harrison|
Absolom’s DI Terry Sangster (1st series Progs 1732-1739), and later new recruit Daniel (3rd series Progs 1934-1942)
|Words by Gordon Rennie; Art by Tiernan Trevellion|
Simping Detective: Jokers to the Right (Progs 1804-1811) has another villain of colour, the blandly (but necessarily) named Mr Turner.
|Words by Si Spurrier; Art by Simon Coleby|
And then of course there’s the mighty Aquila (1st series Progs 2012; 1792-1799), a re-imagining of good old Blackhawk. Aquila is hardcore, and gets to look it on the cover quite a bit, too.
Dredd: Enceladus (Progs 1940-1947), in which Judge Sam saving the day
|Words by Rob Williams; Art by Henry Flint|
|Words by Emma Beeby; Art by Nick Dyer|
|Words by Kek-W; Art by Dave Kendall|
|Words by Eddie Robson; Art by Jake Lynch|
|Words by Michael Carroll; Art by Henry Flint|
Lawless Of Munce & Men (Megs 371-376) gets its first black character
|Words by Dabnett; Art by Phil Winslade|
|Words by Dabnett; Art by INJ Culbard|
|Words by TC Eglington; Art by Boo Cook|
|Words by Ian Edginton; Art by D'Israeli|
|Art by Leigh Gallagher|
**So far they've got away with it far more than Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill over in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Their use of 'Black Sambo', a popular literary figure fo the same era, has not pleased all readers. Personally I think their use of the character is perfectly fair, but their reaction to some readers's unhappiness could have been more conisderate.