Saturday, November 11, 2006

So sorry

British comics have a long and arguably proud tradition of racism. Of course, I'm not going to be presenting those arguments, let alone supporting them. Given that British comics date back to well before WW2, the presence of racist stereotypes is hardly surprising. By the time 2000 AD came along in the late 70s, racism was at least recognised in this country, even if it wasn't that harshly condemned. Thus, the all black Harlem Heroes were in the startting line-up. A good example of black characters being well-drawn, well-written and appropriately unremarkable - in a white-produced strip in a white-produced comic, mostly read by white people. Gosh, that came out a bit negative when it wasn't meant to. Harlem Heroes was a good strip and socially worthy in that it featured black heroes without making any kind of a song and dance about it.

Which is all by way of pointing out that 2000 AD, in fact, has had plenty of moments of racism. To be fair, there is absolutely no evidence that Tharg and any creator droids are at all racist - at least, as far as Commonwealth ethnicities are involved. We'll also ignore the many anti English stereotypes employed by the Scottish and Irish creators. Since the English have a long and bloody hiostory of opression, it comes off as funny and deserved, not mean-spirited (is that patronising of me?) And by the same token we can ignore the many crude Scottish and Irish stereotypes in the comic, since these were all perpetrated by the same writers and artists, again trying to be funny (and mostly succeeding from my point of view).

So, who feels the brunt of the racist lash of Tharg? Why, those perennial targets, the Japanese, the Germans, and the French. Proof if ever it was needed that 2000 AD is a thoroughly British enterprise - who else shows hatred for these three nations with equal vigour?

Hatred is pushing it way too far. But the point is that casual racism against these three nations slips into the comic all too easily, even if it isn't mean-spirited. It will take a long time for us Brits to acknowledge that the Germans are anything other than humourless, efficient and evil; that the Japanese are not mysterious, hive-minded techno-geeks; that the French are not idiots. I must admit that I consider myself British in this regard, despite being half-german, and with relatives in Japan - a country I also lived in for a time. No love for the French, though.

As pointed out above, racism against countries like these is still kinda acceptable, because none of them has ever been enslaved and oppressed - at least, not in the last millennium. And it's not like 2000 AD is only ever mean in this regard. Japanese heores feature prominently in Shiumura, Tiger Sun Dragon Moon and the like. Sure, there is some stereotyping going on, but I don't think offensively. Although it interesting to note that both of these strips are in part based on Wgner and Grant's creation of Hondo City in Dredd continuity. Now, Dreddworld is a necessarily stereotypical environment. Every Mega-City so far enocutered in somehow a parody of prevailing British concepts of what they should be like. Texas City is full of bogoted rednecks. Cuidad Barranquila run by Drug Barons and corrupt Judges. the Emerald Isle is a theme park of Irishness. Oz is laid back and full of preening idiots in shorts. And in Hondo, everyone talks like this:

I thought this was hilarious as an 11 year-old in 1990. I still find it charming, but I also wince a little bit. Probably I'm being over-sensitive. And at least it doesn't make me cry inside like these two panels:

At least he's not slant-eyed, but the evil efficient japanese villain is a plot device from nowhere good. The whole 'ruthless businessman' bit is boring as well. But what really gets me is the way he has to refer to his own nationality to explain his behaviour - an all-too common device in comics. As if the reader needs to see some motivation for a villain, and the only answer is to say - look, he's foreign, that explains why he is nasty and why he can do whatever he likes. Grr.

And what can you say about this sorry piece? Is it meant to suggest that the Japanese like grovelling slaves, and thus that's what they would make their robots do? Would they also programme them to speak in bad English? There's also the mild gasp that Hammer-Stein is an inveterate xenophobe - although this is oddly in keeping with Pat Mills' initial set up for the character. I think he's meant to be in the mould of an old British army officer from WW1; a trait that was thankfully abandoned once the ABC Warriors began.

The point is, 2000 AD is suprisingly mean to the Japanese. Oh well.

Germany has to suffer occasional jokes about the War:

The problem here is not the use of the word 'krauts' - it's very clear that the characters above are meant to be alightly mad soldiers from the War, with all the prejudice that that would entail. It's the idea that the Brits and the Americans have more firepower, while the Germans have more discipline - and that's what decided the outcome of the War. At first, Germany held strong, but eventually we poured in enough firepower that even the most efficient, discplined German army couldn't cope. I think I just get annoyed when nations and all the people in them are defined by onje or two character traits. Especailly when it ends up that words like 'efficient' and 'disciplined' feel like they're being spat out as insults.

On the other hand, Germans is also represented in 2000 AD by Hans Schmidt, hero of the classic 'Fiends of the Eastern Front'. He is one of 2000 AD's great everyman heroes, who elevates that story above its war and vampire trappings, and makes it compellingly atmospheric.

And then there are the French.

Can't think of any heroic Frenchman in 2000 AD. I guess France will always be England's real nemesis, just because it's so nearby and everyone has to learn French at school.

So it's ok to show the French as buffoons...


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