Feb 25, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 731: Giggle Comics #38, February 1947


And so it begins!

(I taught my class about hyperbole the other day. But in the case of kicking off the third year of my project, it seems mildly appropriate.)

A less than auspicious start to Year 3 of the 40 Years of Comics Project. While Giggle Comics#38 is by far the oldest comic in the collection, it is also, bar none, the most racist comic I have ever read. The sole human protagonist of the first story, "Superkatt," is a prime example of the "Mammy" stereotype of African-American women that pervaded popular culture at the time. It is a very difficult visual depiction to look at page after page. One positive that we might draw from this depiction, though, is the laying down of dialogue in dialect. With the recognition of African American Vernacular English as a dialect of the English language common in the United States, the "Superkatt" story can actually serve as a comics-related record of the way that dialect was considered in the mid-Twentieth century.

I'm looking for the silver linings here. Can you tell?

There are some intervening stories that are harmless. A ghost and his house owner set up an spiritual entertainment show, with ghosts performing tricks rather than scaring people. A wolf and a rabbit solve silly crimes. It's all very funny animal/friendly ghost kind of shenanigans, almost enough to make you forget the difficulty of the first story.

Until, of course, we get to the last one. If the depiction of African-American people in the first story is mildly recuperable from a linguistic stance, the final story, "Northern Nonsense," has no such saving grace. The tale of an Inuit father teaching his son to paddle a canoe, this is simply a blatantly stereotyped comedy, laughing at the practices and appearances of Northern Native Canadians. Really, just awful.

But I suppose this is something that we, as comics scholars and fans, have to accept about our beloved medium: It's a product of popular culture, and sometimes (or rather, many times), popular culture is a less-than-savoury reflection of the society at large. The best we can do with such works as Giggle Comics is look to see how far we've come, and recognize how far we have to go.

Welcome, then, to Year 3. To be continued.

No comments: