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Friday, November 13, 2009

SOMETHING TO OFFEND EVERYONE - Golden Age Racial Stereotypes - 'KID PATROL'



This was supposed to be a simple 'quick fill' type of post while I prepared something more awesome (stop laughing!)...Ha! Nothing quick or simple about it when trying to research the background and/or artists for these features. The usual routine became a bubbling, swirling, black whirlpool of sucking quick-sand that kept me scratching my head and chasing down more comics, and more references...

So, let me start from the beginning, and try to lay it out quickly (I said stop laughing!).

In 1940 there was a little thing happening called WWII. Scores of patriotic comics of the day found a ready-made marketplace, and in July, Quality Comics published the 1st issue of NATIONAL COMICS (confusing? not yet...). Among the multitude of featured characters starring in their own adventures within those pages (and making their debuts) were 'Uncle Sam' by Will Eisner (and studio), Sally O'Neill - Policewoman, Merlin the Magician, Wonder Boy (more on him in upcoming posts), Cyclone (a Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon type), Kid Dixon, Pen Miller-cartoonist detective by Klaus Nordling, Paul Bunyan, Windy Breeze, and ...the Kid Patrol. Today we are looking at KID PATROL. I don't know what exactly these kids patrolled, but they did it every issue for the first 3 years. That's a pretty long run, lasting longer than some of the other features just mentioned. Sadly, there are three (3) things that prevent 'Kid Patrol' from being fondly remembered as something special from the era.  First and probably foremost...there is just a wee bit of racial stereotyping going on at 'Kid Patrol'. That in itself isn't enough to disqualify 'Kid Patrol' from a nostalgiac 'Gold Medal'. Eisner's much more popular 'The Spirit' (1940) also had a supporting character with...highly exaggerated, racially stereotyped attributes...(see more on Eisner's 'Ebony White' character at end of post.) Hell, it was the 30's and now it was the 40's, racial stereotypes were unfortunately everywhere. We can look back objectively now (I hope) and try to enjoy these comics without subscribing to their out-dated attitudes. Frankly, if the lead character didn't look or talk the way they drew him, 'Kid Patrol' might have a more prominent spot in the  Golden Age comic book hierarchy --  but ironically, at first glance, the only thing that stood out to me was the racial stereotype!

The second reason it probably wasn't a bigger hit is this: The way that Quality produced NATIONAL COMICS was fairly common for art-houses/studios back then. Although the same character (or feature) would appear issue after issue, the artist drawing the strip seemed to change almost with each issue, so, while the art was generally very good regardless of who did it, there was quite a disparity in styles from one comic adventure to the next, so that these features did not get the benefit of 'image branding'  (one standard look for the public to latch onto). Incidentally, almost all of the artist's that passed throught those pages were really marvelous. For example, your 10 cents might bring stories by Eisner, Berg, Fine, Tuska, Nordling, Crandall, Cole, Gustavson, McWilliams, Cardy, Guardineer, Fox, Bryant, Iger, etc., etc....
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Here is an ocular treat!
 Feast your eyes on the incredible imagery of Lou Fine's spectacular artwork! 
(I just LOOOVE the giant insectoid battle tank!)
From the cover of NATIONAL Comics #7, 1941.
-click on image to enlarge-


Now here's where it gets a bit confusing...or perhaps I mean more confusing.

It is unclear who the artist is, for this particular story, as well as for about 1/2 of the 'Kid Patrol' collective body. GDC lists Charles Nicholas as artist and creator of 'Kid Patrol'. Now here's where it gets even murky...er...

Today's comic feature is from NATIONAL COMICS # 7, 1941. The splash page credit says 'by Dan Wilson'. GDC credits this particular story to Charles Nicholas, even though on different stories where the splash page says 'by Dan Wilson', GDC lists the artist as ...Dan Wilson! My research can find no other info on this Dan Wilson. Now it is very likely that Dan Wilson is a pseudonym, or a made-up name. One story listed the artist as 'by Moore Bonds'...get it? This was WWII!! So, sadly, actual, real credits are very hard to pin down at this point in history. Now here's some extra mud in your eye: Go look up Charles Nicholas on wikipedia, and you will find that the name Charles Nicholas was used by at least 3 different artists during that '39-'41 period!! Yeah, murky murky muck! Well, one of the 3 artists is Jack Kirby(!), although he used the name 'Charles Nicholas' the least of the 3, his work was at Fox, and not at Quality. (In fact, all three artists appeared to have inherited the 'mantle' or 'name' as they succeeded the other artist on THE BLUE BEETLE comic. The BLUE BEETLE was in all likeliness created by Charles Nicholas Wojtkowski, who dropped his last name to be called ...Charles Nicholas! He created the Blue Beetle, then other artist's took over the art chores. The next artist (and the next 'Charles Nicholas') would be...Chuck 'Charles' Nicholas Cuidera! Confusing? Mmmm-hmmmm!! You betcha!! Later Kirby would also take over the name briefly. Corn-fyoozing!!

The third reason 'KID PATROL' isn't remembered as one of the great strips of the 40's is, well, although it isn't terrible, it just isn't all that great. But it is good, and good enough to dust off and look at through our history-colored glasses, and hopefully we can find a thing or two to appreciate (even if it's just laughing at the way we used to live!)

For now, take a moment to slip back, back, back in time to a simpler era, when young boys were named things like Sunshine, Porky, Slug, and Daisy...(yes, you heard me...Daisy!) a time when kids were left on there own to...patrol...strange new worlds....to seek out new life, and to boldly go where all the little rascals in 'Our Gang' have gone before! This is...
KID PATROL!!






































































































I mentioned earlier that Will Eisner's 'THE SPIRIT' also contained a character often considered a stereotype, although Eisner managed to make Ebony White seem more 'human' than 'black', as compared to the more prevalent two-dimensional portrayals of negroes. Here are a couple of interesting comments found on wikipedia's The Spirit' page :

Eisner is sometimes criticized for his depiction of Ebony White, the Spirit's African American sidekick. The character's name is a racial pun, and his facial features, including large white eyes and thick pinkish lips, are typical of racial blackface caricatures popular throughout the "Jim Crow" era. Eisner later admitted to consciously stereotyping the character, but said he tried to do so with "responsibility", and argued that "at the time humor consisted in our society of bad English and physical difference in identity". The character, who was consistently treated with respect by the strip's fellow cast-members, developed beyond the stereotype as the series progressed, and Eisner also introduced black characters (such as the plain-speaking Detective Grey) who defied popular stereotypes.



  
In a 1966, New York Herald Tribune feature by his former office manager-turned-journalist, Marilyn Mercer wrote, "Ebony never drew criticism from Negro groups (in fact, Eisner was commended by some for using him), perhaps because, although his speech pattern was early Minstrel Show, he himself derived from another literary tradition: he was a combination of Tom Sawyer and Penrod, with a touch of Horatio Alger hero, and color didn't really come into it".


Just so it's clear, not every comic book in 1940 portrayed the negro/african-american as a humorous, bug-eyed, swollen-lipped, 'knappy'-headed clown...
Nope, there were also the comic book stories that portrayed the negro/african-american as a humorous, bug-eyed, swollen-lipped, 'knappy'-headed CANNIBAL!

These additional two shorts (both from NATIONAL COMICS)  are such an example - If you don't enjoy a sip of SALTY WATERS, then why don't you go get blown by a WINDY BREEZE?






































































Remember, Kids!
I didn't write these comics, nor do I subscribe to their
attitudes! And neither should you, by golly! You betcha!
I hope you found this little look at life in the 40's through the microscopic lens of the comic book...interesting? Til next time, comic book trivia lover, enjoy this piece of halloween candy from 1941! It's Captain Tootsie! Brrrr! Doesn't the mere sound of that name fill you with complete dread and terror?  --  "Captain...Toot-sie?!"  >snicker<
Also, apparently Tootsie Rolls used to come packaged just like tampons.
"Dee-licioous!! Just pull the string when your done!"









Don't be hatin'...Seriously...do NOT send me your hate-mail!
No! Instead I want you to send me your LOVE LETTERS!
Mail them to :
THE APOCOLYTE
c/o  The Blog At The End Of Time
Edge Of The Galaxy,
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2 comments:

  1. Apocolyte: This is some great stuff. I think it very important to post this kind of stuff, and to remember it, for the same reason it is important to know all history. Like the man said, sort of, those that don't know the past will repeat it endlessly.

    There was something very twisted in the Kid Patrol one - something nearly Alice-in-Wonderland-like with the bizarre characters (those children were nearly frightening) and the strangely scary professor.

    My favorite is Captain Tootsie. Who would have imagined? A Tootsie Roll is really a power bar! -- Mykal

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  2. HOOTIN' ZOOTS! Who knew indeed! It must have been great to be in advertising back then because you could make up any claim you wanted to about your product, and nobody would call you to the carpet on it!

    "Need energy? Now you can have the same secret energy booster that Napoleon and his troops used when they beat back the Mongols during the battle of Trafalgar! Pure sugar in a tooth-rotting, plasticene taffy formula, invented by scientists on the moon!"

    Hootin'zoots!

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