I love Golden Age Comic Books but stop making excuses for the Bigotry in some of them!

This post was spurred by comments I have seen several Youtube channels make when discussing Golden Age comics, that are being released in impressive hardcover reprints called Omnibuses.

One that is dropping this month and I am looking forward to is GOLDEN AGE CAPTAIN AMERICA Vol II.

And quite a few channels have given an overview on this upcoming book.

I am a huge fan of several genres and eras of comics, to include the golden age. I particularly think the Timely era of comics (What Marvel was called before it was Marvel), especially their horror comics, is very entertaining.

If you have not tried golden/atomic age series like MYSTIC and MENACE and STRANGE TALES I highly recommend them. And I also am a fan of the combat and superhero comics of that period.

I own the GOLDEN AGE CAPTAIN AMERICA Vol I omnibus, and strongly recommend it.  And already have Vol II pre-ordered.

I say all that to say I am the audience for these books, but I have to take objection to one thing various Youtubers and Pundits continue to say during their overview of these books, as if to make apologies for them.

  • They say these books have offensive depictions, which is true.
  • They say they are a desire to dehumanize the enemy, which is partly true.
  • They say it is not racist which is a 100% false.
No, These are bigoted and ignorant depictions, that serve a deeply ingrained racist dogma. Racist depictions were happening long before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, or any act of aggression, to the earliest days of comic strips, at the start of the 20th century, and comic books.

So these comics depictions were less about ‘dehumanizing the enemy’ related to people we were at war with, but was about dehumanizing the non-white masses. Hence why Blacks and other ethnicities are portrayed in demeaning ways to cully favor with a “frightened of changing times” majority. It is an attempt to continue to give the majority a minstrel show entertainment, which itself was an outgrowth of the outcome of the civil war, and an attempt to denigrate and have power over the things they feared.

The irony of this is that these new forms of mass media, from Movies to Comics, these 20th century forms of entertainment that in their infancy were looked down on as ghetto entertainment, were largely overseen by Jewish Immigrants that themselves had escaped various forms of European persecution. But saw that the secret of success was swerving into the bigotry and biases of the day, particularly if they could point that ridicule and persecution to other ethnicities.
These pundits say these books are a product of their times, which while a nice sounding statement, obscures the more accurate truth, these were choices of men in power and men aspiring toward power.
And whether 1921 or 2021, the date does not matter, what matters is the choices and the hearts of men.

Some men through racism or venality made horrible choices, such as Will Eisner, and the people he shaped in his shop to perpetuate these denigrations of people of color. And by contrast you had creators like Matt Baker and Mac Raboy, who lived in the same time as Eisner, but decided not to embrace the same bigotry as Eisner. Look at the way Raboy drew characters of color who we were not at war with (his CAPTAIN MARVEL JR and MASTER COMICS work comes to mind) or Baker; largely without caricature,  as opposed to Eisner.

I can enjoy these books despite their failings and their bigotry, but let us not make excuses for the bigotry on display by saying it was the times. In 1921 or 2021, the fault is never the date on the calendar, or our stars, it is always the hearts of men.

Some men make right decisions, and some make Trumpian ones, and rise to popularity on peoples bigotry, and fear, and hate and ignorance.
That is what happened in Comics and in movies, but not all comics, and not all movies, so let us stop saying it is the times. It may have been the publisher, or the editor, or the writer or the artist, but it was not the times.
To make that infantile argument is to obscure the courage of the men who made the right choices, and white wash the culpability of the men who made the wrong/easy choices.

Yes these books are part of history, and we can learn from them, but only if we recognize that these books are demeaning and offensive in places, because people chose to make demeaning and offensive  choices, and not just because of ‘the times’.

Okay, Off my soap box now.
Love the various channels that do cover and champion these Golden Age collections, it is just we have to be wary of spreading an uninformed opinion as fact… namely that these books are reflections of the times.

Theses books are the choices of men, and only understanding this, can we learn to make better choices… regardless of the date on the calendar.

Here Endeth The Lesson!

2 Comments

  1. Can I disagree with you without being called a racist? I mean, it WAS the time period, right or wrong, that contributed to the art style….for some. I do resent Will Eisner being referred to as a racist. Actually, I don’t resent it, I just disagree with your opinion on him. He was a brilliant artist and his artwork is second to none. His mother was Jewish, and no doubt they received more then their share of hatred. Ignorance is different from hatred.
    Just my view.

    • No I welcome the differing perspective. I personally do appreciate Eisner as an artist. Being a 3D fan, I do own multiple copies of WILL EISNER’s 3-D CLASSICS put out by Kitchen Sink.

      And have read thru various of his Spirit Books. I appreciate Eisner’s way of laying out a page, and making typography/lettering part of the storytelling process, those pages remain, that style remains, not even cinematic, because cinema can’t make that conceit work, … his layout ability, and storytelling structure, remains, exciting and evocative and inspirational.

      But for me, his work is marred by his perpetuation of the minstrel form of entertainment. We are, for better or worse, the things we perpetuate.

      And let us move away from the word racist,as I do agree some words lose their meaning to their times. Lets say his work actively perpetuated stereotypes and prejudices and demeaning images, by the dictionary definition of those words. And this slant to his work occurred not one time, or a few times, but over a period of years. And as the owner of the Eisner shop, and the shaper of artists, he perpetuated that stereotyping.

      Fine let us say he is not racist, he had Black acquaintances and Black coworkers, and yet, he perpetuated stereotypes to make money. And arguably that venal attitude toward art and your fellow man, makes his output and choices, even less supportable. Willfull ignorance, or mercenary apathy is perhaps even more dangerous than misguided hatred.

      Just my 2cents.

      “Hey Matt Baker, we are friends. You are a handsome, talented, gifted Black guy I know, but hey demeaning images of people of your creed will sell better in the bible belt. No offense right pal. I know I can’t get you and Raboy to do it, but no worries buddy, I’ll get others to do it. Cause I’m your pal.”

      Racist. not racist. End of the day, the reason we sell a mindset, does not make that mindset, and those stereotypes instilled, any less damning.

      I’m not saying we should ‘cancel’ Eisner, any more than I would support canceling anyone else. D.W. Griffith made a love letter to intolerance with 1915’s BIRTH OF A NATION, but then followed that up with INTOLERANCE (1916) that walked away from his earlier pro-Klan love letter. But we have to acknowledge the failings of thought along with the accolades for execution.

      I like John Wayne films, however I acknowledge his issues and stances. And somewhere find a place to separate the work from the man. I appreciate Eisner’s artistic abilities, but I call out his predilection for demeaning images.

      Woah, way too long. :). But yes I appreciate and can understand your view. Now get to work producing more youtube videos!!!! :).

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