Sunday, February 26, 2012

Diversity in Comics: TV Adaptations - Room 222

Running from 1969 through 1974, the TV series Room 222 was set in an inner-city school. Lead African American characters in the series were played by actors Lloyd Haynes (as Pete Dixon) and Denise Nicholas (as Liz McIntyre). The comic book series ran 4 issues, from January 1970 through January 1971, but issue 4 was simply a reprint of issue 1. There are two stories in issue 4, both with art by Jack Sparling. Below are six pages from the second story, "Tarnished Star", in which an athlete just about blows his chance to get into college by letting his grades go to pieces, but the teacher helps turn things around at the last minute. This series is one of a number published by Dell that brought African American characters into mainstream comics, TV and movie adaptations being one of their specialties.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Diversity in Comics: TV Adaptations - I Spy

The first American TV drama to feature a black actor (Bill Cosby) in one of the leading roles, I Spy ran from 1965 through 1968. It was adapted for comics by Gold Key, the first issue having an August 1966 publication date. The comic book series lasted 6 issues (to September 1968). Set in the East, the team of agents (Cosby, and Robert Culp) use the identities of a tennis player (Culp) and his trainer as their cover. Cosby won three consecutive Emmy awards for outstanding lead actor in a drama series for each of the three seasons of I Spy. In the comic book he is in no less of a prominent role. The first issue has some decent artwork by Alden McWilliams, and was written by Paul S. Newman. Putting this series into the context of the introduction of diversity into comics, the Black Panther was introduced in Fantastic Four 52 (July 1966), so Gold Key with I Spy were right up there in terms of setting the pace for integration and racial equality in comics.

(Above) on p.8 the two spies are lured into a trap, which results in Kelly being captured. On p.18 Scotty (Cosby) sets off in search of his buddy, Kelly (Culp), in the streets of Hong Kong, but finds himself out of his environment then in a spot of bother.

This wasn't Cosby's only contribution to comics (here as the character upon whom this series is based). Stay tuned for more Cosby and comics in future posts on Out of This World.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Diversity in Comics: TV Adaptations - Star Trek

One of the routes by which diversity was infused into comic books was via adaptations of TV shows which themselves had taken steps towards inclusion. One of the most famous of these shows was Star Trek, the first series of which began airing on September 8, 1966. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry addressed many pertinent issues during those early series, and significantly can claim one of the first inter-racial kisses (it is certainly widely cited as the actual first) on television (Nichelle Nichols and William Shatner in "Plato's Stepchildren", an episode in the third season of Star Trek (the original series) first broadcast November 22, 1968). Star Trek was adapted for comics by Gold Key, the first issue having a publication date of July 1967. Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) was one of the first non-subservient black characters in television, and Ms Nichols was even personally encouraged by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to continue with the series, as he considered she was an important  role model for African American girls and women and a pioneer in breaking the race barrier. Regular black characters were uncommon in comics in 1967, so Gold Key's adaptation of Star Trek is something of a ground breaker in the medium. There are several other television series adaptations, mostly published by Dell, Gold Key, and Whitman, that feature black characters in non-demeaning portrayals, and it is hoped to feature some examples here on Out of This World in the coming weeks and months. For this post, here's a couple of pages from Whitman's Star Trek 26 (July 1974) that feature Uhura. The story is titled "The Perfect Dream", and touches on genetic engineering, cloning, euthanasia, aspects of social Darwinism, etc.:

(Above) on p.10 of "The Perfect Dream" Uhura and Kirk begin to wonder about the mechanisms underlying this apparently perfect world. On p.15 (below) Uhura speaks out against the abominable extermination policies that maintain the 'perfection' of the population on this planet.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Diversity in Comics: Little Audrey's African American friends

The first respectfully portrayed African American character in mainstream comics was Tiny, one of Little Audrey's friends in Harvey Comics of the 1950s. Although on the cover of this 1973 issue of Little Audrey and Melvin (#56), Tiny doesn't actually appear in any of the stories contained within. However, there is one story in which Audrey is accompanied by an African American girl of roughly the same age, along with her little brother. These were regular characters in the book by this time, and although their names are not mentioned in this particular story, the girl is Pat and her little brother is Han. I stopped reading Harvey Comics around 1965, and I don't remember these characters from the early 60s, and looking through the Audrey books in my collection I see that Tiny was actually phased out around the mid-1960s and replaced in the Audrey books with Pat and Han as representatives of diversity. What this story shows is that Harvey Comics had stepped up their representation of the African American community by the early 1970s, nearly 20 years on from their first introduction of Tiny, in keeping with the trend throughout mainstream comics of the early Bronze Age, although actually they were originally innovators in terms of including regular African American characters in their books.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Nurse Romance Stories: Teen-Age Romances 2 - "I Dared to Kiss and Tell"

This absolute classic Matt Baker masterpiece has it all in terms of nursing stereotypes from the period. This particular story appears to have been the inspiration for many hospital romance tales in later comics. Dated April 1949, this is an early romance comic, and one of the very best, being published by St. John. There's a bunch of notable things going on right there on the cover - we have the stereotypically red-headed young nurse in love with the handsome young doctor (the main reason for going into nursing, right!?), and the older. plain-looking, grumpy 'battle-axe' of a senior nurse - that's what those young career girls become if they don't take advantage of the opportunities for marriage that are earned by their hard work in nursing school. The student nurse is being trained up to be a 'doctor's handmaiden', the standard image of nurses that became prevalent in the 1950s and fodder for all those popular hospital romance novels and TV dramas. Inside we get a glimpse of life as a student nurse at the end of the 1940s - living in hospital accommodation with her comings and goings policed; menial work like washing floors, good training for subservience to her patriarchal masters; the notion that this is all very temporary anyway - marriage is just around the corner. Great stuff, but especially because it's all drawn by one of the masters of the art form, the great Matt Baker! A big thanks to the Digital Comic Museum for the scans, courtesy of JVJ.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Fawcett's Negro Romance 2: "Love's Decoy"

The third story in Fawcett's Negro Romance 2 is "Love's Decoy", again written by Roy Ald, with art by deservedly, but posthumously and belatedly, celebrated African American comic book artist Alvin Hollingsworth.

Of interest in this particular story is the setting - the Cafe Ebonia, a segregated, African American night club, and its line of African American chorus girls. Otherwise this is standard romance comic material, with a crooked night club owner trying to use the female protagonist to destroy the undercover cop, who ends up being the leading lady's love interest. It's great stuff! The nightclub owner typically (for this kind of story, and in some real life situations) takes multiple advantages of the young girl trying to make it in showbiz, including attempting some unsolicited sexual advances that she has to fend off.



For the sake of (almost) completeness, there's a two page text story in the comic that Out of This World is pleased to post below. The entire comic (minus of course the cover) has been submitted to the Digital Comic Museum and can be accessed here if you want to download the cbr file.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fawcett's Negro Romance 2: "Forever Yours"

The second story in Fawcett's Negro Romance 2 is "Forever Yours", and features art by Rudy Palais. The story was again written by Fawcett editor Roy Ald. In this typical romance tale, everything is heading towards 'happily ever after' for this middle class couple, when Edith's whole vision of the future is changed as she learns she has an unspecified, difficult to treat, fatal illness. Faced with the prospect of a mere two years remaining, she switches to party mode, to squeeze out as much enjoyment as possible from the life she has left. Unfortunately this all-out hedonistic pursuit blinds her to the real treasure she has in Don's love, and she even ditches him to go dancing with some random guy who hits on her. Eventually Edith's illness overcomes her, the truth is out, and she finally gets the treatment she needs. It will be a long journey back to good health, but with Don by her side Edith feels sufficient strength to see it through. It is not clear why she didn't start treatment as soon as she learned of her illness, but then we wouldn't have had that section of the story where she loses the plot. So this story falls right in line with the mood and approach taken by Fawcett's other romance titles from the period.


There are no white people in the story (or in the whole comic) and so we get a glimpse of the other half of segregated America in the early 1950s. There is nothing in the way of negative stereotyping of African Americans here - the characters in the story are handsome, well-dressed, obviously have a decent income, etc. So the story simply acknowledges and accepts segregation as an existing condition, and does not interrogate or analyze it. Inasmuch as the characters are not depicted as in any way inferior to whites, it could be argued that it is demonstrative of the separate but equal ideal of some pro-segregationists. But the mere fact that Fawcett printed a comic specifically for a black audience (and partly drawn by a black artist) indicates that Negro Romance is really acknowledging the existence of the African American community, who are absent in the vast majority of other comic books. Had African American women of the early 50s been 'looking for a face like theirs', as did Prof William H. Foster III when he read comic books in the 1960s, they would have found what they were looking for in Negro Romance. But clearly the title was not a commercial success, as it folded after issue 3. Rare beyond belief, Negro Romance is nevertheless a true milestone in comic book history. It is actually the first title published by a mainstream comic book company featuring only black characters, in addition to being one of the few comics that featured African Americans in non-stereotyped, non-demeaning imagery from the middle decades of the twentieth century.

One thing I noticed as I continued to scan the book was the absence of ads. If there had been any, they would have to have been on the cover (back and inside), which alas I don't have. I'll have to check to see if that was the standard layout for Fawcett romance comics from that time.