Monday, May 19, 2014

Diversity in Comics: The Little Rascals

The Little Rascals have a history that stretched from the earliest Hal Roach Our Gang short movies made in 1922, through the last of those shot in 1944, and through the 1950s and beyond with the series adapted for television and re-titled The Little Rascals. Dell Comics adapted the original movies with their 1940s Our Gang series of comic books, which included highly sought after renderings of popular cartoons at the time - Tom and Jerry, Benny the Burro, etc. - by such celebrated artists as Carl Barks and Walt Kelly. In the mid-1950s Dell produced the comic book version of The Little Rascals, that ran into the early 1960s. The importance of these Dell comics, and the movies they represent, is the fact that the Rascals are an integrated group of neighborhood kids, presented in popular media during the segregated phase of American society. And The Rascals are not without controversy. Some accused them of containing stereotyping of minorities, and television versions were later edited and scenes cut to remove offending material. It is difficult to say whether or not there was actual racist intent, due to the unfortunate norms of the time when the films were made. The fact that the cast included African American children on an equal footing with their white peers was a positive move. Did any racist elements carry over into the comics - again, difficult to say. Take a look at these two stories from The Little Rascals #1137 (Apr-May 1960) and see if you think Farina and Buckwheat are respectfully portrayed or not.

The Little Rascals series is post-Code, so there is far less likelihood that any demeaning stereotyping of minorities would be present. The original Our Gang series has been reprinted in a very nice four-volume set by Fantagraphics Books - as I was not so interested in the funny animal content of the original comics I saved myself a bundle by buying the reprint books, which only contain the Our Gang stories.

Monday, May 12, 2014

On the Trail of Fumetti

On a recent visit to Venice, one of the things I investigated was the availability of fumetti (comics). In the USA we can usually no longer find comics on newsstands, but that's not the case in Italy. There are actual newsstands dotted all over the place in Venice. They sell all sorts of stuff, some leaning more heavily towards trinkets and souvenirs than others, but quite a few (not all) carry a small selection of Italian comics.

At this one (above) on the Grand Canal, opposite the Ferrovia (railway station), comics weren't much in evidence, but there were a couple of Lanciostory and Skorpio issues tucked in among all the magazines - if you were wanting comics you would find them.

This newsstand (below) on a back street canal did have a little shelf full of comics, but it was round the side, where the steps over the bridge are in the picture.

The best place I found for new comics, though, was the newsagents at the railway station (Ferrovia). No shortage of sequential art here!

In among this wide assortment of fumetti you can see the March 2014 issue of Indistruttibile Hulk, along with more Italian fare, like Tex, the classic spaghetti western, as well as the latest issues of Lanciostory and Skorpio. The latter looked a good deal to me, packaged as it was with a free issue dedicated to the character Dago, all for less than 3 Euros. My only disappointment was that there just don't seem to be any romance titles. Back at the hotel I eagerly unpacked my Skorpio and savored the artwork - my Italian is too abysmal for me to actually read the comic without putting it all into Google Translate!

For back issues, I came across a second hand bookstore, located on the Calle dell'Olio, No 2423. You don't see anything but books and bric-a-brac when you arrive there, but just ask the owner (the guy in the striped sweater) and he'll produce a few piles of comics for you to sort through. I looked at Lanciostory, Skorpio, and Tex, and bought a couple of Tex for 1 Euro each and two Skorpio for 50 cents each. Not bad.

A closer look at the March 20th 2014 edition of Skorpio (it's weekly!!!) that I bought in the train station reveals that it contains no less than 118 pages not counting the covers, and most of those pages are comics (very few ads, and then only ads for comics). On top of this there's a 12 page Dago insert, plus the bonus 98-page black and white Dago comic! The pages of Skorpio are smooth, reasonably good quality paper. Part of the comic is in color, the rest black and white. There are 10 different ongoing series in the one comic, representing a wide variety of genres.

Inside, the first story is Amanda (featured on the cover above), written by Robin Wood and drawn by Alfredo Falugi. I learned elsewhere that this is an Argentinian comic, and that it has been going since 1995! Also from what I read elsewhere, the story is told from a female perspective. It's Good Girl Art (GGA), and reminds me a bit of Image's Danger Girl without so many guns.

There are a number of historical stories in this issue of Skorpio, with Dago by Robin Wood being one of those - looks like a 19th Century tale of love and war, with nice artwork reminiscent in places of the great Joe Kubert.

There's a police strip featuring football (soccer), a sci-fi, and one about Brooklyn firefighters. And there's a couple of good old Spaghetti Westerns! Il Grande Freddo is written by Andrea Mantelli and Paolo Ongaro, and drawn by Ongaro - very atmospheric:

Another Western, Blueberry, is one I saw complete books of at the train station. Nice color comic by Francois Corteggiani and Michel Blanc-Dumont:

These comics are in many ways very different from what we have in the USA. Multi-genre in one book. Mixture of b&w and color. Lots of pages. Cheap! Skorpio is definitely aimed at an adult audience. Clearly the Italians still like reading westerns whereas in the States that's a thing of the past. Italian comics seem to have more global content. If only I could read Italian!