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.

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