After my father died ten and a half years ago, my mother, sisters and I went sorting through his things, naturally. One item that I seized on was The Colored Negro Black Comic Book.

Somehow I was totally unaware of this book’s existence. It was published by Price/Stern/Sloan in 1970 (though my father may have purchased it later), and I went to college in 1971, so I didn’t see it around.

It was written by Harvey Comics (Richie Rich, Casper) editor Sid Jacobson, whose name frankly didn’t ring a bell at the time, and drawn by Ernie Colon, whose name I recognized instantly.

The book is 80 pages. 14 x 19 cm. Page 3 reads in part: “This satire of America’s best-loved comic strips is presented strictly for laughs, but with the hope that one day, in a world of greater honesty, justice and understanding, the black man will take his rightful place in literature of all kinds.”

So, how did it do? It’s hard to judge things decades after the fact, but I’ll give it a shot.

Note: in the comic strip tradition all the words in the strip are in capitals, but for readability, I’ve deigned to write in standard English. Also the words that are in bold in the strip are in red in this text:

The first strip is “Superblack”, a 4 page takeoff on The Man of Steel.

Page 1:
Lois: Mother! Dad! Guess who’s coming to breakfast!

Page 2:

Page 3, Panel 1:
Supes: (looks lovingly at Lois, and vice versa): Lois has told me so much about you folks, we’ve both sure you’ll have the liberalism to delight in our happiness….
(Picture of a man, and a placard “I.F. Stone for President” in the background.)
Page 3, Panel 2:
(Women in background)
Father (waving his finger in Supes’ face): The world is changing fast, but not that fast! As much as I’d like to, I find that I-

Page 4
(Lois’ mom bemused, Lois proud to see Supes hold her dad up in the air by the jacket)
Dad: -W-Welcome you to the family –chokeson!

The movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was obviously on the minds of the writers. Not only are Lois’ first words a play on that title, but the father name-drops Sidney Poitier, the star (along with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy) of that 1967 film.
I think it works as “it’s hard to REALLY be liberal” story. Miscegenation was only legal in all states the same year as the movie came out, after all. the finger in the face was a nice, patronizing liberal, touch.

The second strip is “Bronzie”, 4 page riff on “Blondie”

Page 1:
Bronzie: I Wonder who that could be?

Page 2:
(Neighbors at the door)
Female neighbor: Good evening. We wanted to be the first to welcome you to the neighborhood.

Page 3:

Page 4:
(Neighbors shocked look, Bronzie’s back to them and Bronzie’s husband in his chair, bemused)
Bronzie: In fact, you’re the only ones to call on us in the two years we’ve been living here!

This sort of thing actually used to happen to people I knew. Funny in a somewhat painful way.

I’ll be looking at more strips in the coming weeks.

One other observation- for some reason, you can see the dots used as the skin tone on some strips (Natural, Superblack) more than others. They all look a consistent graytone in the book.

“Flesh Horton”, a 4 page take-off on “Flash Gordon”.

Page 1:
(Two guys sitting at the control panel)
Flesh: Things have certainly changed, Dr. Zirkon!
Zirkon: Yas, Flesh- they certainly have!

Page 2:

Page 3, Panel 1
(Shot of spaceship)
Flesh: Now, we live as if there were no difference in our skin color at all!
Zirkon: To tell you the truth, Flesh, I hadn’t realized you were black ’til you mentioned it!
Page 3, Panel 2
(Flesh opening a door)
Flesh: -But what are we going to do-

Page 4
(Men and women with slightly pointed ears, sitting in airplane-like seats; sign says “Greenie Venusian Section”
Flesh (not in shot): -with those damn green Venusians?

People – O.K., white people – have actually told me, “I don’t think of you as black.” Don’t know what to do with that one. What does that mean? That they think of me as white? And if so, is that supposed to be a compliment? (Hint: it’s not.)

I’ve also heard, “I’m color-blind.” I’m always suspicious of the remark. If they are truly color-blind, which I doubt is true with most people regardless of race, why do they find a need to say it? And to me? Also, more often than not, something is said later in the conversation which betrays the comment.

I think this story really speaks to what I consider to be a major truth: that people who have been oppressed sometimes go out and oppress Unfortunate, for sure, but it does happen.

***

“Natural”, a 4 page riff on “Nancy”. I should note that except for the panel shown, Nancy is always smiling. Note also that while Natural is in every shot, she says nothing, but is looking coquettish, especially in the last panel.

Page 1:
Sluggo: I don’t dig it, Natural – you’re the grooviest black chick I know-
–you picket, you stand up for your people’s rights-

Page 2, Panel 1:
Sluggo: -Right up to your natural hair, you’re all soul, baby!
-And you gotta admit, I’m the grooviest white guy you know!
Page 2, Panel 2:
Sluggo (putting on round lens shades):
I wear shades in the winter and tan myself in the summer!

Page 3:

Page 4:
Sluggo (literally on a soap box): -So tell me, girl- why won’t you go out with me?

I knew these guys in high school especially, these white guys (and occasionally white gals) who could out-street talk me and expected that I would think that they were really “down with it”. I tended to find them irritating.

I’ve also known white people who like to tan who liked to point out that their skin color was darker than mine on their forearms, and would put their arms next to mine to prove it. Most insulting, not to mention stupid.

But, is it just me, or does Sluggo look like he might be a light-skinned black?

So, the real question is: is it funny? Yes, I think so. To quote AdAge’s Bob Garfield: “It’s the universal recognition that drives the laughs.” I’ve been positively inclined towards everything I’ve looked at thus far. This too shall change.

Thanks to Mary Beth, my former colleague, for scanning these a decade ago; this way, I did not need to bug friend Fred Hembeck, who had scanned some previous items for me.

Reprinted from my blogs of January 15 and 22, 2006, with minor edits, such as replacing dead links.

5 Responses to “Friday Funnies: The Black Comic Book, Pt. 1”

  • Thanks for that Roger. The 70s was a time for satirists to use the comic book to challenge prevalent attitudes and I read quite a few, but to be honest, I found they made me more frustrated with the establishment rather than funny than. But they were very good at crytalising the issues in an accessible way and this one seems to do that more than most.

  • Roger, insightful analysis. Funny, I thought the Flesh/Zirkon one was going to take a walk on the wild side.

    Nancy’s hair always looked like a fro to me, and I do remember thinking that Sluggo’s nose was a lot like the son of one of my mom’s friends; he was a biracial child.

    As for “color blind,” I don’t get where people think saying things like that will make them appear anything but kind of daft. Amy

  • Leslie says:

    Very interesting, Roger! I love that “Nancy/Natural” comic because that frequently happened to me, in my youth. It alternately pissed me off and cracked me up, because we both know I’m the least “down” sister you’ll ever meet!?

  • Amazing that Harvey would put out something like that. They’re not exactly known for edgy satire or tackling social issues. I wonder what prompted them to publish this.

  • Interesting—I remember seeing something similar back in the day, though I’ve long since forgotten any of the details.

    But, you said, “for some reason, you can see the dots used as the skin tone on some strips (Natural, Superblack) more than others. They all look a consistent graytone in the book,” and maybe someone commented on it at the time, but the reason for that was the means of production. Back then, comics were usually printed on newsprint stock (though the weigh varied), an extremely absorbent paper. So, to produce tones, the dots needed to be kind of large and fairly far apart to avoid the ink spreading and it turning into a blob (technically, that’s called a “coarse screen”), and that made the dots noticeable. This was also sometimes necessary with ordinary book production, too. Using noticeable dots—coarser screens—was the only way to have different tones (make some darker than others).

    This continued on during the zine area of the 1980s/90s, when the publications were almost always photocopied. They had a similar problem, though not because of ink absorption, but because photocopiers of that era had very poor reproduction of tones (what were called “continuous tone images”, and included photographs and painted/drawn artwork that had shading, gradients, etc.)..

    Nowadays, digital printing has made all of that kind of irrelevant, but I still see some comic artists using old-time coarse screens and patterns, maybe as a retro thing.

    Anyway, the point is, they used that sort of thing to make sure the tone/shade was obvious and varied, and at the time, it was the only way they could do that.

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