Monday, January 20, 2014

On Webcomics: Milking M.L.King

Here in the United States, it is Martin Luther King Jr. Day where we try to honor the civil rights leader. Often with a sale on mattresses. And every year, various comic blogs and news sites trot out the either The Montogmery Story comic and/or the MLK-focused issue of Golden Legacy. I've done it before myself, so I'm not judging here.

But since I've started devoting Mondays to writing about webcomics, I thought I should take a look at some webcomics that talk about or feature Dr. King.

Problem is: I'm not finding much. There's a handful of one-offs where King is referenced, but these all seem to be gag-a-day strips with no real sense of continuity. And I can't seem to find any instances where a creator actually brings it up more than once. So it's not treated like, say, Christmas or any other annual holiday. To be fair, Martin Luther King Day is considerably more recent; it wasn't officially celebrated at all until 1986, and it wasn't observed by all 50 states until 2000. So it doesn't even have the legacy of smaller holidays like Labor Day.

Not surprisingly, I'm writing this before I've had a chance to check many webcomics today to see if there are any references, but I've not seen much historically. What's more interesting is that I don't recall seeing hardly any webcomics that really tackle civil rights issues, either contemporary or historical ones. Certainly nothing on a regular basis.

And I find that really odd, considering that a person can do that type of series as a webcomic that might not be viable in other formats. I mean, there are comics out there where people discuss issues about their weight, chest size, hair, deafness, alcoholism, suicide, sexual identity... and that's just what I read regularly.

But civil rights? Not seeing it. (Again, as an ongoing theme.) Secret Asian Man did address racial issues, particularly around stereotypes, but that's been on hiatus for a year now, and most of the storyline just before then focused on a more metatextual interplay between the creator and his protagonist.

I wonder if something like Questionable Content or Templar, AZ are more the modern standard bearers for civil rights? Because creators Jeph Jacques and Spike Trotman make it a non-issue. There are people of color in inter-racial relationships, and none of the characters has made a thing of it. (At least, not yet. And not a race thing.) After all, King preached in his most famous speech, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." And that's exactly what we're seeing in these strips.

There're still vast amounts of work to be done with regards to civil rights in this country. King's dream has not been fulfilled. But I wonder if his legacy lives on in webcomics like Questionable Content. Where that ideal is presented as the reality, and gives us a place to strive towards. Where it's not brought up because it doesn't need to be. It's just part of the background. We can look into a world like King saw, and see that it's really not so different than our own world; there's just one less thing people hate on each other about.

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