Thursday, July 03, 2014

On -isms: Where are my POC Reprints?

Look, we all know that throughout the 20th century, the comics industry was dominated by white men. And largely because of that, the comics that were produced featured primarily white men. So it stands to reason that, now that we're in an era where old comic strips are getting handsome, bound collections that reprint an entire series, a lot of the collections we see also feature white men (or animal stand-ins) in the lead roles. Little Nemo in Slumberland, Peanuts, Archie, Beetle Bailey, Calvin & Hobbes...

But let me ask this: where are the comic strip collections from people of color? There aren't even trade paperbacks of Wee Pals or Curtis currently in print, nevermind Friday Foster or Torchy in Heartbeats. When was the last time you saw Gordo or Luther on a bookstore bookshelf? Has Speed Jaxon ever seen print outside of the original strips? Even Boondocks, argueably the most commercially successful American comic strip by a person of color, has never seen a good hardback collected edition.

Now, granted, publishers are going to focus on material that is likely to sell the best. That's where the Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes collections come from. They're almost universally hailed as great strips, and they are fondly remembered. Totally makes sense to lead with those.

But now we're getting 1980s Hagar the Horrible. You're seriously trying to tell me that those strips are more worthy of hardcover reprints than Speed Jaxon? That they're more fondly remembered than Wee Pals? That they have more historical significance than Torchy in Heartbeats? That they were more creatively inspired than Gordo?

My answer to all those questions: that's bullshit.

If I want to really be cynical about this, I could guess that we aren't seeing nice collections of POC-driven comic strips because publishers are assuming that it would only be people of color who might be interested in those in the first place, and everybody "knows" they don't have as much disposable income as white folks. If I really to think cynically about this. The most positive spin I can put on why we haven't seen these collections is that it simply hasn't even occurred to the white people in charge that there are comic strips created by people of color.

I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in between. That one or two people have brought up the idea of a Gordo or Boondocks collection, but the bean-counters can't justify the costs because they don't figure the books would sell as well as half-century old Beetle Baileys as they dance around the racist undercurrents that kind of statement has.

And you know, even setting aside the high road arguements here about racial equity, I can get pissed over this just from the standpoint that there are comics out there that I can't read because they've never been reprinted. The only way I'm going to read Friday Foster is if I track down individual copies of the newspapers it ran in, and read four years of four-decade-old daily papers. I think I've got enough contacts that I could pull that off if I really wanted, but A) that's still a hell of a lot of work and B) how many people would be willing to go through even a quarter of that effort? No one but a very, very small handful of people will see these strips unless a publisher steps up and gets them reprinted.

And, sure, I know that they are rights issues involved and they would have to track down the copyright holders to get licensing agreements and such. And some of those rights issues might be complicated several decades removed from the strips' original publication. But that's still got to be more worthwhile than Hagar the frickin' Horrible!

2 comments:

Matt K said...

Also, apparently we're still leaning heavily on Seth's design scheme for The Complete Peanuts.

(I can just imagine how the "art direction" is provided for these "homages," too…)

Sean Kleefeld said...

Well, it was either continue using Seth's design for everything or hiring Chip Kidd. ;)