Saturday, August 27, 2005

Comic Book PSA: Racist Fan Letter in Tomb of Dracula #17

This post contains material that is derogatory in nature to a specific ethnic group. Because of the offensive nature of the letter I have decided not to post it here. The letter content is described below and a link is provided so it can be examined as a historical cultural artifact for purposes including discussion and education.

A while ago I was re-reading some of my old comic books and came across this unfortunate letter submitted by a reader and printed in the great Marvel comic book Tomb of Dracula #17, from February of 1973. The letter has a negative reference using a racial epithet to an appearance by Blade, the Vampire Killer from issue #12. Some
may recognize Blade as the comic-to-film character worth millions in the box office for a trilogy of horror adventure films.

I don't know who Sam is but I didn't like him in 1973 and I don't think I'd like him any better today. If there was a Nobel Prize for Ignorance awarded in 1973, then Sam was a shoe-in. I was glad to see that in 1973 the letter was printed without censoring, even though it is offensive. One of the ways such ignorance as displayed by the submitter will change is through education. The Editor may have wanted to teach a lesson in humanity to the person who submitted it and to any others that would read it. Something similar was also printed once in reaction to one of the first inter-racial kisses in comics, that of Misty Knight and Daniel (Iron Fist) Rand, also from the 70's.

In 1973 the letter was published with the intent of education via humiliation of the author. Unfortunately I doubt that sarcasm and humiliation would have had an effect on the author of the hate-letter and the Editors response may have been too subtle for the author. I give c
ongrats to Marvel for having the strength to print the letter, but I wish the company had just come right out and said "Your viewpoint in regards to race is wrong. Very rarely has any person on earth been as wrong as you."

I'd hate to think that Sam has been in a position where his views, not evolved, could negatively affect the lives of others. I worry that he was a home loan manager or government employee.

How successful have comics been in bringing about social or cultural change? Some fans will be familiar with the 'Seduction of the Innocent' controversy, in which the negative effects of comics on children was proposed. According to Congress and others, American youth was ready to turn the keys to the country over to Russia because of comic books.

I can remember the impact various story arcs had. Books like the Green Lantern/Green Arrow 'Relevancy' issues, the Spider-Man/Harry Osborne addiction sub-plot and the Anti-drug and Anti-Apartheid issues of the Teen Titans had some effect on me and others. I can attest that
in Pre-internet days the books prompted conversations concerning issues beyond the usual talk in regards to the quality of the writer and art.

For my generation it was the "Relevancy" issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow and the Spider-Man drug-use and race riot issues. I'm not proposing that a comic book caused an epiphany in mine or the public consciousness . I did not wake up and realize I was enlightened and that I was previously a fool about many things. No, that did not happen. What GL/GA did was aid in supporting and reinforcing right beliefs such as human rights and equality, much as my parents and peers did to a greater extent.

Remember, when that letter was written the divide between ethnic groups was wider than it is today, and the civil rights movement was still very fresh and alive.
In that era the inevitable reality that all people are created equal was still attempting to make headway in parts of the United States.

In 1973 Sam's
statement was probably accepted as fact by his peers and a good portion of the country. Today it is considered an ignorant, archaic statement. I take it as a positive sign of the social growth of America that there are people I have met who confess to never having heard the derogatory term Sam used in his letter. There are others who say they don't know what the term means. That is all the proof I need to be convinced we have evolved culturally.

The comic books of the 1970s were very much a product of their times. Though comics are at times progressive,
I can imagine that there may have been careful consideration by Marvel to include in a title a major character as a hero that was not Caucasian (Much like the inclusion of a middle-eastern character in a comic or show would be cautiously approached today).

Usually comic companies just
had no idea how to portray people of other races in a manner outside of the stereotype that they believed would gain a market share. There is an obvious parallel to the advertising and hype of today. Watch a Sprite 'obey your thirst' commercial and think about that.

I doubt that a similar expression as Sam's from someone would be tolerated or printed without censorship today. The letter probably would not be printed and the comment would be quickly deleted from most internet forums. While I am an opponent of censorship, I think that other than in the interests of education it should not be included in most venues simply because there are more appropriate places for it to be discussed. Outside most forums the need not to insult or hurt others would probably outweigh the need to have the information available for debate.

Comics are not as overtly activist today as they were in the past. For the most part, propaganda and agendas are not forced at the reader in ham-handed ways, stories don't end with a company's official political statement, the final panel in the tale is not the moral lesson summary, the Man-Thing is not smashing refineries and disgruntled ex-employees are not turning their inventions against the company that "wronged" them. That was mainly an artifact of the 70s and 80s.

If nothing else, the many message-filled comics of past and present may have stimulated an original thought or two, a discussion somewhere and perhaps some maturity.
Every little bit helped then, I believe.

Shame on you, Sam.


1 comment:

  1. After a moment it occured to me where I first heard that term. There was a british sitcom originally made in the 70's called "Love Thy Neighbour", the hook for this one being a racist bigot who lived next door to a black family.

    It wouldn't get made today and I suspect that political correctness probably prevents it getting rerun much now. Which is a shame because the show was actually funny.

    The bigot always ended up looking foolish, but the black guy wasn't a complete paragon. And meanwhile the wives of the two were good friends who spent a lot of their time together rolling their eyes at their husbands' behaviour.

    I recently saw an interview with one of the actors who was saying that he was originally put off by the concept, but once he had read the script he loved it.


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