Thursday, 29 March 2007

A Thousand Pardons, Mist’ Spirit Boss

A rightly-praised feature of Darwyn Cooke’s revival of The Spirit has been his rehabilitation of Ebony White. In his later life, Will Eisner regretted that, when he created Ebony in 1940, he conformed to the contemporary stereotypes established by Stepin Fetchit and Amos & Andy. In appearance, voice and disposition, Ebony represented the racial prejudices of his age.



Of course, Ebony had hidden depths, and frequently proved himself both resourceful and invaluable to the Spirit. But even so, when we read reprints of the original Spirit sections, we have to make embarrassed allowances for the times in which they were produced.



Cooke’s version of Ebony is drawn in the same style as the Spirit himself, with no racial caricature. His speech patterns are much the same as anyone else in Central City, and his relationship with the Spirit is one of easy familiarity, not subservience.

And so, our tolerant, inclusive society progresses. It is no longer acceptable to present members of ethnic minorities as stereotypical caricatures, as representatives of popular beliefs about their race, rather than as individuals. Comic books treat everyone as worthy of respect.

Except Arabs.

Meet Hussein Hussein …




Of course, Hussein has hidden depths, and has proved himself resourceful and … But we’ve been down this road before, haven’t we?



Panels from:
The Spirit “The Black Queen” by Will Eisner, The Spirit section for 16 June 1940, reprinted in The Spirit Archives Volume 1, DC Comics, 2000

The Spirit “The Maneater” by Darwyn Cooke with J Bone (inks), Dave Stewart (colour), Jared Fletcher (letters) and Scott Dunbier (editor), The Spirit issue 2, DC Comics, March 2007

The Spirit “Hard Like Satin” by Darwyn Cooke with J Bone (inks), Dave Stewart (colour), Jared Fletcher (letters) and Scott Dunbier (editor), The Spirit issue 4, DC Comics, May 2007

5 comments:

Ivy Garlitz said...

The new Ebony is close to the original version, I suppose. But in the late 40s and early 50s, wasn't Ebony supposed to be a child? When he was replaced by Sammy, (who was white) Sammy was a child.

Arsnof said...

Well, yeah, but when I was reading Hussein, I saw him as playing the part. In the Satin story, especially, he's laying the "I'm a poor, stupid forigner who loves America! How could I possibly be a threat to you?" on so thick, You'd have to be blind not to see it as a play.

Steve Flanagan said...

Ivy, I don't think that Eisner ever specified an age for Ebony. In the 1946 story "As Ever, Orange", Ebony is courting a girl who is old enough to also be seeing a USAAF pilot, Fraternization H Shack. At the end of the story, he decides to go back to school to get rid of his "minstrel accent" (unsuccesfully, alas). Taking these facts together suggests that Ebony was in his mid to late teens.

Cooke has Denny Colt ask Ebony, "Are you sure you're old enough to be driving?", which suggests much the same age.

Ivy said...

Steve, I think you're right. I remember stories in which Ebony went nuts over ice cream but he seemed to be interested in girls as well, so mid teens is probably a good estimation of his age. That said, Sammy was younger than his mid teens.

Rusty said...

I quoted you here: http://www.comicmix.com/news/2008/07/08/wal-mart-stocks-racist-comic/#c9945

I hope you don't mind. Rock on! -Rusty