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Oh, DC Comics in the 1940s – whatever shall we do with you?

by  in Comic News Comment
Oh, DC Comics in the 1940s – whatever shall we do with you?

So there I am, reading the seventh volume of Batman Chronicles, as I mentioned on Monday, and I’m enjoying the somewhat crazed way Batman fights crime and how the regular gangsters remained killers even as the Joker became goofy. Then, while I’m reading the fourth story in Batman #13 (October-November 1942), which is called “Destination Unknown” and is actually a pretty gripping murder mystery set on board a cross-country train that inexplicably totally falls apart at the end, I come across this panel:

Specifically, of course, the waiters:

Okay, it’s the 1940s, and I get it. But here’s my question: Does anyone have any idea why Bob Kane (who’s credited as penciller) would draw black people like this? Was he just an unrepentant racist who saw black people as sub-human? I have to assume he had actually seen black people, as he lived in New York. So he knew that in real life, black people didn’t look like this. Plus, he was Jewish, so he knew how Jews had been depicted in popular culture, in a ridiculous and racist fashion. Plus, there are plenty of caricatures in these comics (some drawn by Kane, some not), but even the buffoons are recognizably human. Was this depiction so ingrained in Americana that Kane couldn’t overcome it? Was there any pressure on him to depict blacks this way? I don’t understand how anyone could ever actually see a black person and think this was an okay way to draw them. And, as I pointed out, I can’t believe Kane had never seen a black person before.

I can understand depicting Japanese as inhuman during the war, as we were fighting against them and therefore we wanted to dehumanize them as much as possible. It’s still racist, but I can see the reason for it. I know we all live in more enlightened times now (because racism certainly doesn’t exist anymore, right?), but when I see something like this, it’s not that I’m offended by it, it’s that I simply don’t understand what was going through Kane’s mind at the moment when he drew this. We’ll probably never know, but I wonder if anyone has read anything or heard anything from people who worked back then and if they’ve ever been asked about this. It’s fascinating to me, even as it’s depressing that people thought this way.

Thoughts?

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