Welcome to the four hundred and sixty-seventh in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and sixty-six. This week, did Fawcett Comics come up with a code of ethics specifically to eliminate a racist stereotype character? Did a group of schoolchildren petition Fawcett to get rid of that same character? Was Kieron Gillen’s Loki run originally intended to star an adult Loki instead of the “kid” version it ended up being? Finally, did the U.S. government use Al Hirschfeld’s cartoons for training purposes?
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
EXTRA NOTE: There are actually four pages this time around because two of the legends this week really wouldn’t work without each other but I didn’t want to shortchange y’all, so you get a BONUS legend!
COMIC LEGEND: Fawcett Comics created a code of ethics to eliminate the racial stereotype character, Steamboat.
A troubling aspect of a number of 1940s comic books is the way that African-American characters were depicted, even those that are clearly intended by the creative team to be POSITIVE characters.
A famous example of this is Billy Batson’s valet, Steamboat, who appeared frequently in the pages of Captain Marvel Adventures. Here he is in a 1941 story…
A few years back, my buddy Zack Smith did an AWESOME Oral History project on Captain Marvel.
In the third part, the topic of Steamboat (and similar depictions of minorities) was discussed.
The great Chip Kidd noted:
“One thing Michael Uslan pointed out is that it’s about putting it in historical perspective. This really was an attitude that was widely held at the time, even if it wasn’t right. And to deny the publication of something that was not intended to be racist, basically, is to deny an audience some really terrific work.
“One thing I included in my book was a series of guidelines that Fawcett sent to their writers and artists in the 1940s which regarded eliminating racial stereotypes, indicating that ethnic groups were not to be not to be ‘ridiculed or intolerated.’ So they eventually did away with that.”
Kidd is correct, Fawcett DID do that. Here it is…
However, that was written in 1942!
Steamboat, though, continued appearing regularly all the way until 1945…
Isn’t that amazing? That you could specifically have that written into your code and STILL have a character like Steamboat appear?
Then again, as we saw last week in our spotlight on the Captain America villain the Black Talon (a villain fueled by having an evil black man’s hand), certain viewpoints just were so ingrained into people’s mindsets that they likely did NOT seem to the creators as though they were being offensive.
Thanks to Smith, Kidd and the awesome TwoMorrows book, the Fawcett Companion, for the information (and in the case of the Companion, the actual code itself).
Read on to the next page to learn how Steamboat was finally taken out of the book (note that the 1945 drawing I just showed was his last appearance)…
Check out my latest Movie Legends Revealed at Spinoff Online: Did Michael Jackson seriously not actually do his own singing when he guest-starred on The Simpsons?
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