Black cartoonists plan Feb. 10 comics-page action

By Dave Astor, Editor and Publisher

At least eight African-American cartoonists plan to take part in a Feb. 10 comics-page action to draw attention to the way their strips are perceived and purchased.

"Many editors and readers consider different 'black comics' to be interchangeable," said "Candorville" cartoonist Darrin Bell. This, he told E&P today in a phone interview, is among the reasons why many papers run only one or two comics by African-Americans and other creators of color -- no matter how many strips and panels are in their comics sections.

But, Bell said, comics by black cartoonists are obviously as different from each other as comics by white cartoonists are different from each other.

"Some are political, some are about friends, and some are about family," noted Bell, who organized the Feb. 10 action along with "Watch Your Head" cartoonist Cory Thomas. (Both are syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group.)

For the action, the cartoonists will all do a version of one of Thomas' comics. The theme and writing in each strip will be similar, though "we're all plugging in our own characters," said Bell. The idea is to satirically protest the erroneous notion of many editors and readers that comics by African-American creators are interchangeable.

What might the action accomplish? "I hope editors will start allowing minority cartoonists to compete for all their comics slots, not just one or two slots," replied Bell, whose 2003-launched "Candorville" strip runs in 60 to 65 papers.

The cartoonist -- who also does the "Rudy Park" comic with Theron Heir for United Media -- further noted that strips by African-American cartoonists are enjoyed by many white readers as well as black readers.

Bell said he's not sure the Feb. 10 action should be called a protest, noting that black cartoonists face a problem nowhere near as serious as, say, New Orleans residents still without housing after Hurricane Katrina. But it's still a problem.

"It's like a weather forecast of mostly sunny with patches of racism," Bell said wryly.

The action will be publicized beforehand by media stories, press releases from one or more syndicates, information on creators' Web sites, and in pre-Feb. 10 comics. Bell, for instance, plans to do a related strip for Feb. 3.

Eight cartoonists have agreed to participate at this point, according to Jerry Craft, who tipped E&P off to the Feb. 10 action today. Craft ("Mama's Boyz"/King Features Weekly Service) said the eight include himself, Bell, Thomas, Steve Bentley ("Herb and Jamaal"/Creators Syndicate), Charlos Gary ("Cafe Con Leche" and "Working It Out"/Creators), editorial cartoonist Tim Jackson, Keith Knight ("The K Chronicles"/self-syndication), and Steve Watkins ("Housebroken"/Tribune Media Services).

At least two other cartoonists were interested but could not participate because their Feb. 10 comic deadlines had already passed. (Sunday strips have to be done far in advance.)

Of the more than 200 comics distributed by major syndicates, perhaps 15 or so are done by cartoonists of color.

Why Feb. 10? Bell replied that the date is near the Feb. 14 birthday of renowned black cartoonist Ollie Harrington (1912-1995).

Craft, after being interviewed over the phone, subsequently e-mailed this comment: "I think of all the different genres of comic strips, African-American cartoonists get pitted against each other the most. For many papers, it's like the Highlander syndrome where 'There can be only one!'

"I hope to live long enough to see the day when I no longer hear of how 'Mama's Boyz' is 'like Curtis or The Boondocks.' With that said, it's great to be involved with so many talented cartoonists who unfortunately share the same fate. Hopefully one day that will change."

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