Magazine article Editor & Publisher

As Comics-Page Action Nears, a Participant Discusses Cartooning Diversity

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

As Comics-Page Action Nears, a Participant Discusses Cartooning Diversity

Article excerpt

Of the African-American cartoonists taking part in this coming Sunday's comics-page action, Stephen Bentley has been in syndication the longest.

Bentley started the "Herb and Jamaal" strip in 1989, when there were only a handful of comics by non-white cartoonists. Now, perhaps 15 or so of the 200-plus comics distributed by major syndicates are by African-American creators, Hispanic-American creators, or other cartoonists of color.

"There's a lot more diversity of comics available for comics pages," said Bentley, when contacted today by E&P. "But that doesn't mean there's a lot more diversity of comics ON comics pages." Bentley explained that, despite the post-1989 rise in comics by cartoonists of color, many newspapers still run only one or two strips by non-white artists. So a growing number of cartoonists are fighting for a non-growing number of newspaper slots. "There's still limited space but more competition," observed Bentley, whose comic is distributed by Creators Syndicate.

Some papers devote only one or two slots to comics by cartoonists of color because they lump these features into categories such as "black strips" -- even though each of these comics has its own voice, content, and non-racial category (family strip, kid strip, friends strip, political strip, etc.).

The way some papers purchase and perceive comics by non-white creators is the reason for this Sunday's action, which will involve at least eight African-American cartoonists doing a variation of a comic by "Watch Your Head" creator Cory Thomas of the Washington Post Writers Group (WPWG). The idea is to humorously lampoon the erroneous notion that their comics are interchangeable.

Few papers run comics by more than one of the eight cartoonists participating in the action. So, ironically, said Bentley, most readers of a single paper won't have the opportunity to see two variations on the Cory Thomas theme in print. But readers can see more than one comic online, and the action has been publicized in various media outlets and on creators' personal Web sites.

Will the action have an impact? Bentley said he hopes at least a few newspaper editors end up allowing cartoonists of color to compete for all their comics slots, not just one or two.

A major reason why it's hard to find space for more diverse comics is the presence of so many "legacy" strips, said Bentley. These are the decades-old comics whose creators are dead but continue in reruns (as is the case with "Peanuts") or continue via other cartoonists (as is the case with "Blondie," "Hagar the Horrible," "Dennis the Menace," "B. …

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