Following his election as President in November 2008, one of Barack Obama’s advisors gave an interview to a reporter from a British newspaper in which it was revealed that President Obama collected Spiderman and Conan the Barbarian comic books. A few months later, the newly elected president appeared on the cover of The Amazing Spider-Man #583 for the story “Spidey Meets the President!” President Obama’s depiction within comic books actually dates to July 2007, when then Senator Obama appeared in an issue of LicensableBear TM, but since his inauguration, he has appeared in over eleven comic books, including Barack the Barbarian, which depicts the President as a Conan-style figure in adventures rife with political satire.
Depictions of African Americans and other underrepresented minorities within comic books and comic strips have typically been characterized by common racial stereotypes throughout the years. African American characters typically spoke in dialect, World War II-themed superhero comics (like Captain America) battled buck-toothed, slant-eyed Japanese villains, and Latinos were usually depicted with sombreros or as crazed Pancho Villa-like revolutionaries. The list goes on and on.
This situation was fueled in many respects by the fact that the comics industry had very few minority writers, artists, and publishers. There were, however, exceptions to the rule. Jackie Ormes’ 1950s-era Torchy Brown character has been cited as a progressive representation of African Americans and women. George Herriman’s Krazy Kat is considered by many to be one of the masterpieces of 20th century comic art. Artists such as Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez have worked within the mainstream superhero realm of DC and Marvel comics for many years, and the 1990s saw a rise in diversity of themes, artists, writers, and publishers within the comics industry. Today, publishers such as Blue Corn Comics and artists such as Kyle Baker, Gene Yang, and Keith Knight bring a wider voice to comics and graphic novels.
In order to document the history of diversity within comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels (both the highs and the lows), the Amistad Research Center is embarking on a new area of collecting. Center staff are currently seeking donations of relevant materials in good condition to add to the Center’s growing Comics and Graphic Novels Collection. Materials added into the collection will be listed in a planned online database that will make the collection information accessible to scholars young and old across the globe. If you are interested in donating materials or learning more about the collection, please contact Director of Library and Reference Services Christopher Harter at (504) 862-3222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Christopher Harter
(Images from the Amistad Research Center. May not be reproduced without permission.)