09 November 2010

A Child I Can Hold Without Judging

A message from the Digitial Comic Museum made me revisit that site, which archives public-domain comics. While following the trail of Yankee Doodle Jones’s boy sidekick Dandy (not to mention Johnny Rebel and Yankee Boy), I tripped over this soccer story from Yankee Comics, #3, published in 1941. According to the Grand Comics Database, its creators are unknown.

“Young Americans” was a “kid gang” series, which in the 1940s meant ethnic stereotypes. There’s an Irish kid nicknamed Spud who says, “Begorra.” There’s Monty, who speaks in upper-class, perhaps even British, style, and wears glasses.

And there’s a black kid who has a nickname that emphasizes his blackness (“Eightball”), exaggerated red lips, the white gloves of a minstrel-hall performer, and a habit of saying things like, “Sho’ nuff.”

Yet Eightball comes up with a bright idea to defeat the nasty cheating Nazi soccer team, and the comic plays up that moment. The character’s broad accent comes and goes, but doesn’t get in the way of communicating. At least in this story, Eightball shows no fear of spooks, love of watermelon, or other elements of the standard racist stereotype. He’s even featured in the story’s last image, inviting readers to come back for more “Young Americans.“

Furthermore, this gang includes two little girls, pretty Brenda and grumpy Rosie. Both participate fully in the physical side of the game, scoring the winning goal together. When the nasty swastika-wearing Germans set out to hurt the girls in response, the boys fight them off—but only after Rosie bites one on the ankle. Until that last page with the boys, I don’t see even an implied suggestion that those girls aren’t “Young Americans” on equal terms. Just when I get used to seeing blatant racism and sexism in the pop-culture of this era, something like this comics tale comes along. Who created it? Perhaps the folks who originally designed the characters along stereotypical lines were replaced by another writer and artist who didn’t want to play that old game. We’ll probably never know. Yankee Comics lasted just one more issue.


Richard Bensam said...

This story is amazing. Eightball is unequivocally the hero of the tale -- the girls are pretty capable too, but the other boys kind of blur together here -- and Eightball gets all the best lines as well. I'd expect the other characters get their turn in the spotlight in other installments, but this first exposure really makes me want to check them out. Honestly, thanks for finding and sharing this.

Also: the post title makes me laugh out loud.

J. L. Bell said...

Your comment made my day. Thanks!