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Friday, March 16, 2007

Racist Comic Book Ads

Don't shoot me, I'm only the messenger. A few years back I ran a short course at the WEA here in Adelaide on the history and appreciation of comic books in general. Part of this course entailed me showing a pile of scans of books, Australian, USA and otherwise. One day I might run another course but not for the very near future - time is an enemy these days.

The course went down well and people keep staying well after class, emailing me and asking what was coming up. I showed some old horror and crime covers, which brought some gasps from people but the one thing I did show which left everyone in the room speechless was this ad, taken from an old Australian comic (I think it was a Dagwood comic. I have it downstairs buried in a box somewhere). If the ad wasn't enough then what really stunned people was when I told them that this ad appeared in all it's glory in the mid to late 1960s. There was more discussion about this ad and it's merits than anything else in the entire course (other than the inside story about a sacked artist that I know). That discussion was both civil and heated at the same time and I asked people what was it about the ad, other than the obvious racism, that fired them up. No real reply was forthcoming and it was clear that it was the obvious racism that offended people. More discussion came when I explained that these kinds of ads were as common as the books they appeared in, and this ad appeared in a book aimed at children, as was the product itself.

These kinds of ads were pretty much gone in the USA by this stage (despite what the ad claims I can't imagine it'd have been good for your health to walk into a store and ask for a 'Nigger Boy') and for good reason - it's one of the most racist ads I've come across in an Australian comic book. I've shown it to a few people and gotten mixed responses. Most just chuckle at it and say, "Good thing they don't make that stuff now." For the record - I do remember eating some Nigger Boy Licorice, but that was when I was a very young lad, and at the same time I used to buy boxes of a lovely candy called 'Fags', now called 'Fads'. They were named 'Fags' because they were white with a red tip and manufactured to resemble cigarettes - hence they were fags.

These ads are valuable in the sense that, even more so than the comics they appeared in, they give us an insight into the world of yesterday. It might have been a more uncomplicated world, but that doesn't always mean it was a better one. In the meantime click on the image and have a good read. If anyone else out there has some more interesting ads like this then feel free to send them down and I'll post 'em. It's all history and history is worth preserving, both the good and the bad. And even the ugly.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I remember the Nigger Boy Licorice from my days at the Royal Easter Show. Back then, no one thought anything of it. I feel that as a society we have become a little bit precious and thin-skinned about all this.

Brendan said...

Hi! I strongly agree with the person above. The origin of the word 'nigger' is simply the word 'black.' It did not always carry the negative connotation that sometimes surrounds it. It is easy to understand why people are offended by such things but I don't like the fact that we have become a world that tip-toes around even the darker and more sensitive aspects of our own human history. It seems to me that though these terms may separate us into colors, it is the pettiness surrounding these terms that divide us and ultimately segregate the human race.

Ted said...

Sure, never minding the fact that this ad portrays blacks as useless lazy bums. Nothing wrong with that.

While the word nigger didn't always pack stigma, ever since the slave trade it has been used to indicate someone as being an inferior degree of man (if not a beast of burden).

Anonymous said...

Geez, Brendan, do you really want this kind of comment out there for the world to see?

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...

It did not always carry the negative connotation that sometimes surrounds it??? Wow... just when you think you've heard everything ignorant, you hear a comment like this..... As an African American the word has ALWAYS carried a negative connotation because it was aimed at dehumanizing you in the eyes of someone who considered YOU their social, physical, and intellectual inferior. PERSONS were entitled to be called by their First and last names, the word, NIGGER was a title given to you like an animal.

Paul B said...

I agree with the first comment that we have become a bit thin - skinned as a society. Its just all too easy to use "racist" as a word to pull people into line. Go have a listen to comedians like Bernard Manning and lighten up!