Aug 31 2010

The Narrative Minefield of Race

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Okay, I’m having a bit of a quandary, and I’d like to hear various folks’ opinions on it — but it’s about the potentially-loaded topic of race, so I respectfully ask that people keep their heads about it. :)

I’m working on the main cast of my new comic; it’s a lighthearted fantasy adventure story following a trio of troublemaking heroes-for-hire. The leader is a suave trickster type, the second is a cute and perky gal who has a propensity to blow things up, and the third is a big and scary-looking strongman who covers up horrible scars with a Phantom-Of-the-Opera-esque hooded mask, who actually has a squooshy nougat center and loves to pet kittens. (Anybody remember the phase-through-walls guy on Buck Rogers In the 25th Century? He’s sorta like that, but more brawny and less brooding.)

The trickster isn’t human at all; in point of fact, he’s a white-and-black-furred fox-morph. The bomber-gal has red hair and freckles. The big scary strongman is an imported character from an earlier project I worked on, in which he was a big ol’ cueball — think “Mr. Clean” meets “Two-Face.” However, when I was importing him into this story, I thought that in an effort to keep the cast from being too monochromatic, I’d make him black instead.

John Dunn development sketches

This is where I run into a catch-22 … now instead of an “all-white” cast (if you take a white-furred fox thing as being “white” in the same sense), I’ve potentially got “black man = big, ugly, and scary.” That’s not the intended message by any stretch — this character is a doll and the scariness of his exterior is intended to be a subject of pathos rather than revulsion — but it is something I worry about people taking away from it.

So rather than just bat this one around with my beta readers, I’ve decided to toss this issue out for more general discussion. Am I just overthinking the whole thing? The comic is not about race in any sense, and is not a defining aspect of this character. I don’t want what was basically an aesthetic choice causing anybody grief.

What do you think, folks?

-The Gneech

2 responses to “The Narrative Minefield of Race”

  1. Indigo says:

    The fact that you’re concerned is a positive.

    You indicate this guy is a big softy sweetiepie. You’re just going to have to show that he’s a (to use the TV Tropes term) Bruiser with a Soft Center. Show him petting those kittens and kissing those babies, and helping those sweet little old ladies across the street.

    Also, if you haven’t chosen a speech style for him, choose one that comes off educated rather than uneducated. Because if you think about the big black strongman types you see in the movies: Ving Rhames, Michael Clarke Duncan — they have been known to play the scary types, and the nice types — and how they speak plays a part.

    I don’t ever think it’s too much overthinking to want to be sure your portrayals of race are sensitive. More people could follow your Gneechly example.