Racism in 2000AD: It’s Judgement Time

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Recently, I caught up on a couple of months’ worth of 2000AD. I read Judge Dredd (of course), some strips that were not Judge Dredd, but which I enjoyed anyway, Strontium Dog: The Stix Fix, and the 2015 Summer Special. I was hoping to enjoy these, too.

Having never really read any Strontium Dog before, I was looking forward to my first chance to read it in serialized formatscripted by John Wagner and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra, no less.

And then: anti-Asian racism. “Honorable” This and That, fractured English, and a general by the name of Bing Bong. BING BONG.

Maybe the Summer Special would provide a nice palate cleanser. 48 pages of self-contained summer fun stories? What’s not to enjoy?

Racism in 2000AD, that’s what. “Idiota! Are you trying to get os keeled?”

I don’t think the intent here was malicious, especially with Stogie (the cigar who talks like Speedy Gonzalez, who as a long-time supporting character in Sam Slade: Robo-Hunter has always talked like that).

What got me was the lack of effort, the fallback on lazy stereotypes, and, in Stogie’s case, the defense of those stereotypes. Several robots point outaccuratelythat Stogie is a racist caricature, but then get blasted into bits by the protagonists. The implication is that if we call out racism, we’re no better than interfering robots.

“But what about the white people?” commenters may ask. “2000AD portrays the Irish and Scottish as drunk and violent!”

While this is largely true, I would first point out that those portrayals are usually scripted by Irish and Scottish writersGarth Ennis in Judge Dredd: Emerald Isle, for instance, or Alan Grant writing Young Middenfaceand Wagner and Grant (two of 2000AD‘s old guard) are Scottish. Besides, in Emerald Isle, the Irish separatist group the Sons of Erin only engages in violence when encouraged to/coerced into doing so by an escaped American hitman. If violence is endemic to anyone in that story, it’s definitely not the Irish characters. More recently, the addition of Judge Fintan Joyce, son of Emerald Isle‘s Judge Joyce, to the Justice Department of Mega-City One has introduced a non-stereotypical Irish character to Judge Dredd‘s roster; it’s not a coincidence that his adventures are scripted by Irish author Michael Carroll.

In other words, these characters are scripted by authors from their own cultures. The authors thus have the opportunity to negotiate their reactions to the stereotypes leveled against them, and to thereby assert their own individual and cultural voices in relation to those stereotypes.

Not so for 2000AD‘s Asian or Latino characters.

To my knowledge, no story in the magazine’s thirty-eight years of publication has been scripted by an author of Asian and/or Latino descent, or by a person of color at all.

In fairness, I should mention that Argentina-born artist Inaki Miranda has illustrated a number of Judge Dredd stories, and that 2000AD has often relied on Argentinian and Spanish artists (most notably Carlos Ezquerra). British-Nigerian artist Siku also illustrated several Judge Dredd stories, but is the only black artist to have worked for 2000AD.

There is some demographic reasoning for this lack of racial and ethnic diversity, which is too complex to go into here. I’ll simply note that Britain is a much more racially homogeneous place than America.

But my focus is not the homogeneity of the Thrill-Power production engine. It’s the unconscious white privilege andyesracism that creates an atmosphere where these instances can easily slip through the net.

I want to emphasize the word “unconscious” here. If I thought these displays of racism were conscious acts of hostility, I would lay out how they work and why they’re wrong, and then call it quits with the whole comic.

What I suspect is happening, however, is attitudes held over from earlier decades (such as anti-Asian racism, which is visible in earlier war comics) are making it through editorial either in the name of preserving tradition or because there are no voices of dissent able to say, “As an Asian/Latino/brown/etc. person, trust me when I tell you not to publish this.” Trust me when I tell you not to publish the demeaning cod-yellowface dialogue of the Asian characters in The Stix Fix. Trust me when I tell you that it’s a bad idea to call a Latin American Judge “Lieutenant Cholo,” which happened less than ten years ago.

Trust me, too, when I say that it’s hurtful. Are we the enemy, or just targets of derisionboth of which rely on dehumanization for comic effect? Either way, the boundary lines are drawn, and it appears that we are on the wrong side of them.

The future that 2000AD builds is exciting, bleak, hilarious, frightening, and above all fascinating. But there’s no place for us in it.

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About Author

Staff Writer Kelly was born and raised in Honolulu but now lives in Scotland. She has has an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing, and is currently pursuing a PhD (look! There it goes!) on transatlantic narratives in contemporary comics. As a half-Japanese, half-Filipina woman, she believes that white vinegar is the answer to most of life's problems.

6 Comments

  1. Hi Kelly

    That’s a very considered and thought provoking piece, but your argument does boil down to the only writer who is able to make fun of a character being someone else of the same nationality/race, which I think is untenable.

    The predominant tone of Strontium Dog is burlesque, and the character whose name you mention is a parody of Kim Jong-Un. If a non-Asian author can’t ridicule his name and odious character traits, that presumably puts Chaplin in the firing line for being so mean to poor old Adenoid Heinkel in The Great Dictator.

    I’m not offended on behalf of Germans when characters swap out Vs for Ws and put the verb at the end of a sentence, and I don’t consider the stupidity, ugliness, and Noo Joisey accent of Paulie from The Sopranos to represent slurs on Italian Americans or residents of the Garden State.

    Best wishes

  2. A fair article, I’d say, all the better for coming across as calm rather than angry. However, I think there has to be a distinction made between stereotyping or parody and racism. For me, racism has to have a basis in genuine contempt, and I don’t believe that’s what we’re seeing here. In Strontium Dog, yes, you’re seeing stereotyping, but the contempt and hate is directed at thuggish militaristic and political authority figures. Ji Jung, the interpreter, is also a stereotype. Alpha is initially pretty dismissive of him (which could be read as contempt), but as soon as he sees what a fine line Ji is having to walk his attitude changes.

    Stereotyping can be racist, but it is not inherently racist. It’s also an important part of British comedy tradition, at least partly born from the fact that we’re a nation of nations. There used to be a British comedy called Mind Your Language. It was about an evening-class for foreigners learning English. It was riddled with stereotypes, but while we’ve become embarrassed by it, it seems to have fans across the world. I suspect this is because the stereotypes are not written to be disliked, but to be loved. Loved the same way we love Stogie.

  3. Great piece Kelly! I would certainly not mind if 2000AD took a look into it.

    While I’d argue that judges like Beeny, Sanchez and more are good “latino” characters (who happens to be latino) and “african” characters (same there. Haven’t read any jive since Judge Giant.) are also quite well represented, I wouldn’t mind if asians got something beyond the likes of Hondo city.

    Btw. Duke Mighten (perhaps the best name ever) is another “person of colour” who’v drawn Judge Dredd.

    Geordie Gray: Not so sure it boils down that. Kelly for example states that her”–focus is not the homogeneity of the Thrill-Power production engine.” I think the thing is that Bing Bong wasn’t the only asian who talked “funny” in the said S/D-story. It doesn’t serve a point like it did in Wagner’s Darkie’s mob, it’s more in line with a story like Judge Dredd: Our man in Hondo. Not to say racist, but a bit awkward.

    And knowing John Wagner, he can (as in should) be much more clever and thought provoking when it comes to satire 🙂

    • I’m not trying to be reductive, Carl, but it’s difficult to interpret this mouthful – “these characters are scripted by authors from their own cultures. The authors thus have the opportunity to negotiate their reactions to the stereotypes leveled against them, and to thereby assert their own individual and cultural voices in relation to those stereotypes” – in any other way.

  4. “What got me was the lack of effort, the fallback on lazy stereotypes, and, in Stogie’s case, the defense of those stereotypes. Several robots point out—accurately—that Stogie is a racist caricature, but then get blasted into bits by the protagonists. The implication is that if we call out racism, we’re no better than interfering robots.”

    The robots do not get blasted to bits by the protagonists.

    One calls it out as an ethnic stereotype and tries to destroy Stogie, the other robot then blasts the first robot for cultural colonisation.

    It then attempts to self-destruct for condeming free speech, which Sam then prevents.

    I’m pretty sure Sam doesn’t shoot anything at all in the strip.

    Regards,

    Steve