Monday, June 18, 2012

Is this racist? | Airboy hates cephalopods

I debated using this cover for an Everyone Hates Cephalopods post. My first reaction was that it's a racist caricature and that I shouldn't. Not that I never feature racist imagery on this blog, but when I do it's always in the context of trying to learn from it. The cephalopods posts are just for fun, so I don't want to just throw out an offensive image in that context without commenting on it.

The more I look at it though, the more I wonder if this is racist. The human head on the octopus is relatively realistic and doesn't have the exaggerations that usually appear in World War II depictions of Japanese people. Also, the Rising Sun symbol on the octopus' back implies that it represents an entire political entity; not a stereotyped individual. In other words, it's depicting Japan as a dangerous, frightening enemy with a long reach, but one that Airboy (and, by association, the Allies) is prevailing against.

I understand that my own race can get in the way of my interpreting these things though, so that's why I throw the question out to you. Is this a racist image, an accurate depiction of WWII events, or both?

[Image from Golden Age Comic Book Stories]


Siskoid said...

These things are of their time, but compared to those awful "Slap a Jap" things, it's hard to see the caricature as particularly offensive.

I think your analysis is correct on all points, and I appreciate you asking the question. We should always think about the effect our posts can have, even accidentally.

Neal Kristopher said...

I don't know if it was intended to be racist at the time and I'm sure some would be offended... as they would be at anything. I for one am glad you posted it because that is the freakiest hunchback octopus I've ever seen. Bravo.

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Michael May said...

Thanks for the feedback, guys.

And special thanks for the encouragement, too, Siskoid.

James Baker said...

I used to have some great AIRBOY reprints including this one. the main artists on Airboy were Japanese American; Bob Fujitani (signed FUJE) and also Fred Kida. I wonder how they fellt about this issue. It must have been tough

Michael May said...

I've read some of those Airboy reprints too and I know what you mean. I wish I could blame it all on the war and anger over Pearl Harbor, but those comics were equally horrible to the Chinese. I can only imagine what it must have been like as a Japanese American in those days. Ugh.


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