July 15, 2010

"Tack's Cartoon Tips."

A 1923 instructional booklet, in Flickr sideshow form. It plays fast, so note the pause button. It's interesting to see how some things that are really offensive by current standards —  at pages 6 and 9 — are presented casually as if they are just part of the silly circus of everyday life.

22 comments:

bagoh20 said...

I don't know, but I wonder if blacks were as offended by such depictions back then to the degree they seem to be today.

It's not like the white cartoon figures were accurate or flattering either.

Hoosier Daddy said...

It's interesting to see how some things that are really offensive by current standards

Well when Hallmark has to remove a graduation card because some dolts were offended at the term 'black holes' its not so much interesting but bizzare.

edutcher said...

I love the Scotch, British, French, etc. types. Note that the Irish and Germans are still second class (one angry, the other clueless), along with the Jew (untitled next to the razor, but pretty obvious) and the Orientals. Also the Mexican and Cuban, as opposed to the Spaniard.

bagoh20 said...

I don't know, but I wonder if blacks were as offended by such depictions back then to the degree they seem to be today.

It's not like the white cartoon figures were accurate or flattering either.


If you weren't a WASP and preferrably native born, you didn't count. Some people here still think that way.

PS My mother, who was in her teens during the 20s, remembered that all the ethnics, of which she was one, used to say of the KKK, which was having a huge renaissance at the time, it stood for Kikes, Katholics, and Koloreds.

Richard Dolan said...

"It's interesting to see how some things that are really offensive by current standards — at pages 6 and 9 — are presented casually as if they are just part of the silly circus of everyday life."

Of course, in 1923, they were "just part of the silly circus of everyday life." At first, this blogpost seemed a bizarre exercise in ahistorical commentary. After all, many other "part[s] of the silly circus of everyday life" that were accepted as the norm in 1923 are far more offensive by current standards than this little manual on drawing cartoons. You could say the same about the 1950s (anyone remember Amos 'N Andy?).

Perhaps the real point was only to underscore how different things were in 1923, a time that in other respects was recognizably modern even by "current standards." It was the heyday of Picasso, the surrealists, Joyce, Elliot, Stravinsky and Berg, to name a few. But the revolution in racial attitudes still had a long way to go.

Synova said...

I couldn't say if blacks were offended at the time or not, (checking out contemporary cartoons meant for a black audience might shed some light) but I think that the depiction (like the words colored or negro instead of black) became a symbol of the racism of the time regardless.

William said...

Only the Asian caricature seems more designed to inspire malice than ridicule. Compared to the WWI and WWII propaganda posters of both sides this seems pretty tame. The Slavs and the Italians don't have their own caricature. Is oblivion the sincerest form of discrimination?

Hoosier Daddy said...

I couldn't say if blacks were offended at the time or not

My guess is that based upon the way blacks were treated in 1923, they had a lot of bigger issues to worry about than a cartoon ;-)

Skookum John said...

The simian smirking Irishman with a button nose, derby hat and red chinstrap beard, is the only rather offensive one of these stereotypes that still gets used today.

I would not have recognized the Frenchman at all.

Mike said...

Isn't the appeal of the medium that cartoonists use ridiculously exaggerated features to convey a more or less complete story in a very small space? Cartoonists sacrifice nuance and sensitivity for an expedient and effective story.

I've never understood why depictions that exaggerate a person’s features are so offensive anyway. What’s most confounding about it is that it’s not the exaggerating of ethnic features that people are offended by – not really.

You might argue that it could seem more derogatory from an ethnic minority’s point of view; but I’ve lived in Japan, where Westerners (especially Anglos) are portrayed as barbarians in cartoons all the time – big, fat, white, hairy barbarians. I was in the vast minority in Japan, but I wasn’t offended by those depictions.

I think it might have to do with cultural confidence – I wasn’t offended because ultimately I didn’t care what they thought. My barbarian arrogance shielded me.

Just like the “controversy” a couple years ago when the Spanish basketball team took a picture pulling the corners of their eyes to look slant-eyed. The US and European press kept saying how awful and horrible and oh stars! how racist it was, but the Chinese couldn’t have cared any less.

Old Dad said...

My dad grew up during the Depression in a mill/ mining town south of Pittsburg. In his neighborhood almost everyone was first generation. Most families were eastern European or Italian.

The English, Irish, and Germans were "rich" and lived on the other side of the tracks. Bigotry was pervasive and open. Kids called each other bohunk, wop, pollock, etc. The prejudice was edgy and real, but oddly, not too much of a barrier to normal human interaction. The fights usually weren't ethnically based. The tribes played together, went to school together, partied together, worked together. There was some intermarrying, but the immigrant parent generation frowned on that.

Decades later my dad took us "home" for a visit. He ran into an old neighborhood friend, recognized him immediately,eagerly shook his hand and called him a "dirty greaseball" to his face. The distinguished Italian gentleman laughed and called by dad a pollock--even though he was Lithuanian. That was in the late 1960s.

edutcher said...

Old Dad said...

My dad grew up during the Depression in a mill/ mining town south of Pittsburg. In his neighborhood almost everyone was first generation. Most families were eastern European or Italian.

The English, Irish, and Germans were "rich" and lived on the other side of the tracks. Bigotry was pervasive and open. Kids called each other bohunk, wop, pollock, etc. The prejudice was edgy and real, but oddly, not too much of a barrier to normal human interaction. The fights usually weren't ethnically based. The tribes played together, went to school together, partied together, worked together. There was some intermarrying, but the immigrant parent generation frowned on that.


Be interested to know the era. The Micks were usually on the wrong side of the tracks; the Germans on the cusp.

"The prejudice was edgy and real, but oddly, not too much of a barrier to normal human interaction. The fights usually weren't ethnically based."

Except for the English (and maybe the Germans), they were all probably Catholic, so they had to face Mother Superior if they started something on any lines not immediately personal.

Also think you mean Polack, instead of pollock, which is a fish (then again).

Quasimodo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ricpic said...

What's offensive? I didn't see anything offensive. Why must the easily offended be the arbiters of all things?

TMink said...

It seems to me that the exaggerated black of the folks from Africa is no more distorted than the white as the page of paper white used to depict the Europeans.

Trey

AC245 said...

Oliphant and Danziger were using Tack's tips for their WaPo and NYT cartoons as recently as 2004.

That was okay, though, because their racism was directed at a black Republican woman and thus wasn't "really offensive".

(I don't seem to recall the NAACP passing any resolutions about them, either.)

bagoh20 said...

"(like the words colored or negro instead of black) became a symbol of the racism of the time regardless."

A symbol to us today, but at the time in my western PA home, everyone including the Blacks called Blacks "colored". The term Black would probably have been offensive. It became popular later when Blacks decided they wanted to stand out and have pride rather than just fit in.

In the mid 70's my senior high school class had 3 blacks out of 1000 students. The only black girl in the class was elected home coming queen. Whites have a long history now of good will toward Blacks. I wish it was more recognized and appreciated. It's a shame to waste such a bridge.

Anglelyne said...

edutcher: If you weren't a WASP and preferrably native born, you didn't count. Some people here still think that way.

Wow, WASPs preferred their own, took their own ways as normal, and made fun of outsiders? Bad WASPs, bad! I'm sure my non-WASP ancestors never engaged in such heinous mockery and exclusiveness themselves.

Ha, actually they did! But that was different! Now, WASPs looking down on them - oh, the humanity!

Fortunately, in those days the public schools in their immigrant neighborhoods had serious academic standards, so they had to pour their energies into actual learning rather than diddling away their days in festering resentment of heavily theorized "WASP privilege", or sending death threats to cartoonists.

Youngblood said...

Mike,

Your point about exaggeration in cartooning is correct, but the iconic "darky" was never simply an exaggeration of a person with African features -- it was something different.

Take a look at page 9 in the cartooning guide, for example. You could put the monocled Englishman, the Jew, and the Turk together in a scene, and they would all be recognizably human, while the darky-style characters would not be.

This was true even in comic book art, where less emphasis was placed on comedic exaggeration.

Blacks were never portrayed in the same style as the other human characters in a strip or title, they were always portrayed as inhuman monkey-like clownish things.

This isn't purely an American thing. The iconic darky is alive and well in Japan (for example Mr. Popo from Dragon Ball Z), Mexico (Memin Pinguin), and Belgium (Tintin in the Congo).

The important thing here is that we're not simply talking about exaggeration here.

Youngblood said...

AC245,

To be fair, those Condoleeza Rice cartoons look nothing at all like the iconic darky. They're an example of what Mike was talking about -- exaggerating someone's facial features for comedic effect.

bagoh20 said...

Youngblood,

I went back and looked at it and I just don't see what you're saying. On page 9 the Irish and Orients look more inhuman than the "Dark Town Celebrities", and the Spanish are the same as the Blacks with less ink.

I think the parody is pretty evenhanded. The Blacks are overly dark, but that is the primary characteristic of the type being exaggerated.

I think we have been indoctrinated our whole lives with a narrative saying that in earlier ages everyone was a cruel racist always trying to disparage minorities at every opportunity, when often it was just a different sensitivity than today.

If a cartoon today managed to parody all races with the exact same level of distortion as the others it would still be seen as racist and unfair, despite being exactly fair and equal.

We are over sensitive to some groups, which is a soft racism itself, assuming they can't handle parody like WE can.

c3 said...

You might appreciate this music video for its animation

Youngblood said...

Bagoh,

What's your take on the Captain Marvel cover that I linked to? The one where the white character was portrayed as distinctly human, while the black character was portrayed as a monkey-like clown?

You'll not that the style of drawing employed for the black character was essentially the same as Tack used here.

This is the point that I was getting at: whatever style was employed for the white characters in a comic, the black characters would be drawn in the same was -- small monkey-like ears, lips so large that they made an animal like muzzle. No matter how the eyes of the white characters were drawn, the eyes of the black characters would be drawn in a different style.

You can believe this or not, but it's how things actually were. Anyone who has a degree of familiarity with old time cartooning knows this. I've linked to an example in which, even though the style is more naturalistic, the iconic "darky" style was employed. There are plenty of others -- Google can probably help you find them.