This is an issue that has been raised on my facebook wall, it’s important, it’s not an issue which is an easy one to either write about or cover. Firstly, I am not a person of colour, I am a very pale Irish man – the reason I am writing about this is because I have woken up to the lack of meaningful representation in the comic book industry for People of Colour.
This is a look back at the early years of representation of the comic book industry.
All Negro Comics
In 1947 a publishing company call All Negro Comics in Philadelphia created a comic book which was written solely by African-American writers and artists. The lead character of the first issue was Ace Harlem, a detective who was a highly capable, skillful detective in a city which appeared to be New York City, but was unnamed. He was passionate about justice, believing that it was similar to a karmic force, a constantly reiterated message to the readership was that if you embarked on a life of crime you would be caught and punished as a result of your actions. His arch nemesis was Charm Root, a green trenchcoat wearing criminal who stood out against the traditional zoot suited gangsters populating the panels opposing our hero.
Ace Harlem only featured in one issue of All Negro Comics but has recently (2015) been revived and has been renamed Ace Harlen, he’s still a touch no nonsense detective who operated out of King City, re-imagined by artist/writer Eric Lamont.
The success of this comic book series then spawned the Negro heroes title which printed historical stories featuring figures like Joe Lewis and George Washington Carver. In 1950 a further title appeared – Negro Romance which was noted in comic book history for creating a realistic portrayal of his coloured protagonists and eschewing the standard stereotypes who were being written at the time
Going further back to the 1930’s, the popular comic strip Mandrake the magician featured a character – Lothar (both these characters survived in the cartoon series of the early 1990’s Defenders of the Earth) . Lothar was a prince who passed up his chance to be king and instead aided Mandrake in his fight against evil. Lothar can be legitimately called the first person of colour who was a crime fighter in the comic genre. His outfit was frankly ridiculous – consisting of a fez and a leopard skin. In 1965 he was modernised by Fred Fredricks and his clothing changed, his speech was refined and he was more Mandrakes equal rather than the servile attitude that was hinted at in his previous incarnation. He is often accredited as being the world’s strongest man and lives up to that title.