In Defense of Franklin

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*Edited 12/24 to correct Hank Ketcham’s Name*

Lately, I found myself once again in a social media debate that long tires me: “Charles Shultz is a racist.”

Why does this tire me? Well, the only backup people have for this claim is a) an inaccurate anecdote from a comedian, either Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle, and b) a screenshot taken out of context. People seem to want to assume malicious intent of the man without knowing the whole story.

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The scene that make Tumblr kids cry

First of all, the screenshot in question is from the animated Thanksgiving special, from which Shultz had little input. Second, Those animated adaptions are the only exposure to anything Peanuts most people have. Third, Franklin is a product of the 1960s, yet he and the image he features in is being judged by the values of 2015 and pop culture osmosis. Very few have actually seen Franklin Armstrong in the comic let alone know his character history and Shultz’ well-documented reasons for creating him. If they want to criticize the character or his creator, some research would be appreciated.

A Little Backstory

Franklin Armstrong was created in 1968 at the insistence of a schoolteacher, Harriet Glickman, who felt the strip needed to keep up with the newly integrated society. Shultz was hesitant to do so at first for fear of unintentionally insulting his black friends and colleagues. In the end he went through with the suggestion.

In Franklin’s introductory strip, he meets Charlie Brown on the beach. The two exchange stories about their families and themselves, allowing a bit of humanity for Franklin in doing so.

Sequential strips reveal the backstory and personality Shultz invested for Franklin. We see which members of the gang we prefers to socialize with (Peppermint Patty, Marcie and Chuck) and whom he chooses to keep a distance (oh, Lucy).

Where Shultz Went Wrong

So he gave Franklin personality. Do I believe Shultz to be a saint?

Hell no.

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Minnesota’s already got the “saint” part covered.

As Shultz anticipated, Franklin’s interactions often had questionable intentions seen by 1960s standards. Too often, Its Patty who provides the equality lecture to Franklin, never the other way around.

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The hell?

In other panels, he’s seen off to the side of the group. But, again, this is the result of a white artist who doesn’t get input from the people he’s trying to represent. But Shultz did admit to being fearful of making such mistakes. In comparison, Shulz received criticisms for petty details such as having Franklin sit in front of Patty in the class but ignored them. I doubt the producers of the Animated Specials shared his feelings, leading to more unfortunate moments.

And as dubious as that is, Shultz still did a better job. Take this comparison: a few years later, Hank Ketcham of Dennis The Menace tried to ape Shultz’ success by drawing his own race relations cartoon. To call it an epic fail is putting it lightly:

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The Paula Deen of Cartoonists

Does that mean Franklin stands the test of time? Well, not anymore. The character was well needed to get media to include more minorities in their stories. However, overuse of this characterization by media up into the 1990s lead to the classic “token” black kid who has nothing more to his personality than a love for sports. Due to this development in media representation, Franklin is now lumped in with the archetype he unintentionally influenced.

To Be Frank

If anyone should have a problem with Franklin, it should be the sad fact that he’s becoming as outdated in 2015 as Ketcham’s blackface creature was in the 1970s. Nonetheless, Shultz did a noble thing for a middle aged white man in the 1960s. He fought criticisms to bring blacks on equal footing with whites. If anyone actually expected Shultz to straight up see the world with black people’s eyes and predict the future, then I say those people are reaching.

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Danse Macabre

Back in 2005 or 2006 I drew a cartoon for my College Newspaper making humorous light of the Columbine School Shootings. At the time, I didn’t give it to my editor, feeling it was in bad taste and still too soon for a society that was still recovering from an unusual tragedy. Fast forward almost 10 years (and a quickie cartoon) later, and I find my cartoon still relevant. I decided to redraw it, due to my artistic evolution, and to reflect the new circumstances. However the “joke” needed no changes. Ten years later. My cartoon probably reflects reality more now than it did back then.

 

How to Destroy A Government: The Comic

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 Included in this exporation into the deep web by YouTuber SomeOrdinaryGamers, is a CIA-sanctioned illustrated propaganda booklet for Nicaraguan citizens on how to sabatoge their country’s daily infastructure (Link). The actions rage from misdimeanor (scattering nails on a road) to major terrorist acts (building a molotov cocktail). I’m sure a nation in economic collapse due to minor inconveniences pushes it further into a dependance with wealthier nations.

Politics aside, can you imagine being the artist who had to illustrate that booklet? How do process what the a request like this from the CIA?
There must be a support group for propaganda artists somewhere.

Giving Props to Vintage Strips

I recall the day I was gifted a book of stamps commemorating classic comic strips, I became fascinated with vintage comic strips, specifically those pre-dating 1930:

Popeye, Krazy Kat, Little Orphan Annie, Toonerville Trolley, Little Nemo in Slumberland, Buster Brown, Katzenjammer Kids.

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Yep, these were the stamps.

Like spiritual descendants Peanuts and Garfield, most of these series were available at the time in printed anthologies. Others I found scattered online.  I loved seeing how much the comics reflected the values of the times then as they do now. Of course, many of these strips show their age by the second page (hey, that rhymed!), Thankfully, required notes in the back of the books explain the jokes that get lost to a modern reader.

These being American comics, I anticipated that racial/ethnic jokes would rear their awkward head, but I accepted that. I couldn’t be angry at jokes made 70 to 100 years ago. (I prefer to reserve that energy for Family Guy episodes and lazy comedians). Aside from that, there were moments in the strips that reminded you to be thankful your great grandparents survived those times.

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We all had that friend with smallpox. Right?……..Right?

Once I get passed the values dissonance, I saw what great imagination these artists used when they essentially had very little foundation to work with. They didn’t limit themselves (only the paper editors did). Once you look across time and see the human experience, you began to enjoy them. These strips are important historical pieces as they are good entertainment.

Some Value in VOGUE

My school’s online library just launched a Vogue magazine archive going back to 1892. Until the 1960s, fashion catalogues were primarily illustrated, serving pretty well for studying historical costume design and illustration conventions the progressing time periods. As a enthusiast of Victorian/Edwardian-period illustration style, this is a goldmine.

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Grounded for Rioting

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Like most of the US, Ive been following the Baltimore Uprising. What’s been on my mind is the odd public response to the mother who caught her son in the midst of the chaos and responded as a mother would. How was this different from a mother dragging her kid from a teen party? Or that episode of Sister Sister where Tia’s dad catches her on TV at a music festival gone wrong in Detroit? So much outrage over something that should make people laugh.

With Great Creativity comes Great Risk

By now I’m sure some of you have heard the news on the attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in which four cartoonists on staff lost their lives. The victims are pictured below.

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What triggered such a massacre? In a moment similar to that involving Sony Pictures and North Korea before Christmas, ISIS threatened to attack France in response to the publications’s cartoon featuring the group’s leader (pictured below).

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Being a cartoonist will never be easy.

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Before I make my point, allow me to talk about another cartoonist.

At the International Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta, one of the exhibits is dedicated to international human rights. As you walk toward the entrance of the exhibit, you’re graced with wall-to-wall photomural of people currently risking their lives doing what they can to fight for their basic rights around the world.

Among the individuals featured on the wall is cartoonist Harn Lay (pictured above), a former Burmese rebel soldier who fled to Thailand in 1988. He’s been on record to say that the Burmese government would imprison him for every cartoon he drew if he ever returned. Remember, Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a nation where free speech is on par with soviet- era Russia and current day North Korea. What does a cartoonist from a totalitarian nation have to do with the French bombing? Both involve cartoonists who’ve risked their lives to communicate through imagery, only the latter finally succumbed to that risk.

While the French Cartoonists in had little to fear from their government, they still faced the threat of retaliation from foreign groups and fellow citizens.

Something to think about for Americans drawing anti-police cartoons.