Buster and Bart: A Century Apart

In 1899, comic artist RF Outcault created The Yellow Kid, a working class ethnic child who pulled cons, for the Hearst papers. Not long after that series ended, Outcault followed up with a similarly ill-behaved rich WASP named Buster Brown.

There was no concrete evidence of Outcault’s intentions with the strip. The fact that he was forced to create the series due to reader backlash to his Yellow Kid series suggests otherwise. I’m certain under the humor directed to an upper class audience, there also lies a hidden mockery of said audiences’ values and behavior.

One strip comes to mind when, as the title says, Buster decides to throw himself a surprise party and Mrs. Brown is greeted at the door by gift-bearing tykes.

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It’s natural to assume Mrs. Brown would just tell the children to go home, right? Wrong. Instead, she invites them in and quietly rushes her servants to order party refreshments as soon as possible without the guests noticing.

Let’s not be mistaken. Buster Brown has pulled some pretty bad pranks for a boy of his era: Cutting a girl’s hair. Tricking a strange man into walking in on his mother in a changing room on the beach. Faking his own death.

 

Yes, you heard the last one right.
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However, the “surprise party” prank pisses his mother off so much that by the second to last panel she threatens to send him to a reform school, her most serious threat in the whole series.

Do you know what they would do to pretty faces like yours?

Now, from the modern perspective, only two trains of thought generate from this story: “Buster’s mother is an idiot” or maybe “priorities of the rich were different back then.” A nearly century old comic strip is bound to create values dissonance for 21st century readers, and does so often. This strip in particular, however, does not seem so foreign in time. Here’s why:

 

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MARGE: “Bart, are ALL these children friends of yours?

BART: “Friends and well-wishers. Yes”

 

It would take the passage of that very century for another similar situation on a 1994 episode of The Simpsons  where the eponymous family gets a pool. Every kid in town gets wind of the news and it’s not long before the Simpson’s house is flooded with swim-suited children. One scene that has always caught my attention (and funny bone) involves Marge questioning Bart about his unusually large circle of friends, including a trio of boys who look too old to be in high school walking by as they address Marge by another name and greeting another kid in the kitchen as Bart.

Back in real life, if your mother was anything like mine, she’d never let any kid I invited over into the house unless she knew that kid’s parents personally. To see Buster’s mother frantically accommodating a spontaneous children’s party may seem silly to our modern eyes, but to be honest not much has changed. The mediums are different, the socioeconomic statuses of the families are different. There’s no argument that Buster Brown’s family would have a much different set of values than the Simpsons (the latter family has a much more equal relationship with the ethnic whites and blacks than the former, after all). It seems however, that the mothers of both mediums remind us that regardless of class and time, there will always be that one dimwitted mother who goes against common sense when it comes to her children’s affairs. Timeless.

“I look like Buster Brown……whomever that is.”

Will The Real Royals Please Stand Up?

Royal portrait artists were the photoshop of their day: erasing any and all flaws of their subject. Take King George IV and Queen Caroline for instance:

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On the other end, cartoonists of the day exaggerated the flaws for comedic or commentary purpose, as seen with our lovely royal couple below.

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If not for these opposing factions, we would never get any accurate representations of people.

The Material Is Strong With This One.

THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS.

 

A week has passed since I hopped in line to get a fresh seat for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which was NOT easy, thanks repeat viewers). Although I consider myself a casual fan of the firm series, it was still on my mind after New Year’s Day. Started with a sketch and developed from there.

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.

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.

 

Little Orphan Cliffhanger

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While I’m sad that Little Orphan Annie no longer graces the Newspaper page, I do feel a sense of content closure for the series. After 86 years and several ghost writers and artists taking over for original creator Harold Gray, it couldn’t have lasted much longer than a Soap Opera would on television. Besides, 86 years of strips is a lot to compile into book collections. Imagined if it kept going on past a century?  If only they hadn’t ended it on an emotionally sensitive cliffhanger. 

Little Girl’s Best Friend

Everytime I watch this video of little girl reacting to her surprise puppy, it feels like watching a window into my own memory. I was also a preteen in private school when my lil guy came into my life. This is my 4th year without him and I don’t regret any moment he was there. I understand why that girl cried. Dogs are worth the tears.

Happy National Dog Day.

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