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Differences in presentation of white, black, Asian and oriental ethnic groups in British comic and magazine publications for children

By Pat Bidmead


My interest in comics began at about ten years of age. Reading difficulties and a dismissal\ud as stupid by one of my primary school teachers left me believing that reading was beyond my\ud capabilities. One morning when walking reluctantly to school I saw a comic lying in the\ud gutter. Attracted by the bright colours I picked it up, I could not read the title 'Dandy' but\ud the picture stories meant for the first time I could follow a narrative. Quickly I realised that\ud the pictorial content gave me clues to the dialogue presented in the 'bubbles'. Reading for\ud me was a possibility and I soon became addicted to a diet of comics. Unfortunately the racist\ud nature of British society was reflected in those comic strips. Brought up in an environment\ud where there were no visible black faces most of my racial education was from the society\ud around me and the comics I read. I did not realise how deeply ingrained the racial\ud conceptions were until I attempted to draw my own comic strip to amuse two small children\ud for whom I had frequent care. Without thinking I automatically reproduced the same kind of\ud stereotypes to be found in the comics I had read.\ud Soon racial inequalities were to become a central concern in my life. I became conscious of\ud the pervasiveness of racism in society and this consciousness increased as I embarked on a\ud mixed race marriage generally disapproved of in the white dominated society of the early\ud 1950s. My experience as a mother of mixed race children led me to join various anti-racist\ud groups and thus become interested in all aspects of racial injustice. A combination of factors\ud encouraged the undertaking of this research amongst them being, a teacher first, of young\ud children and later of adolescents. A further influence came from the literature I read which\ud encouraged me to write articles on the subject for such magazines as Roots and Youth in\ud society. As a consequence of my past experiences and these articles this research project took shape and I make no apology for the fact that feelings and experiences have entered into\ud the research process.\ud The pre-occupying concern of\ud this research is to\ud investigate\ud the degree of equality in\ud presentations of white, black, Asian and Oriental groups in comics and magazines for\ud children. The central aim is to locate any unjustifiable differences in the presentations.\ud Each of the Chapters in this study attempts to deal with a specific area, related to racism and\ud collectively they\ud attempt\ud to supply evidence to support an argument that presentation of\ud black group characters is mostly concerned with negative portrayals.\ud The opening chapter commences with a declaration of aims and objectives and proceeds\ud with a discussion of the nature of racism followed by theoretical approaches and the general\ud methodology available for analysing comic texts. A standard content analysis is adopted in\ud order to extract the necessary figures involved in the distribution of imagery across the\ud ethnic groups presented\ud in the comic literature. Without this preliminary exercise another\ud important objective of the study would be impossible, that is, to interpret the figures in a\ud more refined, qualitative manner in the hope that some of the subtle details of stereotyping\ud will emerge. Chapter Two reviews the historical development of comics and magazines and\ud the influence of this development on racial imagery. Chapter Three concentrates on the\ud construction of appropriate headings under which to place ethnic groups appearing in the\ud comics in order that they might be analysed by the use of\ud checklists\ud which draw on the\ud common usage of\ud stereotypes, present established checklists, and other literature for\ud children.\ud Chapters Four, Five, Six and Seven focus on the analysis of a number of specific aspects commencing with areas where black Asian\ud and\ud Oriental characters are included and\ud excluded. Chapter Five takes issue with the presentation of principal characters, while\ud chapter Six investigates the reality or otherwise of a number of racial myths. Chapter\ud Seven concerns itself with the distribution and nature of verbal and non-verbal contacts\ud between ethnic groups and Chapter Eight consists of a number of case studies using the\ud original visual comic material in an attempt to illustrate the nature of the racism within the\ud comic sample.\ud The final chapter is a review of the findings from the comics and magazines brought together\ud and conclusions drawn from the data to see if there are a significant number of unfair\ud differences in the presentations of white, black, Asian and Oriental groups. After a brief\ud summary of the major findings the final chapter discusses some of the conclusions and tries\ud to interpret these conclusions within a wide theoretical framework

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