Like all forms of populist art, comic books have had the unwanted fate of growing up in front of our eyes, constantly shedding its skin and showing off its warts and bad haircuts. And there's no worse wart than that of racism. Seeing your favorite superheroes toss around racial epithets and fight enemies based on their color and heritage isn’t fun, and in some cases it genuinely hurts to see a few of the panels that we’ve included on this list – but we think it’s important to see where we come from and far we’ve progressed since The Shadow was tooling around with an awful caricature of Black culture. This list of the most racist moments in the history of comics should be seen as a historical marker to be learned from, not an unsightly blemish to avoid at all costs.
Living in the 21st century (as one does), it’s hard to contextualize the only representation of non-Caucasian races being either sneering, cowardly villains, or as lazily slapped together distortions of a culture, but somehow almost every comic book writer from 1930 to the late '60s managed to do it. And even some modern comic artists still strive to create racist garbage, and yes, we’ve collected them all on this list of racist moments from comic book history.
The Comics Code Censored Judgment Day
At the height of its powers, The Comics Code committed a glut of sins against art. From the early '50s to the mid '90s, the Comics Code Authority presided over the content of all mainstream comic books, censoring content as they saw fit in order to protect the impressionable young eyes that might see it. The biggest publisher that the CCA put out of business was EC Comics, the infamously pulpy company behind titles like Tales from the Crypt. The Authority’s biggest crime when it came to EC wasn’t its blanket refusal to approve anything that allowed their horror comics to be horrific (gore, monsters, violence, unhappy endings), but the time Comics Code wanted them to recolor a character to be white instead of Black.
Judgment Day was a pivotal comic strip of its era, which handled issues of racial prejudice so well it belied its original publication date of 1953. When EC sought to reprint the story in 1956 – after the formation of the CCA - the Authority demanded that they change the story’s end panel where it’s revealed the astronaut protagonist was a Black man. They had no reasoning beyond their own prejudice, seemingly unaware of the irony considering the story he featured in. The response of writer Al Feldstein and publisher Bill Gaines was, literally, "F*** you!" When EC printed the story unaltered, it turned out to be the last comic they ever published before going bankrupt.
Should we really be shocked that a blonde-haired white kid was ignorant towards other cultures? In states, we weren't inundated with the Tintin mythos the way that our brethren from across the pond were. Maybe it's because we have the ability to look at the Tintin comics with fresh, adult eyes, but it seems like Georges Remi (the creator of Tintin) is a wee bit prejudiced against anyone with a little extra melanin in their skin. At one point in Tintin in the Congo, a Congolese woman bows in front of Tintin and proclaims “White man very great. White mister is big juju man."As eye rollingly bad as that is, the book serves as a gateway into the way that information was disseminated in the early 20th century. The misconceptions of racial differences were not only bred into people, but they believed to be gospel. And with artists like Remi spreading this misinformation, generations of children grew up believing in the myth of the noble savage. We understand that Remi couldn't have hopped on Google to get a glimpse of the language of the Congolese, but he could have treated his characters like human beings.
The Young Allies
Launched in the summer of 1941, The Young Allies were a team of children led by Bucky and Toro, the sidekicks of Captain America and the Human Torch. Thus creating a team the most useless team of sidekicks until Scrappy Doo and Yabba Doo got together in the '80s. The four other useless members of the YA were Knuckles the wildcard, Geoffrey the nerd, a fat kid named Tubby, and every offensive Black stereotype rolled into one called Whitewash Jones. Offended yet? No? Well what if we linked to a few panels of Whitewash Jones's greatest hits? If you'll excuse, we're going to go barf after reading all of those panels.
Green Lantern His Pal PiefacePhoto: DC ComicsBeginning in the 60s, Hal Jordan kept a few friends around that knew his secret, one of them was an ace mechanic (who happens to be from Alaska) named Thomas Kalmaku. Or maybe you know him by his nickname, Pieface. Ugh. Hal tries to explain it away by tying the "eskimo" to "eskimo pie," but even if we lived in a world where "pieface" wasn't already an established slur, it's not exactly endearing when you give someone a nickname based on their background and combine it with a part of the body. It's like calling someone from Mexico Taco Teeth - it's ignorant and a waste of brain cells.