Friday, May 19, 2006

Speaking of Allegorical Fecundity

My father, Douglas Akins, was a pioneering cartoonist "of color". In other words; a Negro who drew. I accidentally stumbled across some of his work on a site dedicated to early Black Cartoonists whose works were featured in newspapers with robust circulations. Surprisingly, George Herriman, the creator of Crazy Kat is "outed" as Brother who was "passing". It's rumored that he was told by Hearst to not be photographed with his hat off else the character of his hair (probably wavy) would betray his swarthy good looks and ancestry. Hey, I had brother to my Great, Great maternal Grandfather who COMPLETELY intergrated with White society in the 1920's after immigrating to the U.S.. At a recent family reunion, I met plenty of "blue-eyed" O'Meallys who didn't know they were of African descent.
I grew up in an artists' house, in the shadow of my Father, the Artist. Things became SO competitive by the time I was 19, I dropped out of college at the School of the Art Institute and joined the Air Force; just cause I needed to phuck something up. Several years later I landed my first real job as an illustrator in Advertising along Michigan Ave. I realize now that a lot of the tension between my Dad and I was there because, sadly, in the time he lived Black Folk couldn't do the things we do now professionally.
My father worked his entire career with the press at the lauded Chicago Defender. After his cartooning stint (although he would always contribute the occasional strip or editorial illo) he became the Defenders' Society Editor.
What's here, below, are images from something I had no idea existed. It's a wartime strip my dad created and drew (1942) featuring the Brown Bomber Joe Louis as an action hero. Ironically, fittingly, I came across these files while I was drawing the Bigby "War Stories" for "Fables" year before last.
Racism was so rife in those days, on all fronts, that I can't imagine what I would have done had I had to live in that shitty America. No lie, anyone, ANYONE who pines for the good old days is a fool, a fascist and probably eats children. These are the Great New Days. The Past Kisses Ass. My Aunt Henrietta, who's well into her 80's sets it straight,"The Good Old Days,...nothing good about them; bad refrigeration, bad medicine, unsafe cars and roads, racism, disease...nothing good on television."
Anyway, as far as Sgt. Joe goes, forgive the racist language if it's legible; but I'm pretty darn sure that that Imperial Japanese Officer had it coming (the clobbering, not the slur). Always be polite to the people whose asses you find yourself justifiably kicking (Hello, PETER).

Anywho, I'm just trying to get that Nixon image futher down the loaded page.

Here's some randomness.



Matt Sturges said...

I love the bagman with the birdie on his finger. You have to work this in someplace...

Fred Schiller said...

Because I’m famous for always missing the point, I’d like to get this straight. Are you saying the pressure that existed in your household stemmed from you having mad art skillz that your dad thought you were wasting—especially since you didn’t have to jump through the hoops that he did to get your stuff into print? The world was your oyster and you weren’t prying it open to get the pearl?

Do you think this was a problem for blacks/Negros/African Americans across the board in the 60s and 70s? Children of people who lived for years with a boot heel on their throats were suddenly given freedoms and opportunities (thanks to affirmative action and other factors) that their parents could only dream of. This must have been the breeding ground for insane amounts of pressure. What if the children didn’t want to go to college and become chemists or architects or whatever? Were they considered a disgrace if they didn’t take advantage of all the new options available to them for the first time?

I feel the need to visit my local library to do some reading on segregation and racism. I’m embarrassed to admit that most of what I know (or think I know) about the subject has been gleaned from movies and books (fiction). There’s a weird gap that took place during the 1940s and 50s. Prior to that, blacks/Negros/African Americans were painted as docile servants. Faceless cheap labor who kept to themselves, their own part of town, and were for the most part benign. They were second class citizens who were obviously inferior to their employers, yet they were trusted to care for their children and homes.

And then all that seemed to change suddenly blacks/Negros/African Americans became the enemy. Is it because they were fighting for rights? Because they wanted to be treated like humans, and heaven forbid, equals? Was this the span of time that blacks/Negros/African Americans started becoming ‘uppity’?

I really have to do some research because now I’m dying to know if the degree of segregation varied greatly from state to state. Were blacks/Negros/African Americans treated significantly different in Maine as compared to Georgia? How was the doctrine determined and communicated? How different were things up in Canada?

And here we are in 2006. Can a doughy Caucasian express his ignorance/curiosity about racism and segregation without causing anyone with a drop of black/Negro/African American blood in their veins to roll their eyes and shake their head in disbelief? Is it like jazz or impressionistic art; if you’ve got to ask you’ll never understand.

Is there a statute of limitations? Will the wrongdoings of my forefathers ever be forgiven? And while I’m on the subject, will I ever be able to bring up my German ancestry in a room full of Jews?

Talk about being born guilty.

Tony Akins said...

Well, first my don't have to say "Negro"; Black or African American will do. I personally like Afro-American but I guess the Reverend Jackson and I don't see eye-to-eye on that point ((muthafucka).
I like using "Negro" around my non-black friends because it wigs them out. They'll get a look on their faces like "Good Lord, Are we supposed to use "Negro" now? I can't keep up!!!"
If I have a kid I'm going to give him a good old fashioned American name; Negro. Who say's I can't be a traditionalist!
As fair as the pressure in the house I grews up in, was the pressure to achieve, to apply myself. This gave my dads' preaching on the importance of school and education an ironic cast as he never made it past the fourth grade; he was truly the self-made man. What caused a lot of bitterness in my Dad was the fact that he could not enjoy the freedoms I did. On the one hand he was proud of what I was able to do, but because our relationship was so competitve he couldn't acknowlege that I had done certain things on my own, without having him as a mentor. At one time, late in his life, which was early in my professional carreer, he was in the company of my studiomates and their families telling them that HE was the reason that I was such a skilled noodler. Now, I'll give the old man some credit, but that was a bit of a fib. Very little of our skillset, even today, overlaps. Of course he and I share plenty of traits...but we were so far apart in the generational sense; he was 20 years older than my mother.
So many factors of history play a part in our lives still. Racism phucks EVERYBODY up. It was hard for my parents to push my into a world that was opening up when things had been so, SO different for them. To this day, my Mother has concerns about how the parents of some of my friends accept people of color. Old fears die hard, I guess.
The odd thing about the Civil Rights Movement is that it opened doors, yes; but those doors swung both ways, if you catch my meaning; when colleges formerly prohiibited to Blacks opened to Blacks, Black Colleges (outstanding institutions of education!) began to suffer from flat enrollment. Still suffer in fact.
I understand that for Holocaust survivors who'd lost their young children in the camps, a tradition after the war of naming the post war births for the dead child became a very common practice. That's pressure!
I don't know Fred...the history of Racism in this country is compelling...but it's also distressing. It's wonderful to see those old chains slip away, but knowing what the chains were/are and how many people still don't realize they wear them (no matter what color they are) it's frustrating.
Yes, there were various degrees of segregation; different pedigrees of Jim Crow. There were Black communities that thrived separately below the Mason/Dixon. I can't remember the name of the town, it's in Oklahoma, but there the Blacks prospered until someone wondered why this was the fact; there was a riot and then the fledgling US Army Air Force was called in to BOMB the black areas. Little know thing, I guess. This is the only instance where American millitary aircraft, in anger, dropped ordinance on American soil. This was sometime in the late 20's because the whole incident was overshadowed by the Great Stock Market crash of '29.
man, a lot of Black Folk need to explore the subject they own damn selves. Don't feel poorly about being ignorant; curiosty is the beginning.
Yes, Matt...that's a nice birdie ;~)

Valarie J said...

Hey Tony,

Val here. Long time no chat, but Fred keeps me up to date on your life. Speaking of which, and I know I'm no matchmaker, but if you ever find youraself sigle, I have the most perfect amazing woman for you to meet. And no, don't get your hopes's not me. Ha!

Anyhow, after Fred typed his response he came to me for more info (You didn't know, but I went back to school and got degrees in History and Anthropology as well as Sociology). I gave him the pocket tour of Black America. He knows lotsmore now.

I think anyone who was a child of anyone who faced discrimination, inequality, and downright nastiness has a certain amount of pressure to succeed--to improve over one's forefathers. The other side of that coin is that those who came from great privilege are pressured to be as good as their forefathers, right?

Racism in this country is so deeply embedded, and has about 400 years of history to feed off of, that every step towards true equality among men and women is at heart a good idea. I also fully agree with your Aunt Henrietta--there were no "good old days," just old days. I teach my kids the only thing that makes sense to me in the light of my studies--that robots will take over the world and enslave all humans equally, so we had better get used to being considered the same. But seriously, folks, studies of DNA tell the story better than any history or sociology lesson-we are ONE race and ONE species with many variations in size, color, shape, etc. It's very hard to discriminate against your blood brother, and that's what we all share--the same blood, cells, DNA, call it what you will.

As to parental pressure, so much of what your father must have felt was inherent only in his particular set of circumstances and emotional make-up that it would be too simplistic to try to label it anything ion particular. All our actions in our lives are driven from within our own heads, and from our perceptions of sensory input received from outside our body and mind. These factors are so numerous and individual that it is hard to understand anyone's motivations, although we will all die in the pursuit of just that information.

Ya know?

L:ove your art, always adored you, and by the way, let me talk to you about writing and/or illustrating for the educational curriculum my company is developing--we are trying to revolutionize the process of learning. That is all.


Tony Akins said...

Well, I'm full of shit. I just googled and found NOTHING about the riots that even REMOTELY resemble what I told you. In fact what I was refering to was the Tulsa, OK Riot of 1921. Shameful bit of history, nonetheless. But no airplanes. Maybe that was somewhere else, or just plain wrong.

Fred Schiller said...

After admitting to Valarie that most of what I knew about segregation in the 1930s came from watching the Little Rascals shorts (the fat kid and the one with the cowlick seemed to treat Buckwheat as an equal) she sat me down and gave me a two hour overview of Black History in America from the 1800s to Today.

I'm sure there was a time when I felt more stupid in my life, but I'm not sure when.

Anyway, let's change the subject and talk about something nice that no one has to feel uncomfortable about. Like...bunnies.

TMALO70 said...

...Bunnies are delicious...