Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Darwin, Aristotle and Mike

Mike has the best toy collection of anyone I know, and all us cartoonists collect toys. He categorizes them carefully too... which is very fun to look at but it's also instructive.When you see a variation on a theme it inspires you to vary your own themes and strive to evolve your style and avoid genericism.
You might think there is only one generic cartoon Indian design, but here are a whole pile of variations on a type, which is just like real life.
Knowing the difference between a general category and a specific instance of it is the key to understanding just about anything better.

Aristotle and Mike are 2 similar types - people who like to classify or categorize, and then collect tons of variations within the category to compare, contrast and see the limits of variation. It's the key to invention.



Darwin used Aristotle's classification system and figured out how evolution worked by comparing degrees of variation from general wider plans.

Classification is a wonderful observational tool. Maybe you can be the next Darwin, just by learning the same thinking process Mike, Charles and Aristotle use.
For example, every one of these Indians (like every one of every race or wider - of every species) shares some general traits that separate them from other toys. They also share a trait put there by the artists... they are all fun to look at, they have appeal and humor. This is a trait missing from much of modern art, entertainment and culture.

But look closer at at a group of individuals and you will find all kinds of differences between them. Some individuals are closer in design to others; some are farther apart.

If they become so far apart that it gets harder to see common general traits, then they become part of a wider group. The farther apart they are, the bigger the group category or class.
Indians are part of the larger group (species) of humans which belong to the primate order, the class of mammals, the phyla of chordates (animals with backbones), the kingdom of animals and then life itself. The farther back you stand, the more general the groups become.

The closer you look at the groups, the more specific the groups become. The generic idea of Indian can be broken down into tribes, and location.
http://www.mygenealogist.com/native-american-genealogy.htm South American Indians share some general visual traits with Eskimos and other Indian groups in between, but less with them than with closer groups.
And you can look closer and closer until you finally get right down to the individual -which animation rarely does.

All these Native Americans share some obvious broad general traits-wide high and angular cheekbones and a very specific kind of nose that's widest at the bottom and pointed downward.

Animated cartoons tend to be very general or "generic". Even more general than the wider group of cartoon art, which includes comic strips, comic books, magazine cartoons and even cartoon toys.
Animated cartoons by their nature have to be fairly simple so you can do a lot of drawings in a reasonable amount of time.

The simpler your drawings, the less individual details you have to vary. That's a reason Disney tends to reuse character designs over and over again. The other reason is of course, conservatism. The more conservative you are, the less you like specific variations. You like to leave things alone.
Personally, as everyone who reads this blog knows, I hate generic - BUT!...I find it useful. Principles are general tools that are useful to all skills. They give us more control and (if we so choose) variation over what we wish to create.

Just how specific you are depends upon what level of generality you stop creating at.

I don't go for simple stereotypes of any type of character, human or animal. I find them boring. But in order to create specific characters well, you have to be honest and observant enough to see how things look in general first - THEN you can do specific variations.

These toy sculptures show that you can have a wide variety of individual designs, even within a general type.

I think modern political correctness has confused "classification" with "stereotypes" and stereotypes with "evil". All life is organized by traits in common on different levels. Humans even organize themselves on purpose into general stereotypes - like Democrats and Republicans.

Today's democrats think the very idea of observing shared traits in any group of humans means you hate that group - but they get furious if you personally vary from any of the attitudes of their own group beliefs. I am completely baffled by this trendy doctrine. People are too eager to look for things to be offended by today.

When I was a kid, there was much diversity in my neighborhood and everyone recognized it but was not particularly offended by knowing it. I remember being punched in the face once for being a public school kid (which generally meant protestant). I wasn't offended by being stereotyped as a square secular kid. I was offended by the fist crushing my nose, though. And I still had lots of friends from the "Catholic School".

Generalities about my neighborhood when I was a kid: There were 3 schools within 2 blocks of each other. The Public School, The Catholic School and The French School.
The Catholic kids were mostly Italian and were tougher than us. They grew up quicker-they had mustaches and B.O. when they were 12 and looked like men in wrinkly turtlenecks and corduroy pants to us, which we thought was hilarious and frightening. We looked like sissies to them. The English Speaking Catholics - especially Italians - tended to hang around in gangs. Not well organized murderous gangs like today's. These were kids from 8 years old to like...12 or 13. They liked trouble and fought a lot. They had their own unique group gestures, expressions and attitudes - yet within the obvious and funny stereotype, they varied widely.

All the Italian kids wore pointy shoes, which they were ashamed of and everyone else made fun of them. Then they would chase us and teach us what the pointy shoes were for.

The French kids had their own stereotypical types and behaviors. The also saw ours and made fun of them. Everyone basically made fun of everyone else. No one was offended. There were occasional fights, but not too many serious ones. It was all very interesting, colorful, fun and scary. It taught most people growing up realities about social life. All from just natural observation using the faculties that separate humans from animals.

Good cartoonists know the difference between being observant and being intolerant. 2 completely unrelated things.

To be an observant artist you have to be able to see broad categories of things (including people). You have to be able to see common traits; in fact you can't help it, your eyes are more developed than the average person- but you also can benefit greatly by seeing the amount of possible variations within a class. You have to have a wide scope of observational faculties. From far away to very close.

Looking at all the possibilities of variation within the group of toy Indians here, you can see a lot of leeway for individual characters and creative expression.

These are all good sculptures and very true and observant to the general traits of their subject. Yet they are all different.

Why Chief Wahoo is Smiling


This Nutty Mad Indian looks like Mike Pataki!
Here's an Indian that looks like the one in that Art Davis Porky Pig cartoon, "Nothing But The Tooth".

Mike sometimes categorizes his toys by what kind of toys they are too. His bobble head collection is amazing! So much better than modern bobble-heads. Look how accurately the sculptor above captured the general features of the Aboriginal Canadians! Even the almond shaped, slightly slanted eyes.Extra Treats:

It seems like other countries don't have the same politically-correct hangups we have in the decadent west. I hope PC blinders disappear from our world soon so cartoonists can be free, creative observant and fun again!

Doesn't this mask above look like the group called "cartoon-writers"?

It's a good thing there are still open minded fellows like Mike to preserve our great creative and observant past.


SoleilSmile said...

Taxonomy is the word you are looking for in regards to Darwin and Aristotle's classification. Here's the breakdown on my writers site if you're interested:

Also, if we are going to be creative and observant, we need to keep respect of the cultures we are being creative and observant of. As an African-American, I NEVER want to see a thick white or red-lipped pink-a-ninny design AGAIN.

Anonymous said...

Well put!

hulk27 said...

Hey john

It not the political correctness that make a caricature of a particular group offensive, it's the traits that the artist choose to interpreted and distort making it look ugly and unappealing that the gripe. Take for instants the mammy dolls they show a generalization of black women in particular black mother and grandmother that were either slaves care-taker s or house keeper, cartoonist of that particular period painted them as idiotic and gross looking. These artists choose to show the ugliness of the general group. Women of color range from different shapes and sizes from the lightest skin to the darkest, different hair texture and a whole host of feature that that stand out and make them unique, I can under stand what your taking about when it comes to observation and making character s fun but when you pick characterization that are reminder of how a group might finds you unattractive or inferior to another group then that when people get offended. Take the characterization of the Caucasian for example, the generalization of the Caucasian features tend to be very tame except in a spumco cartoon and not as distorted and unflattering as the other races there no real generalization of one or two particularly unattractive feature to define this massively bland group (straight line for mouths great hair and colored eyes, come on! They are all pretty, even the unattractive ones) or maybe the other groups are just to sensitive, to bad we can't walk a mile in another groups shoes. It seem as if most cartoon of Caucasian seem to be designed a tad more towards appealing design never really generalizing or finding a trait that encapsulates the groups ugliness for example look at how, African American cartoons are designed, big lips, dark skin, high cheek bones sloped, foreheads suggesting a general stupidness, this seemed to be what most cartoonist of the past observed, where as my observation would have been a bit different broad shoulder a nobleness to their stature almond shape eyes and cool ass hair! The truth is beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In closing all I'm saying is interesting characterization of a group doesn’t have to be a spot light of what the cartoonist find undesirable and if that the case show the gambit of what makes up that particular group sure you got the lazy blacks, the drug dealers, the pimps, the hoes, and what every other stereotype we cartoonist think are funny but you also got the dad the mom the pastor, the businessman, the doctors, the athlete s, DJ, artist, Goths, and a whole host of other personalities that make up that group so I don't think all people here in America are just sensitive, but you have to admit we have a bit of an ugly history interms of classification of another group and it has hardly been in the vein of innocent joshing.

John love your work and your dissection of the cartoon and animation craft you have definitely inspired me as a cartoonist and I will always respect your thoughts but as a African American cartoonist, I got a bit of a deferent view on the characterization of ethnic groups. It funny when I tried my hand at web comics people where saying that my character didn't look like a African American because he had green eyes, red hair and light skin which I would respond by saying my grand mother and sister have red hair and my brother in-law has green eyes and light skin what generalizes a group is a bit different today then the yester years as group get harder and harder to generalize. I hope I made some since in all my rambling.

Keep up the good work.

Matt Taylor said...

This is a great post and hopefully gets some heads on straight. All this modern banter on cartoons from the past, assuming them to be offensive. I've always thought that was a bunch of crap.

I luckily got to see Speedy Gonzalez on tv as a kid before he got taken out. I never saw him as offensive and it didn't teach me to be intolerant. So how about all these jerks who take out cartoons for being what they think is offensive?

They have the problem of being the most intolerant group around. A lot of people most likely didn't see Speedy as a bad thing until they had to bring that to everyones attention. To me that's more harmful than the cartoon itself. The cartoon didn't teach racism, they did.

I once had a teacher tell me she wouldn't show a film my friends and I did because she thought we were acting "mentally challenged" in it. We thought we were just acting like children. So the problem really is her view and how she thinks retards act.

These cartoon slayers fit the same case. They see Speedy as offensive and then create the problem. Myself and many other like minds saw Speedy as a mouse who happened to live in Latin America. The artists must have visited Latin America, thought it was cool and went through all the effort to convey what they observed and liked and cared about in a few 7 minute cartoons.

So here we are in an age where Speedy and other cartoons are offensive all of a sudden. Messing with these cartoons just sends society backwards. So thanks John K for bringing us forward to 21st century knowledge.

Chloe Cumming said...

John I LOVE this post! Thank you for putting it together, must have taken ages.

Generics and specifics are such important concepts I think.

Not all generalizations are evil. They are necessary if you want to be honest about reality.

You're dead on re democrats being anti-honesty in this regard.

People don't seem able to cope with the complexity of both generic and specific truths being valid simultaneously.

I get such a kick out of observing ethnic facial category traits, but I don't feel like I'm allowed to express that in words. I mean, I feel slightly more at liberty to express it in pictures, but then I don't have to get my pictures past animation executives.

And I think in cartoons there are such such good generic categories already set up for us to play with, it seems stupidly disadvantageous to ignore them... like the Preston Blair squirrel or whatever... the 'average', the beautiful proportions have been calculated for us... but education in generics doesn't prohibit you from becoming specific. It gives you a centre to work from.

Man-Child said...

This makes me sad that in todays animation every human is depicted the same. More than likely it's a lifeless shell with minimal features and the only way to tell the ethnicity is in minor changes of skin tone or clothing.

Louise Smythe said...

I agree. It's so frustrating these days when PC stuff is planted in your brain. When I'm drawing people of different races, I get concerned about being "offensive" for staying true to their physical traits, especially when it comes to cartoon/caricature stuff like this. Thanks for this post.

craigp said...

isn't it evil and immoral to draw minorites all together? that means you hate them right?
it's funny how there are some (not all) rappers who seems to walking self parodies of black people without any sense of irony and that's fine but showing any kind of image of the same thing is deemed immediately offensive.

growing up nickelodeon reran loony tunes cartoons every night and actually played Boscko cartoons in regular rotation. i just thought those were really fun well made, inspired cartoons but apparently that must mean that i was an ignorant hate-filled child.

Bugs said...

How out of touch are you people?
It's the 21st century, and you're willingly, eagerly, praising imagery that has been deemed racist for the past thirty years. Whether the imagery is in the form of a toy or a drawing makes no difference. If you're not an American Indian, you can have no idea about how offensive these images are. And don't try to pass off your obvious prejudices as "artistic commentary." Your post is, rather, a sad commentary about your lack of enlightenment and lack of respect for cultures and races other than your own. Grow up and get a pair!

Hurricane Mitch said...

Um.. Don't you mean Native Americans?

But seriously, excellent post. I sometimes wonder if you get any sleep. Your posts are so well written and you have so much supporting artwork. Do you have a team of researchers, or just an endless supply of caffeine?

Paul John said...

Great post, John.

I absolutely agree with you about the need for unadulterated artistic observation. I think traveling really helps to develop the skill of observation to take one out of his/her element. In regards to the generalization = evil thing, I think people’s (Americans specifically) reluctance to generalize things partially stems from the fine line we tread between obsessively preserving one’s culture (overrated in my book) and wanting to be viewed (not treated mind you) equally. Instead of celebrating our similarities while observing our differences many people tend to become extremely conservative leading to racism (preserving culture) or the other extreme who would like nothing more than for everyone to be blind (viewed equally). Hopefully, some day the majority of the human race will become intelligent enough to find a balance between the two. But I’m not going to hold my breath. In the meantime, all we can do is to use humor to show the absurdity of it all.

Rodrigo said...

Hey John,

I can't recall if I've posted this link before, but I think you'd find it amusing.


Ryan Hasse said...

This is a great read.

Frankly I think all the PC bullshit is more racist than recognizing the diversity in the first place and a lot of people that I've talked to whom are Black, Mexican, or otherwise agree. When I was a little kid I had a group of Black kids tell me flat out that they found the words "African American" more offensive than being called Black. This is furthered by the fact that while I was doing a charicature in small office for construction employment of a Black man across the small room, another man that was a friend of his came and sat by me and not only thought it was great but told me to push it even further. By the end of the day (seeing as my friend and I were the only white people there) they'd all started making jokes about me being a NARC and that they'd have to watch it in case I did police sketches of anyone else... it was great fun, but you try and pull this humor out into larger crowds and there is an uproar for some reason.

Not to mention that a lot of "PC" cartoons draw everyone with the same features (White), just with different color skin. Specifically, if you've seen the lame Doctor Rabbit cartoons at all... that cartoon was so all over the place that it wasn't even sure how to be PC. There was one point the rabbit character goes to Spain and meets a little Mexican girl speaking Mexican Spanish there. Efforts to remain PC create a whole new kind of racism.

Mr. Semaj said...

Good arguments, and yes, there needs to be a clear distinction between a caricature based from harmless observation and stereotypical malice.

Unfortunately, even the less harmful Black stereotypes of the 1940's and 1950's reflected a culture that got the last half of Plessy vs. Ferguson for almost 70 years, which is why I myself can't share as much enthusiasm for Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarves as others might.
Today, even if people start to get the difference, it'll be impossible to embrace a Black stereotype from a cartoon produced in say, 1955, the same year Emmett Till met his doom and his killers totally got away with it.

Felix Petruska said...

By the way, that Fosdick mask is the most wonderful thing I've seen in my lifetime.

Iritscen said...

Yes, great article. As with Chloe, I enjoy being able to trace ethnicities in people's faces (sometimes all the more so when, like most of us, they're mixed heritage). I know three friends with AmerIndian in their blood and it appears in different ways in each of them: a strong browline and nose bridge in one, the down-pointing tip of the nose in another, and amazing upturned almond eyes in a certain girl.

I also get quite frustrated when people are afraid to talk about differences between racial groups even though they say diversity is great. Just look at "Star Trek" for a great vision on how the future might have been; the "minority" characters are believable as members of an ethnic group, yet also believable as individuals regardless of background, and we don't single them out in our minds as "the black one", "the Oriental", etc. There's an episode where a "reincarnated" Lincoln compliments Uhura on her looks as a "fine Negress" or some such thing, and she's not offended; she receives it as the compliment it was intended to be. Kirk says something about how they are proud of their identities, and no one ends up seeming embarrassed at all that it was pointed out that she was black. What happened to that future? When do we get there?

P.S.: Animé fans sometimes joke/complain about how stereotypically black people are drawn by the Japanese, and yet I can't recall actually seeing any of these characters act any different from those around them in an ethnically-related manner; they're as human as anyone else. This guy:


may offend some with self-righteous PC-ness on their minds, but when you watch the show, he's a serious, reliable character. So in my mind, his appearance is just that, an appearance, not an attack on any group.

Jeremy said...

Hey this is a great post! Mike has some great figures! That pink indian riding the horse is crazy good!

I'd like to see a post dedicated to your own toy collection!

Paul John said...

Bugs, I think this link might help illustrate truth in observation from a different perspective:


Ryan G. said...


Different races of people have their own specific facial features. If a white person draws a person of a different race, then he/she is racist. If the non-white person draws the same picture they are not. The picture may not be offensive at all, but when people find out the color of the individual who drew it, then it all a sudden becomes offensive?

If those toys were made by a Native American would they be less offensive?

Aaron Paetz said...

Great, GREAT post! Thanks a lot.

Anonymous said...

If you draw a native,asian,
east-indian etc.... Why should we feel bad drawing different race's.

They have been doing this in the movies for a long time using race's characteristics,In a way isn't this the same thing as in the animations that have been banned.

I got a question for you guys
you know ducktales the movie how the villians are arab I think would this be racist,, aka sandrats isnt that a racial slur or just Coincedince....

just wondering!

thanks johnk for this post it was fun to read.

JohnK said...

It's nice to see some dissenting views being discussed without too much personal bashing.

I'm not posting pure anger comments.And only a couple have tried.

But I wanna remind everyone of the creative point of the post. Chloe got it: it's how artists can use their natural observational faculties to glean the difference between generalities and specifics.

I'm all for cartoons being more specific and less stereotypical cartoon formulas.

Colin said...

How out of touch are you people?
It's the 21st century, and you're willingly, eagerly, praising imagery that has been deemed racist for the past thirty years. Whether the imagery is in the form of a toy or a drawing makes no difference. If you're not an American Indian, you can have no idea about how offensive these images are. And don't try to pass off your obvious prejudices as "artistic commentary." Your post is, rather, a sad commentary about your lack of enlightenment and lack of respect for cultures and races other than your own. Grow up and get a pair!"

I don't see how you see this as racist. If you read John's words, you'd see he was basically saying that we're not all the same. It should be obvious to anyone with eyes that a white person and a black person have different features, that's not being racist, is just honesty.

I'm black, and I wasn't offended by Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarves or All That and Rabbit Stew, and that's because I wasn't watching it and only seeing race, I was just looking at them as cartoons, and good ones at that.

craigp said...

"bugs" said:
" Your post is, rather, a sad commentary about your lack of enlightenment and lack of respect for cultures and races other than your own. Grow up and get a pair!"

"bugs", bugs bunny and many other cartoon characers of the time where designed after al jolsen-a blackfaced minstrel singer (mickey mouse and bugs' white gloves).
do a google search for bugs bunny al jolsen and you'll get quite a shock.
mel blanc voiced "Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat" which i think is far more on the controversial end of the spectrum so he's an evil racist who should be crucified, right?

here's a question: can humor be racial without racist? i'm saying this is or isn't my point of view i'm just putting the question there.

what about southpark and family guy and other 'edgy' shows? those shows are still popular and have way more racial/racist humor than these old cartoons and air regularly multiple times a day. so definite racism as 'irony' or thinly veiled satire is okay?

hell, clampett's dead so you can't confront him, why not confront seth macfarlane or alex borstein? they'reliving right now?

apologies for the long post.

Ignacio Ochoa said...

Hi John!!
Two month ago i posted on my blog The first Argentinian cartoon short in colours "Upa en apuros" (1942).
The main Character is an indian called "Patoruzú", one of the most popular argentinian comic character. The Patoruzú design have Popeye influences. I would like hear your opinion about this character and this short.
Sorry about my english


trevor said...

As an African-American, I NEVER want to see a thick white or red-lipped pink-a-ninny design AGAIN.

You know, the only thing I found offensive about that was the idea that no black person I'd ever met looked like that, sounded like that or behaved like that. I never took the degradation of the race seriously because it was such an inadequate representation.

Minstrel shows offended me, but I only saw the intent, I didn't equate that imagery with anything.

But as a kid growing up in Philly, I'd seen plenty of black people before age 10, several of whom I'd befriended, and only one of them had small lips. And most of them had a very unique and fun way of talking. This is why when I saw 'Coal Black' for the first time, I didn't find it offensive.

I still don't.

In fact, I'd argue that that cartoon could've been made today, without a single joke different, and would be accepted.... if it had been done by Aaron McGruder.

Which is why it's a shame that generalities can't be made about a certain race of people if the generality is being made by someone who's white.

I'm sorry if this is off-topic, John, and I understand if you don't publish this. But you made a great post, Chloe expanded upon it and on the original point, I have nothing to add.

- trevor.

PS: Everyone should rent the Spike Lee Joint "BAMBOOZLED". That movie was great, well-executed, funny, and was a much needed satire on today's culture.

pappy d said...

This post reminded me of an incident in the 70's. I was sitting in the Silver Dollar Tavern trying to make a 25-cent draft last until my buddies showed up. There was a huge Indian guy in a Stetson sitting at the next table, also drinking alone, & just about blind drunk. He was very intent on his drinking & I was minding my own business. At one point I looked up & saw he was staring at me. I quickly turned my eyes back to my beer but I could still feel him staring. This went on for what seemed to be a long time, then I looked up again & he slurred, "I'm not an Indian.....I'm a fuckin' cowboy!"

How could I have been so wrong? He had the hat & everything.

Both the good & the bad in stereotypes is that they're broad but valid generalisations. Nobody likes to be personally generalised. For example, when somebody today hears "animation", in their mind's eye they see a kaleidoscope of mediocrity & mind-numbing cliche in pink & purple & every color that clashes with pink & purple. Maybe a few scattered jewels of great art will rise from memory, but still, exceptional is the exception.

In the general interest of fairness, I should point out that Republicans generally hate blacks, Mexicans, etc. but lately, it's frustratingly hard to pin them down on it.

Adam T said...

I think what John is saying is being able to switch between seeing a character as an existing stereotype and as an individual will make you a better artist.

On one extreme if you see ONLY the stereotypes you'll just draw generic characters that everyone is already bored with. And on the other extreme if you see only the character's unique traits you're going to lose sight of the fundamentals of good drawing and you'll bog yourself down with details you aren't ready for yet. It's finding that creamy center that'll make you a good cartoonist.

People are so easily offended these days. I know I have some stereotypical traits and it doesn't bother me if people point them out. Sometimes it's even funny when they do. Just don't go to extremes. Don't become a close-minded bigot or a politically correct zombie and everyone can live in peace and harmony and we can have entertaining cartoons again.

Zoran Taylor said...

"I'm all for cartoons being more specific and less stereotypical cartoon formulas."

And you've proven it. Ren and Stimpy, to my mind, is probably the most "tolerant" cartoon ever made, in that it blurs reality in such a perfect, humane way that you can't help but come away from it with a even greater admiration for individuality. Ren's ethnicity is hilariously warped and unclear - it's funny because it CAN'T be classified, and yet it is still a very precise, recognizable characterization. And seeing "gay" love in a context where gender seems like such a remote concern, even an afterthought, is really fun and liberating as well.

We need more characters like Ren, Stimpy and Popeye: totally alien, yet totally human.

stiff said...

Hey John,

Loved the post, I think it's a very well-reasoned explanation of some comments you've made previously that might have otherwise been superficially interpreted as simple encouragement of old racist stereotypes.

One thing though--did you mean Linnaeus instead of Aristotle? He's sorta the father of modern taxonomy (biologically speaking). Of course, my science education didn't cover a whole lot of philosophy, so maybe Aristotle undertook a similar project--I dunno.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Wow! This is an amazing post! Not many of the indian toys look like real indians, but then again not many cartoony toys of white people look the way white people really look. what's important is that a caricature FEELS accurate, even if it isn't.

Funny stereotypes, ones that are simpy funny and not grounded in meanness, are a gift from Zeuss, and we should accept the gift with gratitude.

I have to disagree with Sole about white or red lips on black caricatures. I don't see anything wrong with that, if the intention is to draw funny generic, background characters who are black. I wouldn't draw Obama that way, or any other black person of note because it would be demeaning, but dudes hanging out on a street corner...why not? I always draw background white people as stupid as I can, I'm simply extending the practice to blacks.

Comedy is all about stupidity. If you eliminate the stupid factor, you eliminate the comedy.

Man-Child said...

I think a few of these post's prove how PC our society has become. Back in the day people would watch cartoons and enjoy themselves. There was no deeper meaning, it was just fun drawings that were made to make people happy. It was all fun and games when it came to toons.

Oliver_A said...

For me, exclusing specific parts of the human population from satire/humour due to their race or nationality is a not so obvious kind of racism.

Instead of being racist, we should celebrate our differences. PC is one reason why everyone has gotten so humourless. I'd rather take a honest observation from a gifted artist than a bland non-statement. Humour and art should be at least as colourful and full of variety as life itself.

Caleb Bowen said...

Hi John,
My unposted comment earlier was an attempt at abstract comedy, using the same limited point of view on white people for once(and no stomach was left unturned).

I agree with everything you're saying here and that most people are too PC when in public.

Bakshi's Coonskin is a gritty, positive example of individuals within a group. It doesn't try to pretend that racism never existed, it confronts it head on. Spike Lee's Bamboozled also has great examples of merchandise with questionable intent and how a lot of our modern stereotypes exist only on tv.

Shawn said...

Mike does have the best toy collection! I've seen it with my own greedy eyes!

Nikita said...

thing about stereotypes is I don't really care if they're there, but I'll get pretty pissed if someone 'makes' it true by acting it themselves. Besides that reall I think alot of them are pretty funny, but thats the south for ya...

Nikita said...

Oh and forgot. what are 'PC blinders'

introvert said...

This post is great. Darwin has always been a strong intellectual influence on me (one of the first), and I figured the model he used could be applied to any creative act (just so you know, I for one consider science to be a VERY creative act). But hearing it from a seasoned professional is quite reassuring. On that note, I'm curious as to whether or not you've looked up Plato as well. His theories (especially those involving the forms) seem to provide another great perspective on drawing theory, but I'd love to hear your opinion on it.

The problem with Political-Correctness stifiling cartoon fun isn't going to go away though until we finally dispel the notion that there is something inheritley wrong with "making fun" of something in the first place.

The anecdote included about your schooldays spells this out perfectly. The pointing out of generalities, or even things that make certain people stand out isn't bad at all in of itself. Not only that, but I think cartoon fun is the best medicine for showing just how such funny aspects should be embraced and celebrated rather than be covered up and labeled with stigma.

If you want to take away a person's right to make something fun, then you might as well take away everyone's right to have fun in the first place! It'd certainly make things a whole lot simpler.

craigp said...

eddie fitzgerlad: "Wow! This is an amazing post! Not many of the indian toys look like real indians, but then again not many cartoony toys of white people look the way white people really look. what's important is that a caricature FEELS accurate, even if it isn't."

-it's real magic!

SoleilSmile said...

Trevor,you can have a full mouth ( turned out lips) and still be pretty.
I have a very pretty full mouth. It's one my best features.

Those damn designer on Coal Black and the like needed some fashion sense!

SoleilSmile said...

People, I'm not saying never draw minorities. I for one illustrate a comic about the goddesses of the world and the main characters are Asian.
How I made sure I did not offend anyone was to consult my Asian-American friends and DRAW THEM. I converted them into my characters, got their approval and now my characters aren't offensive. There were a few slip ups at the beginning but, that's to be expected for I am not Asian and I've been influenced by those damn 40's cartoons! Luckily, my friends drew me too, so we got to coach each other on how to draw each our respected cultures without offense.
So, if you're going to draw minorities for the comedy genre, make sure you get your minority friends approval--especially from their PARENTS. Young people tend are unreliable because many will do anything to fit in and make friends--so lean on those parents. This way cartoonists can all keep creating without continuing the vicious cycle of offense and low self-esteem.

SoleilSmile said...

This is a response to this post from an Apache friend of mine who was asked of these images are offensive to him:

"umm a little, they make natives look like grinning idiots incapable being an intelligent people.
I understand the purpose of characature but not like a bunch of grinning bafoons.

lol it is ok just as long as he also knows that those kinds of things can be hurtful and degrading".

These images still hurt people. Many of you have no idea what it's like to be a minority growing up with them.

JohnK said...

You'll never be able to escape offending somebody; it's impossible not to, especially these days.

Comedy makes fun of people, all people in many different ways. All cultures are funny.

All the images I posted are light hearted and not mean in any way. But that won't stop the odd person from thinking of them that way.

The only way to avoid offending anybody is to censor every thing. End freedom of speech.

End all comedy or caricature; make it against the law.

Since that's not likely to happen, we might as well get used to the idea of being diverse and enjoying it.

I'm offended by almost all modern cartoons, but I can't do anything about them. My personal offense doesn't allow me to get them kicked off the air.

I'm more offended by gang violence, wars, broken economies and monopolies. Those are some real worries. We could use some light-hearted humor along the way to relieve the real pains in life.

SoleilSmile said...

John, you're right, there will be always be someone who is offended. However, you'd be amazed how critics like me from marginalized societies lighten up once we find out that you've taken the effort to consult someone from the ethnic group your portraying in the process of your creation.
Minorities make fun of the dregs of their society as well. Just look at Bruce Smith's Proud Family, Dijonay and the blue colored Bully Girls are offensive charactures, but they are balanced out my Penny Proud's family and other good examples of AA's.
Another example are the crows from the Wiz. They are crows in the truest sense of the term: Lazy layabouts who discourage the people around them from bettering themselves. The right insult went to the right offenders--not too the old man who just got back home from work who is enjoying a mint julep as he sits on his front porch----just like his White counterpart.
I think part of the outrage is that the insults are always targeting the wrong individuals and the lack of a counter balance to the offensive individual in the media. If you're going to portray a less than desirable minority character in your work balance it out with a shining example of the same ethic group and display that character prominently in the story.
It can be done. Watch Mushroom Mambo from Cowboy Bebop. I think they did a good job balancing out the Blaxploitation characters with the good cop in the end. It totally erased all the entertaining yet bad P.R. that was rampant throughout that episode.

Gavin Ball said...

First of all let me say that Ren and Stimpy was the most fascinating show to me as a kid growing up, it literally blew my mind when it came out and has had a tremendous influence on my development as an artist, so for that, thank you.

Getting to the point though, and I hate to turn this into a racial thing, but as an african-canadian, I have at times wondered how far I can push a character in terms of racial stereotypes. While I do find it enjoyable sometimes to poke fun at black people and draw the big lips and wide noses, etc. I sometimes have to reign myself in...not because I am offended, actually quite the contrary, I'm usually more amused the more pushed it is...however, I know that if I show this image to people, all of a sudden, they're going to feel like it is okay for them to do the same.

I noticed this especially on the Chappelle show, with things like the Niggar family skit, all of a sudden people of all races were running around talking about n***** this and n***** that when quoting jokes from the show. Which while I understood they meant in jest, I couldn't help but feel somewhat taken aback.

I guess that what I am trying to say here is that I think it is great to explore our differences and make cartoons that illuminate those differences. The important thing though is that we have to remember what makes us the same while doing it.

I believe the artist/cartoonist should draw a PERSON first, then say okay they just happen to be of this nationality and have these features and characteristics, as opposed to creating the character based on their nationality...I think that is when people start running into problems.

I hope that makes sense!

Great post John,


JohnK said...

"I believe the artist/cartoonist should draw a PERSON first, then say okay they just happen to be of this nationality and have these features and characteristics, as opposed to creating the character based on their nationality..."

No believes more in creating characters with individual personalities and designs than I do.But not for every character in every cartoon.

It's not that easy. Animation deals in generalities. I have been trying to change that for years.

I would love to see not only more individual black characters, but white ones too, and specific rabbits, chickens, ducks, wombats; you name it!

But I'm not opposed to making funny stereotypes of anything either. All cultures, traditional costumes and physical traits are funny.

A Scotsman in a kilt playing the bagpipes is funny. An Italian chef is funny. Leprechauns are funny. These are all extreme caricatures of stereotypes - stereotypes that come from the real people and real traditions.

What's the point of erasing whole groups and their traditions and costumes and physicalities from memory?

Yes, we should add to them if we can -but not by replacing them with bland whitewashed characters like 70s HB cartoons - where every race was portrayed with white features and speech patterns, which I should think you'd find more offensive.

Ashanti, I agree. Base some characters on people you know. I do it all the time - but make it a caricature and funny nonetheless, or why go to so much trouble and expense to animate it?
And who does it? No modern shows that I know of. That Proud family thing is all stock Cal Arts character designs. Nothing individual about the characters at all.

I.D.R.C. said...

Wow! This is an amazing post! Not many of the indian toys look like real indians, but then again not many cartoony toys of white people look the way white people really look. what's important is that a caricature FEELS accurate, even if it isn't.

What feels accurate, and to who?

That big, toothy grin seems to have no basis in reality. It's there for a reason that has nothing to do with observation, and that is what makes them potentially offensive, because we have to decide why it's there, what it really means, and whether it's function is really innocent.

JohnK said...

Smiling is evil? I learn something new every day!

And I thought they were smiling just because they were cartoon toys.

I.D.R.C. said...

Well, me, I reckon there are maybe other reasons, too, and I reckon that at least one of those reasons should embarrass white America, whether it does or not.

I'm not calling for a ban on old toys and cartoons. I am capable of recognizing the innocence in them, but I see no reason to engage in denial or revisionism, either.

You are talking about a civilization of humans that were virtually exterminated and reduced to little more than cartoon icons and marketing symbols in little more than our lifetimes. How funny is it?

I'm not calling for a ban on cartoon Indians. I just have a good memory, and I think as you have already stated, it's important to have something more to say than stereotypes.

JohnK said...

Cartoonists and fun-loving entertainers have not exterminated anyone. Although they have been greatly tempted.

But not by other cultures.

David Germain said...

In light of this posts topic, I thought you might get a kick out of this, John. It's someone's "rationalization" as to why Apu on the Simpsons is such a dangerous image:

If a gunman holds up a 7-Eleven store and sees a South Asian man behind the counter, and thinks of him as “just an Apu” instead of an actual human being with friends and family and hopes and dreams and feelings, it makes it that much easier to pull the trigger, doesn’t it?

I laughed when I read that. PC nuts are soooooooo stupid sometimes. Gunmen shoot 711 clerks BECAUSE THEY'RE DESPERATE AND CRAZY. Race plays barely a tiny part in that scenario.

I.D.R.C. said...

Apparently racist iconography never existed in American culture, and graphic artists played no part in its creation, since it never was, and even if it were, would have no connection at all to the culture of racism that informed that extermination.

Is that it?

JohnK said...

You haven't yet demonstrated that there is anything racist about funny pictures.

There is no link between them. Can we not make fun of the middle ages or any other time period in history, because people did bad things to each other?

What race do you know of that hasn't perpetrated evil on others - including their own races? All cultures through all history are guilty of horrific monstrous acts. Look what's happening in the middle east, africa, china and all over even today. Watch BBC news and see what's going on outside your evil American Empire.

What the heck has any of that got to do with drawing people funny? Under your logic, we couldn't draw anybody funny at all; we couldn't draw cartoons, because they remind us of people - and people do bad things to each other and everything else on the planet.

To be wonderful noble guilt-free cartoon entertainers, we better stick to drawing cute animals, like chickens, cows, ducks and things that we torture to death.

Lighten up.

I.D.R.C. said...

I think it's you who needs to lighten up.

I think we should be able to discuss racism, whether real, apparent, or imagined, without freaking out about it.

I'm going out on a limb here to guess that we can all agree that America has in some measure a racist past.

Whether grinning Indian dolls cross your racism threshold is one thing, but please don't try to make me look crazy for suggesting it just might in some sense qualify.

JohnK said...

I just pointed out that all cultures do.

You still have not provided a link in your reasoning from

people are mean

therefore don't draw people funny

there's no connection

Gavin Ball said...

I'm all for celebrating our differences and even some good natured teasing. Those on the receiving end should be able to laugh about it too.

Maybe an appropriate question would be, at what point does a drawing cross that line?

Does it depend on the artists intent or the audiences reaction?

I would say that it's the artists intentions combined with how well they are able to gauge what their audience can handle. You want to push it, but not so far as to be offensive.

Sven Hoek said...

seeing images of indians didnt form my opinion about them. I had not met an indian until a few years ago when my band started playing in the california casinos. And then i met a lot of them. They smile. they are nice people. In fact they were generally nicer than most white people I know. I hadnt met an indian my whole life and all I knew were the images I saw from the media but I didnt let that inform my opinion of those people. I just thought they were funny pictures.

Working for indians is hard but rewarding, they expect a lot from you but they also treat people very well. I like em.

I.D.R.C. said...

Did you find something in my response unacceptable?

JohnK said...

Yeah. It
had no connection between premise and conclusion.

And you already said the same thing 12 times.

Hernán G. Fuentealba said...

I really liked this post,I am proud of whatever I am .
It is funny to heard people calling me "santa claus" ,"jesus " "hagrid" " bin laden" "were wolf(I liked this the most)"
etc.(link) I like the beard , it is more natural
some people are proud of being pure blood , I am glad to be a mix of all kind of races,

Isaak said...

About "generalities," I would like to bring up "The Jazz Singer." The blackface and sometimes "un PC" Jewish caricatures, are immensely more tolerable then Singin' in The Rain, in which no one ever existed except white Christians, who invented Hollywood single-handedly.

At least Griffith put his psychosis on film, for some honesty. "Singin in the Rain" refuses to even acknowledge other people.

Kelly is a brilliant dancer, though.

What does anyone think?

Nebbie said...

Do you think that sometime, you could post a blogpost that talks more about how political correctness makes it harder to create an interesting female or person of color character? It seems like the facial features of persons belonging to any ethnic group aside from white have to be downplayed and can't be caracitured.

When female or person of color characters are portrayed in animation, they seem to come under fire from various groups no matter how small their character flaws may be. Anything less than noble, upstanding role models drawn without any tinge of caricature in their design are seen as forbidden in today's politically correct society. Can you really blame people in the animation business who have become hesitant to try to create new female or PoC characters when they’re forced to walk on eggshells in the process?

Animators should be free to create female and PoC characters that run the entire spectrum of personality types, from ditzy, to nasty, to sexy, to noble, and allow some fun caraciture without fear of attacks from political correctness groups.