Monday, August 25, 2008

The problem with minorities...

Hey, let's talk racism! Oh, yes, let's do!

By introducing kitties that are black and Siamese, I open myself up to dangerous racial undertones. It can be, dare I say it, a tar baby of a situation!

OK, have I used enough language to make this post show up on some inappropriate Google searches yet?

When I first began designing characters, I was advised by a classmate (who is a better cartoonist than I'll ever be - and thankfully on hiatus so I have less competition) to work with blacks in making my characters stand out. With that enabling, I set about designing my characters to really stand apart from each other. Bud's vest went black and his ears went darker, Autumn's extremities went black, cream-colored Jacob's shirt gained stripes and Tiffany...uh...Tiffany got one shaded ear and a ring around her eye. Thankfully, Tiffany is one to accessorize, so she gets her shot at tonal variance in other ways.

But did I stop there? Oh no! For my other classmates, I really went wild! Suzette, Max and Vincent have lots of shading. Dionne and Yvette have spots and stripes, respectively. Xander's design is still not finalized - as he might never get a line in the strip - but most of his coloring will come via clothing.

Then I went really nuts: CHARACTERS IN BLACK FACE! Sure, it makes sense for those kitties to appear, but cartooning is a black and white thing. When the most expressive parts of a character would appear as a flat black blob, that might not be the best planning. Hey, I'm all for an artistic challenge and I'm up to figuring it out! It just absolutely terrifies me to know I'm just two story arcs away from needing a solution.

That I'd create these characters was inevitable. On that same magical night when EVERY Gemstone Estates support characters emerged fully formed, along with the bulk of the initial Precocious storyline, the rest of the class was named.

Kaitlyn Hu was easy. With my love of giving my characters silly names, the temptation of the "Hu's on first" baseball gag was too great to resist. Also, how I could I *not* include a Siamese kitty after spending so many years around Dana's Siamese brigade?

Of course, by creating Kaitlyn I opened the race box. She is obviously of Asian heritage in a world of cute animals. Does that apply to all critters? Is Dionne African because she's a cheetah? Is Quincy proud of his European heritage as a German Shepherd? (Quincy's also a black faced character, but the secondary racial implications don't exist in his situation. Who doesn't love the Germans?) How global am I going?

This is not an issue with which I want to deal. All I wanted was the Hu name so I can make puns! Kaitlyn Hu ("'K, who?"), her brother Wen Hu ("Who? When?") and mother Shii Ann Hu ("Who is she?" "Shii Hu?" "That one over there!" "Shii Ann." "No, just her.") are just too fun to drop in now and then. All I can say is that I'm going to keep Kaitlyn away from chopsticks until I figure it out.

This also brings up the racial purity issue. In order to invoke specific species, the parents must naturally be the same. The Pingo family is pure red fox. The Hus are pure Siamese. (Siamese kitties are easily mixed in with regular kitties, but Dana's kitties were racially pure and I followed suit! Way to make me a furry racist, Dana!) All the other families are mixed. Even Dionne - clearly a cheetah - has markings that don't match the normal cheetah look, which is meant to show she's *not* a purebred. I slightly tackle this in the second story arc, but I still fear the Aryan race implications. It's the role of the creator to fret over every little detail - even though almost all readers will never think of such things - right?

Roddy is my way of countering the Kaitlyn problem. His name is! Finnegan! He's Irish! Like the Et and Oven families, Roddy is just a normal house cat when "race" comes into play. In real life, it seems there's *always* one black cat in a litter. That's all Roddy is. (Although the idea of "litter" isn't valid in my strip as my characters are merely humans disguised as adorably cute critters.) Neither of Roddy's parents are pure black. One might be a boots kitty, but that's as far as I'll go.

The reason Roddy is black is because of the bad luck connotations. Roddy's life kinda sucks. He's on the outside and always ends up in second place. Overall, being second-best in everything makes Roddy a very talented person, but he never gets any respect. Scrappy losers don't make it into record books. Is there any wonder he's bitter and belligerent?

Yes, I am aware this means I am keeping the black man down. And creating an angry black man. I can't win, can I?

All I can do is ask for you, the reader, the know my strip is about CLASS WARFARE and not RACIAL DIVIDES! I'm all about getting into issues about money and intellectual differences, and I do know in real life these issues do have some overlap - but my world is one of critters! This is supposed to give me a "get out of race issue free" card.

But then I went and made Kaitlyn Hu. I wanted to have cake and eat it too.

AND I have no idea how to draw these animals with India ink yet. Way to go, Chrispy!

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