Dealing with Ethnicities in Comics- a touchy subject...

General Discussion
Post Reply
JGrubber
Posts: 50
Joined: Wed May 07, 2008 9:15 pm
Location: Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
Contact:

Dealing with Ethnicities in Comics- a touchy subject...

Post by JGrubber » Thu May 15, 2008 6:04 pm

The stuff I work on is about Canadian history, which means I am dealing with a lot of Aboriginal Groups, Asian people, Metis and African-descended people, as well as europeans/whites.

Has anyone else dealt with this in their work/seen it dealt with?

My style is pretty simple- realism would in a way be easier, but as you move towards a more iconic style, you reduce details- but tread dangerously close to stereotypes.

The last thing I want is to be accused of racism etc. quite the opposite- i want to visually include people in Canada's story, and North America's story that haven't always gotten a fair amount of 'screen time'.

A few of the pics in my flickr account (below under www) have samples of my depictions- if anyone has thoughts/ideas, I would love to hear them.

thanks,

john

User avatar
JakeKalsbeek
Posts: 127
Joined: Thu Apr 12, 2007 10:29 am
Location: San Francisco Bay Area
Contact:

Post by JakeKalsbeek » Fri May 16, 2008 12:11 pm

I say don't worry about it. Are you a racist? Probably not. A racist wouldn't ask a question like that this. If anyone accuses you of being racist they would be wrong.

If you have access to photos of the people you plan to draw use them as reference. If not use photos of other people you admire and respect and draw them as the characters. Just don't draw all an entire ethnic group the same. If you do that you'll have a lot more freedom. The great thing about people is that we all look pretty strange.

User avatar
Matt Bernier
Posts: 92
Joined: Wed Sep 13, 2006 4:43 pm
Location: Poland, Maine
Contact:

Post by Matt Bernier » Fri May 16, 2008 10:04 pm

I think it's really important to pay attention to WHY people of different races ACTUALLY look different. Racist caricature is what is is because a: it reduces an entire cluster of individuals into one inhuman amalgamation, and b: that amalgamation isn't even accurate.

Pay attention to things like how most black and asian people have noses whose bridge never meets their brow. Pay attention to how far forward from the eyes the mouth and cheeks are on Chinese compared to white people. It's as easy to tell apart Koreans from Japanese as it is to tell Italians from Irish, if you know how. LOOK for the REAL differences. Never add details that don't exist, but don't rob someone of their human uniqueness by doing what alot of lazy artists do, which is draw people of other races with white features, and just change the skin color. Not only is that being a bad artist, it betrays a fear of race and difference in others. There's a beautiful and very unique way black people's skin catches light and shadow, which doesn't really happen on anyone else. Farel Darmple draws this beautifully. Make every character of every race look uniquely and distinctly who they are.

User avatar
jdalton
Posts: 698
Joined: Wed Aug 24, 2005 4:06 pm
Location: 1 hr east of Vancouver (currently)
Contact:

Re: Dealing with Ethnicities in Comics- a touchy subject...

Post by jdalton » Sun May 18, 2008 1:06 pm

JGrubber wrote:The stuff I work on is about Canadian history, which means I am dealing with a lot of Aboriginal Groups, Asian people, Metis and African-descended people, as well as europeans/whites.

Has anyone else dealt with this in their work/seen it dealt with?
Only every single time. It's not as scary an undertaking as it seems, as long as you're smart about it and do your homework.

In art, I'd reiterate what the others have already said. Use photos of real people when designing your characters, not the picture of people you have in your head. Remember that race is not an absolute thing. There is no gene for race. What there is is a collection of genes. One for the shape of your nose, one for the tone of your skin, one for your cheekbones, etc. People from different parts of the world have a different pool of genes to pick from, but that pool is pretty extensive wherever you go. And the pools always mix in the middle.

In writing, it's even more important to base your characters on real people wherever possible. The media stereotypes about Aboriginal people (for example) are completely irreconcilable with reality. I've never met even one person who fits the "noble savage" stereotype, or the "angry Indian" stereotype. I have no idea where they came from. Don't trust the news, either. If you must get your research from a second-hand source, find a book or a movie made by an actual Aboriginal person. See what they have to say about themselves and their people.

It's also important to know the limits of what you're capable of. I don't know what it's like to be a black person, so I can't write a story about what it's like to be a black person. That doesn't mean I can't have a black character in a starring role, it just means the theme needs to be about something I know first-hand.
Jonathon Dalton
Image Image

User avatar
Chris Schweizer
Posts: 31
Joined: Fri Mar 09, 2007 8:56 am

Post by Chris Schweizer » Sat May 24, 2008 7:52 pm

I'm doing some research on this, because there ARE distinctive physical differences between people from different parts of the world. People from India, generally speaking, don't have that little dip in the middle of their upper lip. The nose of a guy of Celtic origin is going to have a slight upturn. Most Native Americans have high cheekbones.

There are a lot of generalities that are rarely applied to cartoons for fear of seeming racist, but what's insensitive is to ignore the physical idiosyncrasies that make each group unique and instead draw everyone with Anglo features, using hatchmarks to differentiate the black characters.

Celebrate the differences in your characters! Diversity in origin is as important as diversity of shape and size when designing characters. Just put forth as much effort in making all of your Inuit characters as different from each other as you would your white characters.

If you have a chance, a surprisingly good resource for this sort of thing are old anthropology books, from the 1920s and earlier. Whereas modern books tend to be more delicate, older texts often wax on about the distinctive physical characteristics of most peoples (Europeans included), and these sort of generalities can really benefit as a starting point when designing a slew of, say, Thai characters.

User avatar
neil
Posts: 2604
Joined: Wed Aug 20, 2003 3:21 pm
Location: SF bay area, CA
Contact:

Post by neil » Sat May 24, 2008 11:24 pm

Chris Schweizer wrote:People from India, generally speaking, don't have that little dip in the middle of their upper lip.
Hmmmm that's news to me.

User avatar
Matt Bernier
Posts: 92
Joined: Wed Sep 13, 2006 4:43 pm
Location: Poland, Maine
Contact:

Post by Matt Bernier » Sun May 25, 2008 9:22 am

Huh, I just did an image search, and it seems like roughly half of the indian folks I found were missing that feature. The folks I saw who had the dip seemed to have other differences in their features too. I wonder if the non-lip-dip indians are a different ethnicity from the lip-dip-indians. India's pretty goddamned diverse, after all.

User avatar
Matt Bernier
Posts: 92
Joined: Wed Sep 13, 2006 4:43 pm
Location: Poland, Maine
Contact:

Post by Matt Bernier » Sun May 25, 2008 9:28 am

Huh...okay, so basically, the indians I see who lack the lip-dip thing have a wayyy smaller space between their nose and their upper lip. And when they smile, the top of their upper lip will curl up in a very distinctive way.

They must be a different ethnic group, but I don't know how I'd find out.

User avatar
Matt Bernier
Posts: 92
Joined: Wed Sep 13, 2006 4:43 pm
Location: Poland, Maine
Contact:

Post by Matt Bernier » Sun May 25, 2008 9:39 am

It seems to be a primarily north-indian trait, but that doesn't really answer any of my questions.

User avatar
jdalton
Posts: 698
Joined: Wed Aug 24, 2005 4:06 pm
Location: 1 hr east of Vancouver (currently)
Contact:

Post by jdalton » Sun May 25, 2008 8:59 pm

Matt Bernier wrote:They must be a different ethnic group, but I don't know how I'd find out.
Not necessarily. If it's true it's a gene, it's in the local gene pool, there's no more reason for this one trait to be tied to one ethnic group than for blue eyes to be tied to one ethnic group. There are blue eyed Greeks and brown eyed Norwegians and if I've met an Indian person without a dip in their upper lip I've obviously forgotten about it. Though I did find one person on Flickr just now who seemed lip-dip-less. Perhaps photographs are misleading?
Last edited by jdalton on Sun May 25, 2008 9:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Jonathon Dalton
Image Image

User avatar
Matt Bernier
Posts: 92
Joined: Wed Sep 13, 2006 4:43 pm
Location: Poland, Maine
Contact:

Post by Matt Bernier » Sun May 25, 2008 9:02 pm

Oh, the lip-dip is called a philtrum, evidently.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 7 guests