Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Fri Aug 18 21:05:33 PDT 2006



This issue of GODLING really tells two stories: one is about Godling,
duking it out with Ares due to a misunderstanding about Aphrodite; the
other is about Safari duking it out with drug dealers.  I'm not really
sure that the parallel lines of action really complement one another:
the theme of the Godling thread is obstenstiably love and how he can't
get it.  The theme of the Safari thread is a little harder to pin down
with pithy phrases and monosyllables.

Safari/Marcus is a black man who is empowered by magic potions,
granting him "the skills and agility of the animal kingdom".  I'm not
sure if this is just a general increase in speed and prowress, or if,
like Godling, he can call upon the powers of various animals.  (In
which case, I hope he doesn't call upon the skills of the platypus:
poisonous ankle spurs and sweating milk does not an effective
crimefighter make.)

I only mention that Marcus is a black man because it is important to
the story.  Readers who are familiar with my work remember that Martin
Rock (the second Green Knight) is black, but I never told the reader
that until the sixth issue.  This is because, really, it wasn't
important until that time, where race entered the thematic weave.

For me, Martin is a very particular person, who cannot be summed up in
his race or his age.  He is a cynical man who is still open to wonder,
if only slightly; he is moody but not without his sense of humour.  He
is intelligent and well-spoken, a keen detective, an excellent acrobat.
 The fact that he is a black man is secondary to Martin.

But to the Green Knight on the other hand, to Martin's Green Knight,
his ethnicity is very important.  Because that Green Knight is an icon,
a symbol, and he's symbolic of inspiration.  He is intended to be a
bulwark against the ills of poverty, racism, and urban decay.  A good
man, who shows that it is possible to be a good man and a proud one, no
matter what colour one's skin is.

And, beyond that, by choosing to center himself in the mostly black
neighborhoods of Jolt City as opposed to the rich and white uptown, he
is serving as an inspiration to black youth in particular.  And so
while race doesn't really matter to Martin, it is important to the
Green Knight, to the icon, to what he stands for.

I mention all this not to plug my own work, but to draw a parallel
between mine and Jochem's.  Safari has an similiar role, in that he
becomes a hero to protect and inspire young black men.  And just as
Martin alters the Green Knight mask to allow his eyes and the black
skin around them to be visible, Safari clothes himself in traditional
African garb (going one step further).

The fact that Safari is a black man is important to the iconic nature
of the character; more important, in fact, than in the case of my
Martin Rock, because Jochem deals primarily in iconic characters.  It's
what gives GODLING its oomph.  If one approaches the series with their
minds and hearts open, I think it will knock their socks off.  And,
what's more, I think that its characters will command respect at a very
primal level.  No one questions Superman's authority, because he's
Superman, god-damn-it!  A more "rounded" character like Spider-Man is
easier to defy.

The characters in GODLING have gravitas, and the iconic nature of the
characters not only act as a marvelous shorthand to understanding those
characters, but also engenders equal parts identification and awe.

But, and here's the thing some people miss, it's not _just_ operating
at that wish fulfillment/primal level.  It's also commenting on the
power and limitations of icons.  In this issue, Safari fights
drug-dealers/gangbangers, described as

> Three
> black gangbangers, all bling-bling and attitude having cornered a
> shaking young black man against an alley wall. His animal-like hearing
> allowed Marcus to hear every word.
>      "You don't pay the vig we take it outta your head, man. We
> give you a good kicking, make us feel better," one of the gangbangers
> said. He hit the young man in the face.
>      "Yeah," another one agreed. "You not able to pay for the
> dope then the supply stops and we turn you into an example for the
> other idiots that think about not paying." He kicked the young man in
> the stomach.
>      "Enough!" Marcus yelled and dropped down from the rooftop like
> a predator from a tree.
>      "What the --," one of the gangbangers uttered. A second later
> Marcus knocked him out by landing on top of him.
>       Another thug drew a pistol. "Don't know who you are but I'm
> gonna cap you!"

Now.  What are we to make of this?

Some people will see this as stereotyped, and yes, it is.  But I don't
think it's stereotyped to be racist, or out of ignorance.  I think it's
stereotyping with a purpose.  It's iconic.

Stereotypes are a form of icon.  And these characters are iconically
"black gangstas", thugs, dawgs, all "bling-bling" as the narration puts
it.  Spike Lee made a point in his film BAMBOOZLED, which I think is
similiar to the point that Jochem is hinting at here (though,
surprisingly, GODLING is less didactic than Spike Lee's film): which
is, that "black gangstas" are something of a new minstrel show,
ridiculous stereotypes created for the consumption and imitation of
whites.  It is no more a true reflection of black people than it is a
true reflection of human beings.

I make a collolary point in JOLT CITY # 1: my "black gangsta" was a
upper-middle class white kid, to indicate the embrace of dumbed-down
black culture by whites.  (In my life, I've never met a black man who
talks the way some of my cake-eating white-bread daddy-bought-me-a-car
fellow twenty-somethings do.)

Jochem is braver than I am, because not only does he use potentially
offensive icons, but he doesn't present them "one step removed" the way
I do.  And that's because he's dealing on an iconic level, and on that
level, the ethnicity-- the specific ethnicity and background of his
characters-- is extremely important.

You may disagree, and I'm planning on it.  No topic in our civilization
has been in recent years more controversial and discussed than that of

I eagerly await your opinions, especially if they run counter to my
own.  Those of you who have written characters of a different ethnicity
than yourself, please speak up.  Those of you who have thoughts about
race as it pertains to this genre in particular, please speak up.

And those of you who actually wrote this story -- that's you, Jochem
:-) -- please, speak up; particularly if I have no idea what I'm
talking about. :-)


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