Recently I was asked to draw a few portraits for an article on graphic novelists. The article focussed on three graphic novelists in particular so I used a few photos from the lecture where they were featured and sketched the novelists' faces. After forwarding the sketches I was told that one drawing was not so acceptable.
My illustration of one lecturer, an African-American graphic novelist and writer, was considered to be somewhat unintentionally racist. "Too Tintin au Congo" was the exact feedback, a reference to the horrifically racist comic book "Tintin" creator Herge wrote and drew back in 1930. Tintin au Congo was notorious for its ridiculously insensitive and racist caricatures of the (at the time) Belgian-dominated Congolese.
Eggh! Well, okay, my drawing wasn't THAT bad! Still, did I emphasize the lecturer's African features a bit too much when I drew her portrait? I admit that when I draw people who are black I try not to make the mistake that most white cartoonists make nowadays where black characters are drawn as white characters with dark skin and hair. Drawing black characters as having exactly the same facial features as white characters is a lazy illustrative tic and it carries evidence of another sort of intrinsic racism: Only Caucasian facial features are acceptable.
Alison Bechdel, creator of the wonderful Dykes To Watch Out For, the amazing Fun Home, and the utterly awful Are You My Mother?, talked about drawing race in her book The Indelible Alison Bechdel. Bechdel also described how newspaper funnies and comic books where the artists were overwhelmingly white tended to show black characters as basically white characters with dot shading on the skin. Bechdel never used dot shading but she always showed, through great artistic style, which of her characters were black and which were white.
Bechdel's illustrative style is one that I admire incredibly and always try to emulate.
Man, I really MISS Dykes To Watch Out For! Bechdel's latest book: Are You My Mother?, really wasn't worth putting that wonderful strip on a five-year hiatus.
Anyway, I digress. Mostly I've been concentrating on how white cartoonists draw black characters. How do black cartoonists draw black characters? Well, admittedly from the only small sampling that I'm familiar with, it seems to me that black cartoonists have- if anything- an even more eclectic style when it comes to drawing black characters.
Ray Billingsley, writer and illustrator of Curtis, draws his characters both humorously and with tender realism.
Notice that, like Bechdel, Billingsley does not dot-shade his characters in order to show their ethnicity.
Cartoonist Robb Armstrong who draws Jumpstart seems to suffer from that illustration sin of making black characters look like white characters with dot shading.
And of course the extremely famous Aaron McGruder who draws Boondocks throws out all traces of ethnicity in his characters. McGruder makes EVERYBODY in his comic strip- black and white alike- look Japanese.
McGruder, to his credit, has acknowledged that illustration is not his strong suit.
Nevertheless it's interesting to note that whatever your race you still can suffer from the same illustration challenges- and fall into the same illustrative pits- as any other cartoonist.
The young man featured above was a Yemeni prisoner named Adnan Latif. He was being held at Guantanamo Bay. He died four days ago after spending ten years imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.
He was 35 years old. He had spend more than a quarter of his life in jail. He had been found innocent of collaboration with the Taliban in 2004 and cleared for release... but was never let go. His lawyer repeatedly petitioned for his relief and got legal clearance ... but because Yemen is considered an unstable country the Bush and Obama administrations kept him in prison illegally.
Wow... ten years in prison. 2002 to 2012.
I wonder what I did with that time?
Well, I backpacked across Scotland.
I graduated from college.
I served with the Peace Corps in Mongolia.
I backpacked across Asia.
I worked in South Korea.
I hiked in Alaska.
I rode the Trans-Siberian railroad.
I got married.
I had a baby.
A few blog entries ago I was whining about all the life experiences I had yet to experience. Now, after reading Mr. Latif's story, I am grateful for all the life experiences I have had in the past ten years... and before as well. I have had a very good life during these past ten years. 2012 has been a bad year for me, true, but not NEARLY as horrible as 2002-2012 had been for Latif.
Feminist activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in her memoir Infidel, describes an incident in 1990. She and her young university friends were living in Mogadishu at the time. Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Murders in Mogadishu are as commonplace as panhandling in New York. Ali describes how she and her friends were used to seeing bodies on the streets every day. One evening Ali decided to walk back to her parents' house after visiting a friend. It was extremely risky considering that night had already fallen. People just simply didn't go out after dark in Mogadishu but Ali and a few of her friends decided to go home anyway. After half a mile however a group of men accosted the young women, threatening them with guns and knives. Ali knew then that she would die. Nobody in Somalia at that time (and, I imagine, even more so now) survived a mugging. Ali described her thoughts at the moment as the men threatened her. "I thought:'Oh well, at least I made it to twenty.'" Where Ali came from even just making it to twenty years old was an accomplishment. Life was so disposable that even at her young age Ali had a very stoic view towards death. Twenty years on this earth is a gift. No need to be ungrateful.
Of course Ali was not killed that night. The men, unusually, merely relieved the women of their money and valuables before fleeing into the darkness. Still, I was struck by how Ali described her thoughts the moment she assumed she was about to die. She did not scream or weep or beg for her life. She did not think despairingly "Oh, but there's so much I haven't done yet!".... a justifiable regret for someone who is about to lose her life at such a young age. Ali thought: "Oh well, at least I made it to twenty. So many people I know weren't able to do so... living twenty years is something to be thankful for."
I am very thankful for the fact that I have lived extremely well during the past 31 years of my life. I am so saddened when I hear stories like Mr. Latif... who spent many precious years of his life wasting away at Guantanamo.
We need to be more aware of how rich we are.
And we need to fucking close Guantanamo Bay already. C'MON!!!
This was Isaac six hours ago. Want to know where I was six hours ago?
I was here.
No, I wasn't in the Dominican Republic. I was in the South of Florida... near West Palm Beach to be exact. The waves were huge, crashing near the boardwalk that led out to the parking lot. Waves were breaking both near the shore and out -WAY out- in the water. They looked powerful, but I wasn't going to be a wuss. I was going to go for a swim! I didn't mind the pounding rain or the massive waves or the fact that nobody at all was on the beach enjoying the Isaac-induced waves besides me. No. What I minded was the fact that I was over thirty, married and with a baby... and that my thirst for adventure seemed to be drying up. I needed my appetite whetted again.
Let's rewind a bit. Yesterday, when Isaac was munching through Haiti and setting its developing eye towards Cuba, Kimbaby and I decided to go for a walk on the beach. It was cloudy and cool, a rarity in Florida over the summer, and the waves were unusually large. Kimbaby loves the beach and he laughed with delight as deliciously-warm, foamy water splashed rapidly past him, wetting his denim short-alls past his chest.
Kimbaby alternated between toddling and riding on my shoulders as we walked down the beach. I looked ahead at the waves and saw a large, black parasail in the distance. Someone parasailing on a motorboat perhaps? I never had the guts to try it. As Kimbaby and I walked nearer, however, I saw that the parasail was attached to a young guy and the young guy was attached to a surfboard.
The guy was surfing expertly while guiding the parasail. Occasionally he would get a few feet off the water, fly a bit and then land in the waves to surf once more. It looked like so much fun. I instantly thought about how much fun it was to be young and free. If I hadn't had Kimbaby with me at that moment, I would have taken off my skirt and dived into the wave, oblivious of how wet my clothes would become. The waves looked so awesome.
Unfortunately, since I was a mother, I didn't go swimming. Kimbaby and I continued to walk along the beach until he got tired and cranky. We then drove home, I gave Kimbaby a bath and we settled down in front of the TV to watch reruns of "Malcolm in the Middle." I resolved secretly, however, to return to the beach alone the next day. Isaac was predicted to hang around for at least a few days more so I was sure that the waves would still be impressive on Sunday.
So that brings me to six hours ago
Well, the waves weren't THAT big, but they were definitely big enough to give me pause. I had just chugged a cup of coffee before I went out, left Kimbaby in the loving arms of his grandparents for the afternoon and had changed into my bathing suit in the car before stepping out onto the beach. Then, as I said before, I saw a deserted beach, driving rain, clouds and large, foamy, waves that reached to the yellow-tagged sea turtle nests and looked like they were prepared to overtake the boardwalk leading to the parking lot.
"Well, I don't care," I thought bravely to myself, "I am thirty-one years old and I am not accepting the fact that my last hurricane-induced sea swim was 2004 when my John Kerry reelection campaign team took a quick dip on a Florida beach before skedaddling out of state. Hurricane Frances was barreling towards the Florida coastline and nobody wanted to be in her path... though it later turned out that she was downgraded to Tropical Storm before making landfall. Florida merely got soaked, not maimed. Still, that dramatic night swim with massive waves and people skinny-dipping and watching the clouds march out to see to where Frances churned menacingly in the Caribbean, ... that moment of adventure and danger where we all reveled in being young.... NO! I will not let that be my last storm swim! Never!"
I dipped my feet into the waves and tentatively walked forward, still not happy about the fact that I would be facing those strong, foamy waves. When a huge wave crashed near me and then pulled massively at my legs with an undertow of such strength that it literally frightened me.... I ran out. I scurried back onto the beach and thought.... hmmm.
Well, on the other hand, I am over thirty and I can't just needlessly put my life at risk. I have to think about who will take care of Kimbaby if I'm dead or wounded. Besides, it wouldn't be totally wussy of me to not swim out into the ocean now. There's a hurricane forming right now, right? Not even the daredevil paraglider has chosen to swim today. In fact, nobody has chosen to swim today except me! That makes me not adventurous but merely stupid, right? I should probably go home now, I'm soaked.
I couldn't go just yet though because I really, really needed to go to the bathroom. I was hoping to urinate discreetly in the ocean but the waves were so strong that even peeing in the surf seemed risky. Still, I didn't want to hold it until I got back home so I crouched down and hoped for a large wave to come and hide my lower parts long enough for me to void my bladder. Unfortunately when a large wave DID come along it was so frightening that I couldn't pee. I could only stand up and run out of it's way.
Soon urinating became not an option when I looked up the beach and saw two adolescent boys in swim trunks running towards the ocean. I'm sure they hadn't seen me, but I was still worried. With all the reckless devil-may-care attitude of someone who believes that he will live forever, one boy rushed right into the waves. "Oh honey, be careful," I though urgently, hoping that he would be more clever. The boy's companion had a surf board strapped to his ankle, but ironically he was a little more hesitant about stepping into the raging sea. The first boy only made it out to the first line of breakers. I could tell that even he was having second thoughts after feeling the harsh undertow that day.
To compound the matter the rain suddenly started to blow even harder, hitting my skin with stinging pricks. I couldn't even look towards the ocean anymore. The rain in my eyes hurt too much. I raced towards the car, casting only a glance at the adolescent boys down the beach. They were both out of the water, huddling near each other because of the rain. "Good," I thought to myself, "Stay there. Don't go in the water."
With that I decided that I had had enough of the beach that day. I changed clothes in the car (not an easy feat with the steering wheel in the way) and drove back home. Paul Theroux, noted traveller who had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Central Africa during the sixties and was not "on the shady side of sixty" and writing a new book about Africa. "It's easier to travel as an old man," he said, "Nobody notices you. Nobody harasses you. Nobody regards you as a threat. You just grin like a dog, don't make yourself too interesting and talk to people. That's the best way to travel nowadays."
I drove home listening to Theroux's reassuring British voice. Theroux is an American but he sounds British due to the fact that he's spent most of his life on the fair island of Britannia. The rain still lashed at the various CVS's and Walgreens and strip malls. I drove over the perilous and menacing bridge that separates Hutchinson Beach from the rest of Martin County.
@SophieGlazer - Thanks! I didn't want you to think me ungrateful for all those wonderful Aubrey/Maturin novels you sent me. After the first half or so of "Master and Commander" the series really is wonderful. I just wanted to remind people that there is no "immersion effect" from O'Brien's novels...
Very insightful discussion of vampires/zombies: Simon Pegg had some reflections along the same line in his discussion of "the Dead Set," in which the vampires can run. "Bad move," Pegg argued, claiming that the shambling, moaning zombie had a pathos about him, and that in giving him the ability to