Monday, April 23, 2007

Toys, Comics, and the Need for Heroes Part 1

When I grew up as a kid I liked reading comic books, but one of the problems I had was that there were few heroes that looked like me. My second problem that there were no characters that had the same values as me. When I wanted a sci-fi character that was like me, I didn't have anywhere to go. When I wanted a hero that I could imitate, often the pages of my comics, and the cartoons had nothing for me. I was also forced into a situation of having toys that was based on what was a available.

Yet, there was one exception to this situation. I do remember the only diverse toys, comics, and cartoons were that of G.I. Joe.

GI Joe Intro

It is interesting that a military toy was the only one that was available with built in diversity, and kung fu action grip. G.I. Had an array of African American male characters such as.

  • Alpine
  • Doc
  • Iceberg
  • Heavy Metal
  • Roadblock
  • Stalker
  • Zap

A Full GI Joe character list

One of my favorite G.I. Joes was a character named Snake Eyes who wore black from head to toe. Even though under the garb Snake Eyes was not African American, he was what I would term Euro-American, it was the mysterious black garb and the fact that he was a silent character of stealth that garnered my interest. It did not matter his heritage was under the mask and clothing it was about what he was externally a "Black Ninja."

At the same time it is interesting how art imitates life in the fact that the American military was one of the methods that African Americans began to gain rights. It was through the armed services that many African Amerians were able to expand their horizens by seeing the world, while at the same time acquiring skils that helped them in post military life. So it is interesting for me to look back and see that for the most part the most diversified and culturally relevant comics, cartoons, and toys were that of a military sense.

It wasn't until Marvel Comics created an African American character named Bishop that my prayers had been answered. Bishop was tuff, intelligent, and had a strong sense of nobility. In the X-Men comic he had been a part of a law enforcement agency in the future and he was a leader. He was often the X-Man with the skills that would save the team in the clutch. He was also alone within himself because he was living in an environment not his own, and he had to bear this lonelyness by himself.

Yet, this for me was still not enough. I wanted a hero that was like me. I wanted a hero that I could pattern myself after, especially since during my childhood I had low self esteem. I always felt weak and I always felt different. I also had a sense of religious nobility that for a number of years I ran away from. Where were my characters that understood this dynamic?

I had always dreamed of creating my own comics with people that looked like me and felt the way I did. When I was young I spent hours drawing characters and trying to create super powers. I didn't want them to be in their seperate universe from my favorite comics such as X-Men and the like, I wanted them to be a part of that world.

There were a number of Afro-centric comics that later came out when I was older, but the problem I had with them was that they seemed over the top. Their villians were racists and bigots, which to me is only one aspect of being African American. Their powers always reolved around half imitating the mainstream comics, nadMaybe, what eventually kept me grounded was that I had some real life heroes who did things like help people, work with youth, treated their wives with dignity, etc.

Eventually, I began to gravitate towards real heroes some of whom looked like me and some of which didn't. I think this was the case, because even when I didn't feel like my physical characteristics were worth anything there were people who made me feel like I was worth something. So when the time came I saw myself as someone of value. So maybe the point is that parenting and community is stronger than the media and outside influences when it comes to building one's self image. Yet, is it possible that there is always a need for a child to have imiginary heroes who defy human capabilities? Do children, especially those who are not a part of the majority society, also need figures who stand for something? Characters who look, struggle, and feel the same way we all do from time to time.‎

No comments: