Will Eisner says not. I have my own opinion, but what do the rest of y'all think?

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Ebony White was an "acceptable" caricature of the time though that was slowly changing even then. The character of Ebony White was a sidekick/comic relief/best pal to the Spirit. He would have done anything to help him, even putting himself in jeopardy to save him. And the Spirit would have done the same for him.

The visual portrayal of Ebony, by today's standards, would be called insensitive at best and racist at worst but Ebony didn't get the reimagining that, say, Chop-Chop of the Blackhawks got later on.

That's why reprints need text pieces to put things into context.

I honestly don't think I'm qualified to answer.

Captain Comics said:

I honestly don't think I'm qualified to answer.

Don't let that stop you; I'd like to hear what you think.

What do I think? I think Will Eisner could have rendered Ebony White as a human being, but didn't. He rendered White in the same manner as other "acceptable" racist depictions, and thus made Ebony White one more in that vein.

(If anyone noticed it in the  first place, I deleted my reply to this because I felt as though I hadn't really thought it out properly.)

"Don't let that stop you; I'd like to hear what you think."

That's never stopped any of us before. I'd like to hear what you think, too. You, too, Bob.

My own view is... "evolving" as they say. I used to think pretty much along the lines of what Philip posted, but now I agree with Kelvin. I happen to be reading The Spirit now (I'm up to May, 1942), so it's fresh in my mind. Also, John Oliver did a piece on Last Week Tonight Sunday about white people (who had the best of intentions) dressing up as black people, and why that's just plain wrong. He convinced me, and Ebony White is just another example of what I'll call "benign racism" (to coin a phrase).

I've read a fair amount of Eisner's Spirit, particularly in the time frame when Ebony featured prominently.

Ebony was definitely drawn in the racist caricature style of the time, no question about that. I'm pretty sure Eisner himself has admitted it and said he regretted it as well.

That being said, I think he wrote Ebony very differently.

At the time, common characteristics of Black characters in media was that they were lazy, cowardly, uneducated among other stereotypes. However, I think Eisner took pains to write Ebony differently.

As Eisner wrote him, Ebony was definitely not cowardly, at least not when it came to threats from other people. He was particularly shown to be quite brave in the face of torture or if the Spirit was in danger and needed rescuing. Nor was he shown to be lazy either--I don't recall him ever complaining about having to do any work. At the same time, a lot of this doesn't necessarily show through because Ebony was also created to be comic relief, so some of his characteristics were played up fro laughs (like Popeye, Ebomy was not a fan of the supernatural).

If you've read enough of Eisner's Spirit, there's a distinct change in voice when Lou Fine took over the feature while Eisner was in the Army. Ebony was no longer self-reliant, rarely showed any particular intelligence and was all around more of a buffoon.

I think I've said this here before, but if I haven't my phrase is this: Eisner's Ebony was a partner; Fine's Ebony was a sidekick.

Since Will Eisner owned the Spirit and was, well, Will Eisner, I think that he got some slack as far as Ebony's portrayal went, and IIRC, he was written out of the series for a time.

And DC never really reprinted Blackhawk with its portrayal of Chop Chop during the Silver/Bronze Ages nor did it reprinted the Crimson Avenger with Wing except for Leading Comics #2 and that's because it was a Seven Soldiers' story.

Marvel never reprinted a Young Allies story with Whitewash Jones!

Speaking as someone that has never read any Spirit stories, I can only go by what I've heard. (I'm also trying not to be the White Guy Who Expounds on What Black People Think).

From what I have heard, Ebony was portrayed as having many good qualities: brave, resourceful, loyal, etc. However, he was drawn as looking like a cartoonish stereotype, whereas the Spirit was not. Did Eisner mean this hatefully? I suspect not. Would an African-American looking at the character consider it as "hateful"?  I can't say for sure, but I think there's a good chance that they might.  Would it have made a difference if the Spirit was portrayed as cartoonishly as Ebony was? Dunno.

“I'm pretty sure Eisner himself has admitted it and said he regretted it as well.”

Maybe he changed his answer at some point, but I remember seeing a video interview in which he said (and I quote), “No apologies there.” He defended Ebony’s look on the basis of his characterization.

“If you've read enough of Eisner's Spirit, there's a distinct change in voice when Lou Fine took over the feature while Eisner was in the Army.”

Does anyone know when that shift occurs? I know Eisner was drafted in 1942, but I’m up to May and I don’t think it’s happened yet. (I’m not paging ahead. Maybe one of the introductions pinpoints it.)

“Marvel never reprinted a Young Allies story with Whitewash Jones!”

They did in the Marvel Masterworks series.

Randy Jackson said:

I've read a fair amount of Eisner's Spirit, particularly in the time frame when Ebony featured prominently.

Ebony was definitely drawn in the racist caricature style of the time, no question about that. I'm pretty sure Eisner himself has admitted it and said he regretted it as well.

That being said, I think he wrote Ebony very differently.

At the time, common characteristics of Black characters in media was that they were lazy, cowardly, uneducated among other stereotypes. However, I think Eisner took pains to write Ebony differently.

As Eisner wrote him, Ebony was definitely not cowardly, at least not when it came to threats from other people. He was particularly shown to be quite brave in the face of torture or if the Spirit was in danger and needed rescuing. Nor was he shown to be lazy either--I don't recall him ever complaining about having to do any work. At the same time, a lot of this doesn't necessarily show through because Ebony was also created to be comic relief, so some of his characteristics were played up fro laughs (like Popeye, Ebomy was not a fan of the supernatural).

If you've read enough of Eisner's Spirit, there's a distinct change in voice when Lou Fine took over the feature while Eisner was in the Army. Ebony was no longer self-reliant, rarely showed any particular intelligence and was all around more of a buffoon.

I think I've said this here before, but if I haven't my phrase is this: Eisner's Ebony was a partner; Fine's Ebony was a sidekick.


The Baron said:

Speaking as someone that has never read any Spirit stories, I can only go by what I've heard. (I'm also trying not to be the White Guy Who Expounds on What Black People Think).

From what I have heard, Ebony was portrayed as having many good qualities: brave, resourceful, loyal, etc. However, he was drawn as looking like a cartoonish stereotype, whereas the Spirit was not. Did Eisner mean this hatefully? I suspect not. Would an African-American looking at the character consider it as "hateful"?  I can't say for sure, but I think there's a good chance that they might.  Would it have made a difference if the Spirit was portrayed as cartoonishly as Ebony was? Dunno.

That's all well and good that Ebony White was written with positive qualities (brave, loyal, resourceful, industrious, etc.), but comics are a visual medium, and White is not appearing in prose. (As for the writing, the very name "Ebony White" is problematic.) White is rendered no differently than other racist cartoonish caricatures of the day, and that rendering undercuts the good. It looks like a duck. Sure, we're told, it doesn't walk like a duck, quack like a duck, swim like a duck ... but it still looks like a duck.

Is it done "hatefully"? Is that relevant? Asking the consumer to discern that this caricature is not like its similarly rendered brethren but is really really really different and better is a lot to ask, and it's too much to ask from me. (As noted elsewhere, I hold similar views of All in the Family, and Dr. McCoy in Star Trek.)

I'm somebody who hasn't read much of the original Spirit, and I recall asking on this site just what the big deal was, because I didn't get it -- a guy in a blue suit, fedora, gloves, red necktie and domino mask, so what? Captain Comics and Randy Jackson helpfully responded, pointing out Will Eisner's innovative page designs and pioneering storytelling techniques, things that are typical today that were fresh and new from Eisner's pen. Good, but there's things like this ...

... and I just say "Pass" and go on to something that won't require me to be offended as the price of being entertained.

Randy Jackson said:

If you've read enough of Eisner's Spirit, there's a distinct change in voice when Lou Fine took over the feature while Eisner was in the Army. Ebony was no longer self-reliant, rarely showed any particular intelligence and was all around more of a buffoon.

I think I've said this here before, but if I haven't my phrase is this: Eisner's Ebony was a partner; Fine's Ebony was a sidekick.

And would Lou Fine's version of Ebony White been more like Will Eisner's version if Eisner hadn't drawn White the way he had? 

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