The Representation of East Asian Characters in Two Popular Western Comic Strips

Familiar to almost anyone who grew up in America, Archie Comics has told the stories of a fairly interesting group of teenagers living in the town of Riverdale for decades. First established in 1939 these comics are still published today, 72 years of panels featuring that insipid redhead Archie Andrews and his friends [who I actually don’t mind]. The comic strip Zits, on the other hand, was first published in 1997, and has for 14 years chronicled the misadventures of much-more-modern teenager Jeremy Duncan and his own group of eclectic young people.

It’s not difficult to see how the two [a single strip and all those created by an entire company] are similar to one another. Both are about American teenagers and their day-to-day lives, albeit living in very different eras. Having originated in the late 30s Archie and his friends have moved forward generation after generation, yet stick to a much lighter tone in regards to issues that teenagers have to face. Zits, starting at the turn of the 20th century, has a more realistic view of the high school years, addressing such topics as the disconnect between teenagers and their parents, the short attention span of today’s youth, and so on.

What I would like to explore and elaborate upon is the representation of Asian characters, specifically those of East Asian descent. Both of these comics are [or, at the very least, have been] immensely popular, and as a result their content is in part representative of what the West [in this case Canada and America] is familiar and comfortable with.According to InformationDelight.info, “‘Zits’ is notable for its multi-cultural cast of characters including African-American, Asian and Latino ethnicities.” Archie Comics as a company has recently been given a lot of praise and attention regarding its movement towards a more diverse comic strip. Examples cited are Ginger Lopez, a Spanish-American introduced in the early 2000’s, Raj Patel, of Indian descent appearing in 2007, and most recently, Kevin, the first ever openly-gay character to appear in Archie Comics having made his debut in last year’s September issue of Veronica, #202.

In response to what these sources are claiming, I did a little research of my own, given my resources [five Zits sketchbooks from No. 5, Unzipped to No. 8 Busted!, a copy of Archie’s Pals ‘n’ Gals Double Digest #99, and the internet] and my personal experiences [having read dozens of Archie comics and years of reading Zits in the newspaper]. What I came away with was this:

One [1] instance of an Asian character with a speaking role in the five Zits sketchbooks [in this case short, 128 page books] I own. Seen as follows:


And only two [2] instances of recurring Asian characters in Archie Comics, Tomoko Yoshida and Kim Wong. Using Google I was only able to find a handful of pictures of the former, who apparently was present in a whole five issues. A picture of her appears on the right.

There is no trace of Kim Wong on the internet save for the Wikipedia article.

Having talked through it with a friend and thinking hard on this myself, I have come up with four possible issues why there is such a dearth of  East Asian characters appearing in either of these comic strips.

1. There is a lack of interest by Archie Comics as a company and by both Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman as writer and artist, respectively. They do not believe there is a need to have Asian characters, and as a result have chosen not to depict them.

2. The cast of both strips has already been solidified, and the addition of extra characters would seem forced. This defence favours Zits, as Archie Comics has continued to add characters throughout the years [albeit often temporary ones].

3. Their lack of representation is in turn representative of their own life experiences. The artists and writers have not had interaction or have not been witness to a great degree of multiculturalism of multiethnicity, and this is made evident in their creative material.

4. Art. Just straight-up art. Pay attention to the Zits strip above and note the way the unnamed character was drawn; pay specific attention to his eyes. The aim of comics as a medium is to tell stories using pictures, and it is of utmost important that characters are able to emote with their faces as well as their actions or dialogue. Imagine this character expressing happiness, anger, et cetera.

This could go back to the artists not having experience in drawing characters of East Asian descent, but as a reason it seems fairly plausible to me. Having had to [presumably] draw almost solely Caucasian characters throughout their careers there is a difficulty present in portraying those of other ethnicities.

Zits, published July 24th, 2008. I found this while searching for more images eight months after I originally wrote this.

Having come to a potential conclusion, I find myself stumped in terms of where to go next. I suppose my final answer would be that at the present there is no need to portray East Asians in Western comic strips; there is no calling for equal representation so nothing is done. Would I personally mind seeing a regular East Asian character appear in either of these comic strips, someone well-rounded and semi-permanent? No, I wouldn’t.

Advertisements

4 responses to “The Representation of East Asian Characters in Two Popular Western Comic Strips

  1. This was the last post I wrote for my last blog, with minor edits: http://arethesewords.blogspot.com/2011/01/representation-of-asian-characters-in.html

    Etc. Etc.

  2. I was about to give you a hard time for just reposting a blog you’d already written, but you admitted it. 😛

  3. thanks for citing my article!
    You raise an interesting point. When Archie comics DOES show minorities, the minorities are somewhat stereotyped. i’m pretty sure I remember an Asian girl from Archie being depicted in her “native” garb and explaining her culture to her “American” friends. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with that, except that she’s one of the only representations of an Asian character throughout the series. Her identity shouldn’t solely be her ehtnicity. Same goes for the Hispanic characters.
    I think it’s an issue of these comics’ historical backgrounds and the artists’ reticence to alienate their fans by changing with the times and incorporating more diversity. I wonder how the role of Asians compares with that of other minorities though.
    I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a male Asian character in Archie too; I’m going to go through my collection and see if I can find him.

    • I’ve read a fair number of Archie comics in the past, and from what I can remember there has never been a very strong representation of Asians in general, especially compared to the other minorities.

      Your article raised an interesting point about Anita Chavita, though. I always think of Archie comics as being a great example of characters never dating outside of their ethnicities [ex. Chuck and Nancy], but clearly she’s an exception to the rule.

Join the discussion-

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s