Could some racist jungle comics have been subversively egalitarian?
It’s no secret that Golden Age comics were full of racist imagery, especially Golden Age jungle comics. But Steve Bennett at Super ITCH pointed out something today that I hadn’t noticed in the examples that I’ve read. Like most jungle girl comics from that time period, Rulah the Jungle Goddess is racist at its very concept: “a standard-issue bored thrill-junkie/society-girl aviatrix who crashed her plane in Africa. There she saved a tribe from a tyrant’s rule who were so grateful the natives dubbed her Rulah, Jungle Goddess and made her their ruler.” A couple of things differentiate Rulah from similar comics, though.
First, they were drawn by Matt Baker, a black man. That doesn’t mean that all Africans are portrayed with respect in Rulah comics, as you’ll see if you click through the link. After all, Baker wasn’t writing these stories. But it adds an interesting facet to thinking about these things, especially in light of the other major difference Bennett points out:
…all the ‘native’ women were white and the men black. It’s not true in all her stories but in the bulk Rulah rules over a world where females were exclusively drawn like white showgirls and the men like (fairly non-stereotypically drawn) blacks.
…as drawn the characters…are committing miscegenation, i.e. race mixing. In 1948 when the comic was published this was still a crime in 30 out of then 48 states…
Bennett also speculates that this itself was done for racist reasons: to make the women in the comic more attractive to white, male readers. But even if that’s the case, it still created a fictional culture that – all else being equal – was subversively egalitarian. And readers didn’t seem to mind.
I hope I’ve made it clear that I’m not at all looking to excuse any type of racism in these comics, but I find this unexpectedly (and yes, possibly unintentionally) anti-racist part of it fascinating and noteworthy.