A bit of a firestorm erupted in the comments section of Frank Santoro’s most recent Riff Raff column at The Comics Journal. Closing with six pictures from the most recent issue of the self-published series Fukitor #9 by Jason Karns, Santoro praised the book for its use of colors on two different types of paper within the same issue, calling it “one of the most interesting print jobs out there.” Indeed, the art is visceral and eye-catching, judging by the photos of Santoro holding the comic.
The sticky part is that three of the images are from a “Special Forces Attack Squad” story that contains what could be considered as racially insensitive. Santoro also described Karns’ work as being “almost ‘too real’ to be part of the contemporary comics conversation.” He also said, “Just about everything compared to his work seems ‘pretentious.’ Karns is not trying to do a throwback style or appropriate ‘bad comics’ in order to make some sort of art comic. This is the real deal. This shit is SERIOUS!”
I’m not sure what most of that description even means. In what way is his work “too real”? Karns certainly isn’t doing journalism comics a la Joe Sacco. Santoro later admitted he could’ve done a better job of presenting Karns’ work, and the ensuing comments to his column appear to have caused him to reassess his appreciation, at least as it pertains to the subject matter. Right off the bat, the first commenter asked whether Fukitor is racist. Karns himself quickly showed up with a strange response that’s boils down to, “They’re just cartoons.” It reads as though he’s claiming the comic book form is somehow incapable of depicting racist imagery, which is pretty easily disputed by any cursory survey of World War II-era comics. Karns goes on to dig a rather big hole for himself.