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Last and certainly not least.

Once upon a far too long ago, I started this whole Black Webcomics Roundup thing. In my infinite wisdom, I decided to save those comics that were most provocative or otherwise discussion-worthy in their portrayals of black people (not necessarily African-Americans) for last.

And now, after more than a year of giving myself homework and shirking it, we have come to the last in this insightful journey through what is an oft-overlooked sector of the webcomic world.

This comic hasn’t updated in some time (since sometime mid 2007), but it, like ‘Bad Shape!’ Before it, is especially noteworthy due to the envelopes that it pushes. Also, it’s important to note that this Political correctness differences aside, it’s also got some harsh language and scatological humor. You’ve been warned.

Anyhow, the comic is called Marbles, and it’s the joint effort of Marc de Wolf and Govert van derHeijden, or two guys from the Netherlands. The comic follows the daily tribulations of a trio of starving children who live in a fictional city called Marbleville in a fictional country apparently composed entirely of desert (and yes, according to the comments on the first page, it’s located in Africa,) named Bulimia.

Once you get past the character designs and the concept of a humorous comic about starving African children (these drew a lot of flak over at the Webcomic List’s forum once upon a time, back when I first found out about it, but the board was nuked awhile ago, the threads in question along with it. It’s back now, but all new stuff), it quickly becomes clear that the comic is simply pointing out the foibles of the global community. An especially long and emaciated finger points toward America (or white Americans, depending on how you look at it). All of this is viewed through the relatively clear lens of the central cast.

Granted, this lens does skew from time to time, mostly from frustration. However, on the whole, the children (like in many comics and other forms of storytelling before them, and doubtless more to come) share clarity of vision that the well-meaning but otherwise toxic adults cannot hope to match in their collective mad dash to salve their consciences with quick fixes and meaningless gestures at compassion.

If you know anything at all about the current world climate, then Marbles will probably make you laugh, albeit a bit cynically, and if you don’t, then you might learn something. I am not usually one for politically-themed humor, but the way that Marbles presents its subject matter is more interesting to me than most of the other snarky topical humor out there; more than likely because it’s not as polarized as American-style political humor is. I also respect Marc’s point of view on the subject matter and its treatment. I had snipped this bit of bulletin board chatter for use in this review back at the beginning of last year as he found himself defending his comic from several irate creators:

“We are both white Dutch boys who make comics in which the poor black Africans are usually smarter and kinder than the arrogant western visitors. Our characters speak more eloquent than the average snappy black guy in Hollywood [sic] movies. Could somebody please explain me, how our comic, amongst all the webcomics that only feature bored caucasian [sic] youngsters and don’t have a single non-white character appear in all their archives, is racist? If somebody can, please email us. I’m very curious.”

He’s got a point there. And finally, dear readers, I will leave you with Marc de Wolf’s answers to my questionnaire (hidden behind a spoiler because the post is running a bit long), and the end of the Black Webcomics Roundup. If it ever happens again, it’ll probably be too soon.

Are you a professional artist? (Art degrees count, even if you’re not drawing for money right now)

We’re both illustration students, and do some artistic work when we can get it.

What is the name of your comic?
Marbles

What genre would you attribute to it?

Humour/Satire

What is it about?

The every day adventures of a group of starving African children, a few of their fellow villagers and the flies buzzing around their heads.

And now for the heart of the matter, as it were:
What is your ethnicity?

White

Does your comic have an all-black cast?

Yes

If so, what was the reasoning behind that choice?

It wasn’t really a choice. Native African people just happen to look black, and all our characters are native Africans.

How conscious of a decision was it to make them black?

Not at all, really. We’ve always thought of our characters as African people, not black people.

Would your comic have suffered any if you had not done that?

Well, the whole comic wouldn’t make much sense if they were white, I suppose.

Being as honest as possible, do you think that this is even a topic worthy of discussion?

I’m afraid that because of the state society is in we have no choice but to discuss race. In a perfect world, race wouldn’t matter to anyone so there was no need to discuss anything, but as it is, it’s a sensitive topic so it shouldn’t be ignored. It’s certainly worthy to wonder why we’re all so concerned about people’s skin colour, even though we all pretend not to be.

To clarify: do you think that a perceived lack of black (or any other minority, for that matter,) characters is something that needs to be addressed, for lack of a better term, or discussed?

No, not really. I don’t think it’s really a conscious[sic] decision for many cartoonists not to include black people in their comics. As a cartoonist you tend to write about what you know, and create characters you tend to identify with. It’s a simple fact that different races just tend to stick together and segregate, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like each other. Whether segregation is a bad thing and, if it is, how to solve it are topics worthy of discussion but that’s a race issue in general, which applies to a lot more than just comics.

If so, do you have any ideas as to how it could possibly be addressed? Do you feel that your webcomic is addressing this issue?

I once mentioned something about why some people think our comic is racist while we have an all black cast and most other webcomics don’t have any black characters at all, and I guess that’s sort of contradicting my answer to the previous question. But what I meant to say with it was that our comic’s heroes are black, so how could that imply we have anything against black people? Though we put them through some heavy shit in our stories we still love them like all cartoonists love their spiritual babies. Garfield has a very shitty personality and bad things tend to happen to him, but there’s no doubt on my mind that Jim Davis likes cats. So I guess I sort of addressed the issue there (This is a pretty lengthy example about one single webcomic news post, but since you quoted it in the TWCL thread I guess it’s sorta significant). Other than that, we’ve never really addressed it.

And for those of you who are keeping score, for the record, the entire Roundup consisted of these comics, aside from Marbles:
Bad Shape! by Wiz Rollins.
(Part 2 is here.)
SPIDERS 19013 by Desire Grover.
Assassin: Angeli Nascosti by Trenton Thompson.
Templar, Arizona by Iron Spike.
The Devilfish Project by Byron Jackson.

2 Responses to “Last and certainly not least.”

  1. On October 20, 2008 at 3:04 pm
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