The Non-Cartoonist Cartoonist ~ The “B” Word

By James Donahue

“Do you want an ass-kickin’ boy?” is more or less how each and every I’ll Kick Your Ass strip starts, no matter who the subject of the eventual ass-kicking is. Man, woman, black, white, real, fictional, or even if Ass-kickin’ Jim is speaking to an inanimate object or idea of sorts. This is the way the first few strips were written in my college newspaper/newsletter, and when restarting the strip after a very long hiatus I kept the intro exactly the same.

I did this partly to establish the theme of the strip right off the bat. I wanted to highlight that AKJ was always ready to hand out an ass-kicking and that it’s a fairly ridiculous comment to start with. I left the term “boy” included to add to how silly it was.

Calling a smartphone or a tropical storm “boy” is kind of absurd. Calling Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry, a high-ranking official, or politician “boy” just goes to show that AKJ treats everyone the same. Usually the people he is addressing do not deserve a whole lot of respect. This started with the origin strip, in which a character got walloped for pretty much no reason. Senseless and silly is all it was, and so it continued apace.

AKJ recently addressed some poorly thought comments made by Serena Williams concerning the Steubenville rape case. Some of her original comments and apologies (it took her two tries to get it correct) can be read here. For the record, I think rape and sexual assault are some of the most cowardly crimes that can be committed against a person. So when someone tries to deflect the seriousness of this act or make light of it, I feel the need to point out the wrongness of that thought process in comic strip form.

After my comic was posted, someone took issue with the strip targeting Serena not because AKJ attacked her for what she said but because he referred to a black woman as “boy.” The reader made the following comment: “Poorly worded, esp with the white man using term ‘boy.’”

I will admit this gave me certain pause. If one person saw this as offensive or racist, chances are other people might feel the same. I responded by explaining that it has always been this way and does not reflect on the race, creed, or color of AKJ’s foil, but is simply the strip’s “opening statement.” The person who left the comment thanked me for responding and agreed that Serena’s remarks were uncalled for.

Wikipedia has a very long and detailed listing when looking up the term “boy,” including a brief section on race. The definition under is as follows:

Historically, in countries such as theU.S. andSouth Africa, “boy” was not only a “neutral” term for domestics but also used as a disparagingracistinsult towards men of color (especially of African descent), recalling their subservient status even after the 20th century legal emancipation (from slavery, evolved torace segregation, viz.Apartheid) and alleged infantility, and many still consider it offensive in that context to this day since it denotes that men of color (especially of African descent) are less than men.

So while many definitions of the word “boy” exist, at least one individual thought of this context when he read my strip addressing a black woman. So the question is, how do I proceed in the future when addressing an African American in the comic? If I am going to call out Kanye West for, well, just being Kanye, or Lil’ Wayne for his recent stomping of the American flag, do I start the strip as always—referring to these individuals as “boy”—or do I play it a little more safe and say “Do you want an ass-kickin’ Kanye/Lil Wayne?”

I’m still undecided on how to proceed. Is the potential controversy and publicity that “boy” could cause worth it? I think anyone who took the time to do some research would see that I’ll Kick Your Ass is anything but a strip that promotes racism. If anything, AKJ targets the racist, sexist, elitist, and stupid.

Sooner or later a prominent African American is going to say something that is going to line him up for an ass-kickin’. At this moment I’m not sure how I will address it, but you can be sure the possible implications will be on my mind.

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