Sometimes I get suggestions from people that I should add more diversity to my comic strip. Why not introduce new characters with different ethnic backgrounds? Within the context of the strip, I have included people of different races in a few storylines here and there. Perhaps I will develop one of them into a major character some day. But creatively, with the strip being relatively young, I have my hands full developing the characters I already have in place. Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, said that new characters should be added when a strip is starting to become dull and needs a new relationship interjected to help spark some new ideas. I can foresee the need for some new “friends” of Kim and Jason someday, but the strip is just not there yet.
Now I am quite sure that I am missing a big market opportunity, and that I could make a quick buck by inserting some “generic” people of color into the strip. Maybe it would even improve my chances of being syndicated. Not only does that seem to me a bit insincere and short-sighted, I also think Kim & Jason is about something universal that transcends race, religion, and nationalities. I believe people are drawn to the strip and everything else we do because they can relate to the universal aspects that are similar in each of us, just as The Cosby Show was loved because it effectively communicated the common experience of family life, regardless of the race of any of the show’s viewers.
I’d like to share a story from my lawyer friend Carlo, who recently traveled to Washington D.C. to be sworn in before the U.S. Supreme Court. (You may only argue in front of the Supreme Court if you are a member of the Supreme Court Bar.)
My childhood moment started as I entered the Supreme Court. To put the feeling into perspective, think about Jason walking into Metropolis and waiting in a room to meet with Superman, Spiderman, Captain America, and six other superheros at 10 a.m. As I sat in the room, my palms actually started to sweat and my heart started to race. I have not had that feeling in a long time.
At exactly 10 a.m. the clerk stood and spoke those magical words, “Oyez Oyez Oyez all rise for the Chief Justice and Associates Justices of the United States Supreme Court.” In slow motion, there they were. I was sitting five feet away from the most powerful body in the world. When I stood and Chief Justice Roberts looked at me and I raised my right hand, I had to use all of my effort to remain professional. I read and hear about these people everyday and for the first time in my life there they were. Oh well, sorry I’m such a geek but I guess we all have our own childhood moments.
We do indeed. This story reminds me of a Chalkboard contribution that was posted many years ago at KimandJason.com. In a topic about foods you associate most with childhood, an individual from India mentioned Rajmah Chawal. She said, “It’s an Indian dish, and it’s simply superb. Over all, most of the kids I know love it and I still beg Mom to make them. Ah…those were the days!!”
Besides having never heard of such a dish, it occurred to me that in reality, it didn’t really matter. ANY food could be substituted in the equation: chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, or even Salisbury steak TV dinners. What’s constant are the emotions and memories that come to mind.
This is what makes childhood universal. We come from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds, family structures, and generations. The details may vary, but the experience of childhood — the feelings and emotions, the playfulness, the passion, the curiosity, and the wide-eyed wonder — unites us all.
Whether or not you get excited by being in the presence of the Supreme Court, opening a present that you spent months pining for, or relishing one of Mom’s secret recipes that you haven’t had in years, we all know the feeling. We can all relate.
This entire experience of studying children — and childhood — in order to create the daily comic strips, to speak to people all over the country, and to write halfway intelligently in my books and blog continues to astound me. I am excited by the new things I discover.
Perhaps what fascinates me the most is both the unmistakable universality of childhood, and the breathtaking diversity of the way we experience our “childhood moments.”
[tags]diversity, childhood, comic strips[/tags]
Great topic. I too was confronted with this very thing in my strip. There are so many things that can go wrong with introducing ethni diversity into a comic that it’s a daunting ordeal. You have to take a lot into consideration.
But, I like the way you put it. Basically, kids are kids, no matter their race or color. If you completely erased your characters and just used word baloons, they’d work for kids around the world just the same.
Whatever you decide I wish you the best of luck.