For something new in '22 I thought that as well as showing pages of my work I'd also write ocassional articles about the comics industry itself and how (or if) any changes or situations affect my place in it.
As you may have heard, about a month ago Spotty of The Bash Street Kids had a permanent name change to Scotty (as his full name is James Scott Cameron). The Beano script by Andy Fanton was handled really well and made sense in its context, with 'Spotty' being fed up having that nickname and a series of events that eventually led to the other kids accepting his real name.
The precedent had been set several months earlier when 'Fatty' changed to 'Freddy'. These slight name changes made no difference to the storylines because Freddy still likes his food and Scotty's stories were very rarely about him having spots anyway. (Personally, I'd always assumed they were freckles. Ten year olds don't usually suffer from acne!)
Typically the media got hold of these changes and did their usual thing to stir up people who hadn't read the Beano in decades. Cries of "too woke" and "snowflakes" were posted online by people who hadn't even seen the strips and whose lives wouldn't be affected in the slightest by children's comics.
Let's face it; nicknames have always been pretty childish haven't they? Can we move on from name calling?
I should make it clear that although I freelance for the Beano, these opinions are entirely my own. I'm not on staff and I'm not representing Beano or D.C. Thomson. As it happens I can understand why the changes were made and they really aren't anything to get irate about. Society has always been in an ongoing state of change. Being "woke" merely means to be more mindful and aware of the feelings of others. It's a shame that some see that as a bad thing!
Obviously whenever there are changes in society there will be some who'll take things to the extreme, but overall, such changes are well measured and beneficial. After all, it's not as though we all woke up and it suddenly wasn't 1970 anymore is it? The changes have been very gradual over many years and most of us have adapted over time because anything that makes this world a bit less cruel has to be a good thing, right?
As most of you know, I wasn't adverse to poking fun at "spotty" people myself, particularly in the pages of Oink! in the late 1980s with my creation Pete and his Pimple. However I made the situations so exaggerated, so ludicrously extreme, that hopefully it transcended simply making jokes about acne. I also tried to make Pete a sympathetic character so the readers shared his desire to rid himself of his giant zit. (I even invited readers to send in their ideas for a pimple cure in return for a prize, and used the best ones in the comic.) Would I create new Pete and his Pimple stories today if Rebellion asked? Yes! Although I'd play up the sympathetic angle even more and give his character more depth. Not that a new series is likely anytime soon, and in today's times perhaps it wouldn't be commissioned anyway.
There are a couple of characters from my past that I do regret now. One is Norma Snockers, a newspaper strip I did for the Sunday Sport back around 1989/90. If you've never heard of the paper then "downmarket" is the kindest description I could give it. They commissioned me to create a kind of modern day "Jane" strip but cruder, and I came up with Norma, a woman with massive boobs. To offset it just being jokes about breasts I made each episode a five panel limerick, and made sure that most times Norma won out against lecherous dirty old men and the like. Not that it really justifies it in hindsight. I did 69 weekly strips and then quit after problems with delayed payments and their refusal to return my artwork. I own the rights to the strip and could publish a collection if I wanted to, but I don't want to so it's not going to happen.
The other character I regret is Tranny Magnet that I did for Viz about 20 years ago. The saga of a man who is cursed to attract the unwanted attention of transexuals. It all seemed like a bit of fun back then, before any of us realised the anguish and mental stress that real transexuals go through and the courage they face in making the decision to change their gender. I can make excuses that I was ignorant, and it was a different time, but my drawings of transexuals were insulting, callous and cruel and I hang my head in shame. I think I did half a dozen or so altogether but you won't be seeing any more appearances of that character!
I was a younger man when I created those characters and now, at 62, hopefully I'm more mindful of the targets I choose for comedy. It's never too late to change your outlook. Many of us laughed at the bigoted comedians in the 1970s but the point is we should be better than that now! It's easy to say "It's only a bit of fun" when you're not the target. For example it's not difficult to avoid being a racist, unless you're really enjoying being a racist. For anyone who complains that "we can't say that now" I'd ask, "Why would you want to?"
"Political correctness" isn't a war on humour. We can still produce funny stuff without punching down at minorities and people who don't deserve to be ridiculed. In this day and age more of us should be using our humour to target the elities, the authority figures who'd do us down, not our fellow citizens. That's always been a tradition in humour comics too of course; for the underdog to get the better of the oppressor, and may that tradition not only continue but to thrive!