Racism and stereotypes are things we cannot avoid. Our bodies make snap judgments based on peoples accents, religion, and physical appearance without conscious cognitive reasoning. The thing that novels without pictures struggle to encompass, is that first snap judgment, or take in of an entire scene.
We spoke in class about how the racism that is pervasive through out the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in some ways takes away from the book. While I do think using the name “Johnny Chinaman” does not add any substance to the graphic novel, I think in some ways Alan Moore’s use of racism and bluntness does.
Multiple times throughout the graphic novel Moore expresses that this “comic book” is not meant for children. It is a graphic, brutal story geared towards adult readers. These adults should have already formulated opinions on race strong enough to at the very least not be swayed by a comic book, and thus readers will be accepting what they see as a form of media and not as truth.
The scene that best utilizes racism and callousness to add to the novel is when Ms. Murray ventures to Cairo to seek out Quatermaine. Upon entering the building wherein he is staying, Ms. Murray is confronted by an almost alien scene. The bar is packed and thick with dark shisha smoke. There are no women and none of the men seem friendly at all. In fact, they fit the exact Arab stereotype that makes some of us as Americans uncomfortable. In the dark room they all wear turbans or little hats, wear the thin mustache and heavy beard and do not speak English. Ms. Murray is wearing proper English lady attire and is easily recognized as out of place and not belonging there.
The stark contrast of Ms. Murray and the men around her and the use of racism provide a powerful visual message. Upon entering the bar, we can see that this place is alien, it is different and potentially harmful. There are no allies in this place of people so different from her, and she is not safe. It illustrates the intensity of the position that Quatermaine is in and the lengths Ms.Murray would go to find him.
In the frame I chose, Ms. Murray is being raped. In this foreign, unsafe place she is forced to the floor and has her legs spread. In the frame one can see the man’s naked but as he prepares himself to rape her while his fat brother holds her down. The men’s faces are totally unconcerned or afraid or merciful. Once again, before reading this book we were warned of its illicit material.
This scene is incredibly disconcerting to put in words, but to see it on paper, in color, to a woman whose character has been developing? Far worse. However, I think that that is a good thing. Rape is a very disconcerting thing, and we should not take it casually even when we read it. Too often now in books do we read of massive amounts of civilians dying without pause to think of each of their families- the widows and the orphans. It is so easy to just keep reading, “what is going to happen next”? Between the two frames I have discussed, one can see how hopeless and afraid Ms. Murray, how dire her situation is and better relate to it. If the first frame was brighter, and the men there looked more decent and less foreign maybe Ms. Murray could have called for help, or maybe even she could expect that these men would be punished for their crimes. If I only saw a shadow of her about to be raped, I would not have fully grasped how invasive they were being or the closeness to which they came to being successful.
All in all in this set of frames the racism help build set the tone of the scene, and better let us relate to the character and her situation.
This is not just a comic book… it’s a graphic novel.