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INTERVIEW: Comics that Dispel Black Stereotypes in Brazil

This article is part of a series that celebrates Black Awareness Day in Brazil (November 20). Read the first two interviews: Persistent Stereotypes, Latent Prejudices: Black Characters in Brazilian Comics and “People That Look Like Themselves”: A Comic that Celebrates Natural Black Hair

Cover of "Encruzilhada", by Marcelo D´Salete. Image used with permission.

Cover of “Encruzilhada”, by Marcelo D´Salete. Image used with permission.

Seeing a lack of comics dealing with the daily life of young black people in Brazil, Marcelo D'Salete [pt] has striven to fill in the gap. The teacher, author and illustrator who holds a master's degree in art history is the person behind comics such as Encruzilhada (Crossroad) [pt] or Noite Luz (Night light) [pt].

In this interview, D'Salete explains why black people have certainly made progress when it comes to how they are presented in the media, but with many still appearing as stereotypes, there's much work still to be done.

Global Voices (GV): Tell us a little about your relationship with comics. What motivates you? Is there an audience that you aim for?

Marcelo D'Salete (MDS): Realizo HQs [Histórias aos Quadrinhos] há mais de uma década e minha relação com essa mídia é intensa. Além de apreciar boas histórias, me interessa muito observar a forma como uma HQ é contada. As possibilidades são infinitas. Existem muitas maneiras de contar e essa forma precisa estar conectada com uma história. Por outro lado, quando comecei a trabalhar com HQs, notei que havia poucas histórias que abordavam o cotidiano de jovens negros. Uma verdadeira ausência de Hqs sobre esse tema. Por esse motivo, minhas histórias acabaram tratando de temas urbanos e negros. Essas HQs são feitas para diversos públicos, pessoas interessadas em se defrontar com novas perspectivas sobre grupos distintos numa grande cidade, a forma como eles relacionam-se e como conflitos surgem.

Marcelo D'Salete (MDS): I have been creating comics for over a decade and my relationship with this medium is intense. Besides appreciating good stories, I am interested in observing how a story is told in a comics. The choices are numberless. There are many ways for telling a story and a chosen form must be intertwined with the story. On the other hand, when I first started to work with comics, I realized there were few stories which told about the daily life of young black people. A real lack of comics about this theme. For that reason my stories came to deal with urban and black themes. These comics are made for diverse audiences, people interested in coming in touch with new perspectives from different groups in a big city, the way they interrelate and how conflicts arise.

GV: In an increasingly interconnected world, is saying that “we are citizens of the world” enough? Or are the color of one's skin, ethnicity, the assertion of identities and of locations still relevant? 

MDS:Hoje falamos de cidadania virtual, mas esse universo ainda é algo que depende de acesso. E quando digo acesso, não é apenas entrar na rede pelo computador, mas saber decifrar e navegar pelos códigos que configuram a rede. Para usufruir realmente desse universo, é preciso conhecer, estudar. Sem isso, é possível que muitas pessoas se percam nos recursos mais superficiais da rede, assim como ocorria com a televisão. Em outro âmbito, identidade etnicorracial ainda é algo marcante na rede e em nossa sociedade. Situações de racismo e preconceito acontecem de forma corrente nas mídias digitais e é preciso combater esses discursos em todas as esferas.

MDS: Nowadays, one speaks of virtual citizenship, but this universe is something which is dependent on access. And when I say “access” I don't mean just joining the network, but also knowing how to make out and navigate through the codes which make up the network. In order to really benefit from this universe, it is necessary to know, to study. Otherwise, it is likely that many people get lost inside the most superficial resources from the network, the same way it used to happen in relation to television. In another realm, ethnico-racial identity is still something remarkable in the Internet and in our society. Situations which involve racism and prejudice occur all the time in the digital media and it is necessary to fight against such discourses at all levels. 

GV: As a comics author, do you realize that you have a role to play in the introduction of black characters into the Brazilian comics landscape?

MDS: Minha intenção como quadrinista é problematizar e tornar mais complexas as possibilidades de representação de negros e de sua história nos quadrinhos. Isso não é relevante apenas para os grupos negros, mas para toda nossa sociedade. Precisamos de autores que possam apresentar novas perspectivas e possibilidades de leitura e compreensão do mundo. Isso é necessário no universo das HQs e em todas as artes. Imagino que uma sociedade realmente saudável precisa reconhecer e dialogar com as vozes que surgem de todo seu contorno.

MDS: My intention is to problematize and make more complex the possibilities of representation of black people and of their history within comics. This is relevant not only for the movements that represent black people, but for society as a whole. We need authors who can create new perspectives and options for reading and understanding the world. This is needed in the universe of comics as well as in all arts. I imagine that a truly healthy society must recognize and engage in dialogue with the voices that arise from within its borders. 

Capa de NoiteLuz, outra publicação de Marcelo D´Salete. Imagem utilizada com permissão.

Cover of NoiteLuz, another publication by Marcelo D´Salete. Image used with permission.

GV: History is full of changes and continuities. Is there a parallel between black characters and the comics from when you were a child and nowadays?

MDS: Os personagens negros na mídia em geral tiveram poucas mudanças nessas últimas décadas. Hoje há personagens negros como protagonistas em algumas histórias e há autores preocupados com essa discussão. Por outro lado, eles aparecem muitas vezes ainda estereotipados, como parte de um grupo subalterno. Basta ver a imagem dessas figuram na mídia, nos telejornais, nas novelas e comerciais. Existe sim algumas experiências novas e autores mais preocupados com esse problema, principalmente no cinema, mas é interessante notar que nossa história também convive com grandes retrocessos.Não é por menos que há pouco tempo um supermercado famoso usou uma escultura de um garoto negro acorrentado como se isso fosse algo natural, inócuo e decorativo. Além disso, nos deparamos com uma propaganda de cachaça que usa uma imagem do J. B. Debret, onde há um grupo de negros escravizados trabalhando numa moenda, como algo glorioso.

 

Essa percepção racista do negro e sua história está mudando aos poucos. Há poucas semanas, aconteceu uma manifestação em São Paulo onde um grupo de manifestantes atacou a escultura do Brecheret, Monumento às Bandeiras, com tinta vermelha [a obra do escultor ítalo-brasileiro presta homenagem aos bandeirantes, responsáveis pelo assassinato de índios, nos séculos 17 e 18]. Também pixaram a escultura com a frase “bandeirantes assassinos”. Isso tudo é parte de um processo de mudança. Esses grupos exigem uma nova forma de ver a história, e por esse motivo é urgente reavaliar os velhos mitos. As HQs fazem parte desse processo. Existe todo um universo cultural negro, indígena e mestiço que precisa ser pensado e mostrado. Há também um público que está percebendo a necessidade de discutir essas questões e de se ver representado não apenas como personagens secundários ou de modo estereotipado.

MDS: Black characters in the media as a whole went through very little changes over the last decades. Today, one finds black characters as protagonists in some stories and there are authors who are, in fact, concerned with this topic. On the other hand, black characters often still appear as stereotypes, as belonging to subordinate groups. Evidence of that can be seen in images depicted in the media, in TV news, soap operas and commercials. There are, indeed, some new experiences and authors who show more concern with this problem, mainly in cinema, but it is interesting to note that our history also experiences major setbacks. It's no wonder that a short time ago a famous supermarket made use of the sculpture of a black boy in chains, as though it was something natural, harmless and ornamental. Furthermore, one can come across an ad for rum that makes use, as though it was something splendid, of an image by J. B. Debret in which one sees a group of enslaved black men working around a sugar cane mill.

Such racist perceptions of black people and their history are gradually changing. A few weeks ago, there was a protest in São Paulo and a group of demonstrators attacked [pt] the sculpture by Brecheret called Monumento às Bandeiras [the work by the Italo-Brazilian sculptor that pays homage to the explorers responsible for the murder of natives in the 17th and 18th centuries] with red paint. They also scribbled on the sculpture the phrase “murderous explorers”. This is all part of a process of change happening now. These groups demand a new way of looking at history and, therefore, it has become urgent to reassess the old myths. Comics belong to this process. There is an entire cultural universe which belongs to groups of black, indigenous and people of mixed ancestry and which needs to be assessed and displayed. There also is an audience who notices the need to discuss these issues and to see themselves represented not only as secondary or stereotyped characters. 

GV:  Do digital platforms like social networks, email and virtual publications help you in any way in the comic business (such as in production, publicizing, etc.)?

MDS: A internet auxilia muito na elaboração das histórias, principalmente na pesquisa de temas e de imagens. Ajuda muito também na divulgação de trabalhos e contato com artistas, revistas e editores. Cerca de dez anos atrás participei de uma publicação chamada Front. Nessa revista, os próprios quadrinistas selecionavam o material que deveria ser publicado. Essa experiência foi muito interessante, permitia dialogar e aprender muito com outros profissionais mais experientes. Era sempre um fórum de discussão muito qualificado e rico. Esse diálogo não seria possível sem a internet. Sobre a divulgação, a partir do site e das redes sociais é possível ter uma proximidade maior com os leitores. Tenho realizado trabalhos que foram publicados de forma impressa, mas pretendo em breve poder publicar de forma digital. Gosto muito do livro impresso, mas tenho me acostumado a ver livros em plataformas digitais.

MDS: The Internet helps a lot in the process of creating the stories, mainly in the research of the themes and of the images. It also helps quite a lot for publicizing the comics and contacting artists, magazines and editors. About ten years ago, I took part in the publishing of a magazine called Front. In this magazine, the cartoonists themselves were responsible for choosing the material to be published. This experience was very interesting, and it allowed dialogue and learning with other more experienced professionals. It was always a well-qualified and rich discussion forum. Dialogue like that would not have been possible without the Internet. As for publicizing, with the use of the site and of social networks, it is possible to gain a closer relationship with the readers. Some of my works have been published on paper, but I intend to be able to publish in a digital format soon. I very much like the printed book, but I have grown used to seeing books on digital platforms. 

GV: Could you say something about the audience's response to your art?

MDS: Tenho visto mais trabalhos críticos sobre meu trabalho. Em geral eles apontam para o assunto e pouco para a forma que utilizo para atingir esse fim. Imagino que a crítica especializada de HQs no Brasil é algo ainda em desenvolvimento. Tenho recebido alguns comentários de leitores de várias partes do Brasil. Mas são poucas pessoas que se manifestam. No entanto, é muito interessante receber comentários de pessoas de locais distantes. Isto seria muito difícil antes.

MDS: Lately, I have seen more critiques of my work. In general, they approach the content more than the form I use in order to achieve it. I imagine that specialized comic critics in Brazil is something which is still growing. I have received comments from some readers from different regions in Brazil. But only a few people really express anything about it. However, it is very interesting to get comments from people from far away. This would have been quite difficult before.   

The special series that celebrates Black Awareness Day ends with music and visual arts. Enjoy the animation by the artist Marcelo D'Salete made for the track Oranian of the CD Metá Metá by Kiko Dinucci, Juçara Marçal and Thiago França.  

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