Friday, February 8, 2008

The Day Job: Keeping up with Chop-Chop

As I mentioned last week, posting has been light on this blog as I've been working on a conference paper on racial caricatures in comics from the Golden Age to the present, focusing particularly on Asian caricatures that inform Gene Luen Yang's graphic novel, American Born Chinese. Part of my work on this project over the last few days has involved reading through my collection of Blackhawk comics and picking out images of the Blackhawks' Chinese mascot, Chop-Chop, to use in the PowerPoint presentation that will be accompanying the paper. This whole process, as you can imagine, is making me feel a little unclean.

Chop-Chop first appeared in Military Comics 3 as comedy relief in the otherwise pretty somber Blackhawk feature that began in Military Comics 1. Here's the first panel in which the character appeared:

From the beginning, Chop-Chop was depicted as a foul-mouthed Chinaman (actually, Dude, the preferred nomenclature is "Asian") who was prone to violence, usually with a sharp object of some kind.

He even had his own tagline, which he used with great frequency whenever Chop-Chop faced adversity or any kind of obstacle: "Chop-Chop been double-clossed!"

There were a lot of such stereotypes used throughout World War II and the Korean War, but I'm using Chop-Chop in this paper because he's representative of a lot of stereotypical images in comics, and he gained a lot of traction as a popular character in the series. Even from his first appearance, he was being used as part of the publicity for the Blackhawk feature:

By the 1950s, Chop-Chop would graduate to his own feature in the regular Blackhawk comic, which kicked up the caricature even further:

The Blackhawk series survived both World War II and the Korean War, and the 1960s run, where the team goes from being high-flying adventurers to a low-rent superhero group, needs a whole series of posts to discuss (these issues, written by Bob Haney, are flat out nuts, and it's one of my strongest desires that DC produces a Showcase edition of them). Blackhawk was also revived a few times as a war book. The series was revived in 1982 by Mark Evanier and Dan Spiegle because Steven Spielberg bought the film rights to the comic (which would you rather have: Spielberg's Blackhawk or Schindler's List? I know exactly where I stand on that question.) Evanier and Spiegle's run in the 80s is plain fantastic, but it's proven really difficult for me to get a complete run of it. Some issues feature "Detached Service Diary" backup stories that feature some great art by Howard Chaykin, Alex Toth, and others.

Evanier and Spiegle made some changes to the Chop-Chop character, giving him a less caricatured appearance and avoiding the accented speech patterns, but they did keep the costume and made him a martial arts expert.

A few years later, in an underrated revival by Howard Chaykin (and later Marty Pasko and Rich Burchett), "Chop-Chop" was renamed Weng Chan, and the series frequently commented on the racism of the "Chop-Chop" nickname, including a metatextual scene in the Pasko/Burchett run where Weng complains about his depiction in the Blackhawk comic book (if I remember correctly).

The Chaykin prestige-format miniseries is great, typical Chaykin work from that period following American Flagg! and his Shadow revival. I remember at the time that it got a lot of criticism for its graphic sexuality and the strong liberties he took with the revamp. And like a lot of Chaykin's work, it has a complex narrative that requires the reader's complete attention, as well as considerable historical knowledge of its wartime mileau. However, as a long-time, devoted Howard Chaykin fan, I have a hard time being objective or critical about his work, even when it should challenge some of my stronger feelings about gender issues.

I feel that this post is setting up more posts that I'll probably do down the line on the Bob Haney Blackhawk series and on Howard Chaykin, among other things.

Update: More on Chop-Chop here.


Anonymous said...

"actually, Dude, the preferred nomenclature is 'Asian'"

Why is that exactly? Asia is a continent, not a country. There are lots of different cultures and nations in Asia, why use such a broad category that could mean a Turk as much an someone from China? Is it just that "Chinaman" as a word has a bad/insulting past to it, moreso than, say, Frenchman?

Dr. K said...

It's actually a line from The Big Lebowski.

gorjus said...

I think I may be confusing Chop-Chop with "Pieface," Thomas Kalmaku from Green Lantern, but didn't the very latest incarnation of the character finally get his own Blackhawk constume?

Did you read the recent Agents of Atlas stories from Marvel? Had some interesting Golden Claw/Yellow Claw stuff (and the "monster" Yellow Claw shows up in Alex Ross' Dynamite Comics superhero launch this month).

Rob Rogers said...

If I remember correctly, he showed up in the Hawkworld series for a while as the sole surviving original Blackhawk member, running a new Blackhawk team that supported Hawkman and Hawkwoman. I remember liking him in that.

Of course, Lady Blackhawk is currently being billed as the only surviving Blackhawk, so I guess that makes him dead in current DC continuity.

Edward Liu said...

mad6798j: "Is it just that "Chinaman" as a word has a bad/insulting past to it, moreso than, say, Frenchman?"

Um, yeah.

Actually, other than "Englishman" and "Frenchman," I can't think of any other nation that uses "-man" as the suffix to generically describe the peoples of a country. More germane to your question, though, I think the common usage of "Chinaman" in American history has pretty much tainted the word, since it was almost always used to paint the people with, at best, a dismissive and subordinate brush (look up the origins of "Chinaman's chance" some time) and, at worst, a broad and incredibly racist brush.

Fair or logical in these more enlightened times? Nope. But there it is.

Anonymous said...

May I ask where you're giving your talk? PCA? It sounds like great fun.

Dr. K said...


PCA would be a good conference for this paper. The conference I gave the paper at, however, was the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900, which is held annually at the University of Louisville. I may have more on the conference later.

John Chidley-Hill said...

I followed this link over from the Invincible Super-Blog and it was really really interesting. I would have loved to see that presentation!