January 05, 2009

Analysis of TEX WILLER

As I said, I haven't seen a TEX WILLER comic book yet. But that won't stop me from pointing out the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of the concept.

The good

  • TEX WILLER has been promoting a pro-Indian message for 60-plus years. Although that's not unprecedented--see American comics such as POW-WOW SMITH and TOMAHAWK and foreign comics such as EAGLE EYE and YAKARI--it's always a good thing.

  • Tex's role as defender of the weak and oppressed, protector of the Indians, and staunch anti-racist is admirable. So is his avoidance of violence unless it's absolutely necessary.

  • The artwork of Aurelio Galeppini is excellent. If he was drawing this well in 1948, TEX WILLER might've been the best-drawn comic of the era.

  • The comics have a huge fan base and have been around for a long time. They must be doing something right.

  • The bad

  • Tex's true love Lilyth is a stereotypical Indian princess--the daughter of the chief. Almost every female Indian character from Columbus's arrival till the 1970s has filled this clich├ęd role.

  • Lilyth also supplies the romantic but doomed interracial marriage. She exists to prove that white men really loved their Indian brothers and sisters despite the US's genocidal policies. But she has to die because our Caucasian hero can't have ongoing sexual relationships with one of "those people," can he?

  • Is there a less authentic Navajo name than the Hebrew-derived "Lilyth"? If so, it's hard to imagine what it would be.

  • Tex's Navajo friend Tiger Jack looks like a typical Plains Indian in "leathers and feathers."

  • While "Billy Jack" might be an authentic Navajo name, "Tiger Jack" isn't. An Indian wouldn't name himself after an animal he's never seen. The only place Indians are named after tigers is in Florida:In Florida until the 19th century when "panther" became the most common term, the cougar was referred to as "tiger" (Alvarez 1993). A famous Indian leader of the Second Seminole War (1835-42) was named Tigertail after the panther skin he wore from his waist during an Indian ball game (Mahon 1967). The name Tiger lives on among contemporary Seminoles and Miccosukees.
  • Tex's bosom buddy Kit Carson is a renowned enemy of the Navajo. Here's a summary of his actions:Carson played a prominent and memorable role in the Civil War in New Mexico. He helped organize the New Mexico volunteer infantry, which saw action at Valverde in 1862. Most of his military actions, however, were directed against the Navajo Indians, many of whom had refused to be confined upon a distant reservation set up by the government. Beginning in 1863 Carson waged a brutal economic war against the Navajo, marching through the heart of their territory to destroy their crops, orchards and livestock. When Utes, Pueblos, Hopis and Zunis, who for centuries had been prey to Navajo raiders, took advantage of their traditional enemy's weakness by following the Americans onto the warpath, the Navajo were unable to defend themselves. In 1864 most surrendered to Carson, who forced nearly 8,000 Navajo men, women and children to take what came to be called the "Long Walk" of 300 miles from Arizona to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, where they remained in disease-ridden confinement until 1868.I wonder what Tex's Navajo friends think about his palling around with Carson. Since there's no way the comics could make this work, I'm guessing they don't address the issue.

  • The ugly

  • Tex is the "Great White Chief of the Navajos"? Are you freakin' kidding me? Talk about your perfect example of white condescension and paternalism.

  • The idea that the Navajo would submit to a white leader because they're unable to govern themselves is disgusting. It's a Euro-American fantasy and says something about the creators' real attitude toward Indians. The Navajo are great for providing local color, it seems, but they can't be the protagonists of the story. They're sidekicks--faithful Indian companions--not stars.

    For more on the subject, see Comic Books Featuring Indians.

    Below:  Kit Willer, Kit Carson, Tex Willer, and Tiger Jack (rear). "Yes, I'm only fourth-billed in the comic, but what do you expect? I'm an Indian."


    Unknown said...

    Lilith was suppose to be Adam's 1st wife who was so outright independent and headstrong that she was replaced by the more subversive Eve(I mean she did secretly liaison with the snake and get Adam to eat that apple) In versions of her story Lilith was either always a demon who tempted men and birthed more demons or became one after she was "divorced" from the 1st man.
    Curious now. Was this character replaced by a more submissive woman that still caused trouble? LOL LOL LOL

    DineBoo said...

    As the wife of a Navajo man, this analysis is spot on. Especially about "Billy Jack". That is so true. My husband has two first names.

    Also, since my husband's paternal clan is the one that is famous for beating back the Spanish/Mexicans, I would think they would be at least one clan that would have a problem with their "Great White Chief" being friends with an oppressor!