Like her literary cousins Tarzan and Mowgli, Rima sprang from an Edwardian adventure novel, in her case Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest, published in 1904. The Argentine-British writer W. H. Hudson was a naturalist who wrote many classic books about the ecology of South America. Hudson based Rima on a persistent South American legend about a lost tribe of white people who lived in the mountains.
Rima starred in a seven-issue comic book series, DC Comics' Rima the Jungle Girl (May 1974-May 1975), adapted by an uncredited writer and with artwork by penciler-inker Nestor Redondo and covers by Joe Kubert. DC writer-editor Robert Kanigher is the credited writer from issue #5 on.
I read these comics when they came out. I didn't think much about them. They were okay for the same reason Tarzan comics were okay: exotic jungle adventures.
I think RIMA was reasonably sensitive to the indigenous people it portrayed. But you can't get past the central flaw: a white girl who's a better Native than the Natives around her. Whenever there was a problem--avaricious white men who wanted to clearcut the trees, a lost official or missionary, a forest fire--it was Rima to the rescue. The Natives were reactive while she was proactive.
But now the Racialicious blog informs us that Rima is making a comeback:
Race & Comic-Books: Rima The Jungle Girl
By Arturo R. García
Monday, though, we got a first look at a potential wrong turn in the new line: creators Brian Azzarello and Rags Morales’ new take on Rima The Jungle Girl.
In the comic-book world, though, Rima would go on to live and have adventures, though by this point she was depicted as being an adult with lighter hair than in her prior incarnation.
Judging by the picture, the only thing Azzarello and Morales have done to make Rima Native is add a couple dots under her eyes and a nose chain. Otherwise her big soulful eyes and pouty Botoxed lips are pure Anglo-Saxon. This girl would be at home at any Goth party in a major US city.
How insulting is it to claim that the only difference between a white and Native person is the skin color? That an albino Native or African person is essentially indistinguishable from a white person? Pretty damn insulting.
Nor were things much different in other areas of racially-tinged literature. You might meet an exotic Asian or Arab princess because their "olive" skins and long, luxurious black hair weren't too "unnatural." But you almost always found a white woman in place of anyone who might be too brown or black--i.e., too African or indigenous. For instance, Ayesha or Sheena the Jungle Queen. Apparently nothing has changed since then.
Really, what's the justification for perpetuating the "white Indian" stereotype? "They did it a century ago, so it's okay to do it now, because we're just reiterating what they did"? Wrong.
Would you use that excuse to do an Uncle Tom, Aunt Jemima, or Amos 'n' Andy comic book? No? Then what's your excuse for this comic? There is no excuse that I can see.
Here's a deep thought. How about updating Rima by making her an actual Native? You know, a brown-skinned Amazon Indian who's five feet tall with a bowl haircut, some uncomfortable piercings or tattoos, and a child on her hip? Or would that be too exotic for Eurocentric audiences?
If you want to reference the old Rima, say the new Rima is her great-granddaughter. She's interested in white people because one of her eight great-grandparents was a strange white woman. But this Rima is wholly Native except for a bit of non-Native blood.
For more on the subject, see Comic Books Featuring Indians.
Below: One of countless "white Indians" readers could identify with because she wasn't a brown-skinned savage.