Drawing A Conclusion

There are more than 200 syndicated comic strips in U.S. newspapers, but only 15 feature regular black characters drawn by African-Americans. So Darrin Bell ("Candorville") and eight other minority cartoonists have devised a "demonstration" of sorts: on Feb. 10, they will each draw a version of the same strip—a jab at readers and editors who think all their work is alike. Bell spoke with NEWSWEEK's Tony Dokoupil.

You ' re not calling this a protest?
It's more of a reminder that our strips are not interchangeable just because the characters are the same color.

Can you explain the timing?
I just thought, enough is enough. When one of my cartoons gets added to a page, I dread asking my syndicate what I replaced because it's too often one of the other 15 "black" strips, even though they have nothing to do with mine thematically. Many of us have even been told: adding one means cutting another.

And you sense racism at work?
The comics page just seems to be one of those areas of life where bigotry creeps in. If the first thing someone thinks when they see "Watch Your Head" [a comic about black pals in college] is "black strip" instead of "college strip," that's racism creeping in.

How big of a problem is this?
The industry forecast is mostly sunny with patches of racism. We just want everyone in and out of the rain.