Friday, December 19, 2008

"Banjo Lessons" from TWISTED TALES #5

Now, here's something perfectly nasty and unpleasant for the holiday season! In the 1980s, Pacific Comics pushed the horror envelope with TWISTED TALES, an anthology series featuring the work of Bruce Jones, who often featured themes of intolerance and social inequity. These themes reached their apex with "Banjo Lessons," a story that foregrounds racism in some startling and unsettling ways. Pacific Comics obviously realized that Jones' story would provoke controversy; in an editorial, April Campbell tried to preempt negative reader response by arguing that story served a purpose by "portraying bigotry, not for the purpose of promoting it, but to remind our readers that it not only has existed in the past, but it exists in even more insidious forms today." Yet, the sensational aspect of the story calls that purpose into question. The letters column of the next issue featured several responses to the story, most in support. However, one reader argued that the cannibalism in the story "obscured the point" and suggested that "it's stated motives [may be] a bit suspect." This raises the question of horror's ability to illuminate social issues without becoming complicit in the social ills it purports to condemn. Just watch CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and you'll see what I mean. Re-reading "Banjo Lessons" now makes me uneasy because its portrayals might have made more sense had it been written in pre-Civil Rights America. As a document of the 1980s, the servile nature of the title character seems out of place and raises damning questions. Does the animal metaphor raise empathy or merely become degrading? Read on, and judge for yourself.


Anonymous said...

Good Lord. Well, that shows something of what can be done with a “comic book”.

Matt Bradshaw said...

I think there's a page missing here between images four and five. I bought this comic when it first came out and probably still have it in storage somewhere. I remember there being scenes of Sim in his delusion that Banjo was a dog bringing Carter his slippers and chasing after game. These scenes are echoed on the final page when we realize Banjo was actually a man and performing the same acts.

I agree, the subservient nature of the character seems really out of place for the time.

Anonymous said...

This is very similar to the final episode of MASH where Hawkeye misremembers a woman killing a chicken instead of her baby.

Waaaaait a minute, if they had an apple and all those veggies to serve along with Banjo, they weren't starving.

Azzy said...

I loved it. Unlike those of you who want to drag your hipster logic all over it and ruin it. Yes it IS racist and macabre but if you take the time to UNDERSTAND the story and the characters instead of crap on them then maybe you can enjoy the creepiness. If any of you bother to notice the era this story is set in seems to be around the late 1940s and early 50s. Maybe to your modern day dipshyt brains racism only existed in civil war time but to the rest of the world segregation was still in effect during this FICTIONAL COMIC'S timeline. Fuk! Stop overthinking it and learn to enjoy the scare factor!!!