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The Time A Cartoonist Was Told To 'Lighten Up' A Character

Cartoonist Ronald Wimberly was told to "lighten up" a Mexican and African-American character.
Ronald Wimberly
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The Nib
Cartoonist Ronald Wimberly was told to "lighten up" a Mexican and African-American character.

In a beautifully illustrated comic over at The Nib, cartoonist Ronald Wimberly relays the story of working with an editor who asked him to lighten the skin tone of a character he was working on, Melita Garner, who has been described as Mexican and African-American, a reporter, and Wolverine's ex-girlfriend.

Given her ethnicity, Wimberly figured he'd "make her some kind of brown." But he got a request from the editor to use a much lighter color instead. "Melita's changed over the years," his editor wrote to him. "i've been told that she is latina and white."

Melita Garner is a character who is described as Mexican and African-American.
Ronald Wimberly / The Nib
/
The Nib
Melita Garner is a character who is described as Mexican and African-American.

But Wimberly didn't know what to make of that, either. Latinas, he points out in his work, can look very different depending on where they're from. He draws images of three women, an Arab Mexican (hexidecimal ID #ebb8ac), a Japanese-Brazilian (hexidecimal ID #d8b983) and a Dominican (hexidecimal ID #503636) — to show the wide range of skin tones needed to illustrate them.

" 'Latina' refers to an ethnicity with a broad range of possible nationalities, appearances and skin tones," Wimberly writes.
Ronald Wimberly / The Nib
/
The Nib
" 'Latina' refers to an ethnicity with a broad range of possible nationalities, appearances and skin tones," Wimberly writes.

"Why is it important to change the skin tone of this character a few degrees? What purpose does it serve?" Wimberly wonders. "I wondered if a black editor would have asked me to change her skin tone. I'll keep wondering. After 12 years working in comics, I've yet to have a black editor."

To see and read his entire cartoon essay, visit The Nib.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kat Chow is a reporter with NPR and a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is currently on sabbatical, working on her first book (forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing/Hachette). It's a memoir that digs into the questions about grief, race and identity that her mother's sudden death triggered when Kat was young.