Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Accentuate the Bigot

I have an accent. A very, very powerful Southern accent. And, specifically, a low country south Georgia accent. Which is different from, say, the accent of someone from the Piedmont of Georgia. It's even different from a southern accent from the midlands of Tennessee. And worlds different from the Elizabethan-English inspired accents of the mountaineers of Appalachia. It's my accent. I grew up with it. It's part of what makes me what I am.

I'd never thought much about it, while understanding that I had such. That is, I'd
never given it much thought until I began to travel north to New York City to try to get work in the comics industry. In those days of my youth, when I was in my 20s and trying to get my foot in the door at Marvel Comics and DC Comics, my friends and acquaintances who already worked in the industry kept telling me that I needed to go there, to make a personal appearance to various editors so that they would get to know me and to personally persuade them to look at my work. So I did that.

The effect was, each time, rather hideous. Within seconds of opening my mouth, I would generally be interrupted by the editor who would make some snarky comment about my strong Southern accent. This was really bothersome, considering that I had never thought twice about making fun of their Yankee accents which, according to one of my best friends, made them sound as if they had a big cock stuck in their mouths.

My worst such experience was going up to meet Karen Berger. I'd made a few sales by that time and figured I would talk to her concerning the possibility of making some pitches for some of the books she was then editing, or shepherding along. A comic artist I knew told me where she was stationed at a New York show and basically said, "Look for the pretty blond woman behind the table on the left." I began looking for a pretty blond woman, but I was at a loss. There wasn't one. Finally, I saw a plain dishwater blond woman sitting behind the table that I figured might be her. It was.

Keeping my thoughts of what these northern guys thought of as "pretty" to myself I walked up and introduced myself. And after the introduction she just sat there. She just sat there and stared at me. This went on for several very uncomfortable seconds (which seemed like minutes). I was beginning to think I had a huge string of yellow snot hanging out of my nose or something. I was about to speak again when she interrupted me with, "You have the worst Southern accent I've ever heard. It's worse than **** *******'s." (She mentioned a comic artist from the South, whom I knew, and who had no accent whatsoever that I was ever able to detect. But she thought he did, for some reason.)

Ooooo-kay. I truly didn't know how to react to that. I was facing a bigot. I had grown up in a home with a healthy hatred toward bigots. My half-Jewish mom, who'd been born in the very Borough where I was now standing had warned me about the bigots I would meet in life. And, now, here I was about to go begging to one of them. I nodded at her. "Well, thanks for your time." And that was the end of that experience with Karen Berger, head honcho of what would become the Vertigo imprint at DC Comics.


What passes for "pretty" in the world of comics. Oy.


dogboy443 said...

She ain't so pretty. Looks a bit dishwater J.A.P. to me. Sorry to hear that it didn't work out with her. SRB has had some good and bad things to say about KB.

HemlockMan said...

I don't know anything about her ethnicity, and don't care. The encounter was a most uncomfortable experience.

I did meet her even more briefly a couple of years after that first one. In San Diego. Slightly less poisonous, but equally as rude.

Mark Martin said...

Ah, the perception of the Southern man and/or woman. My family and I have had quite a few amazing encounters with bigots. If you and I ever go out for some moonshine and chitlin's on one of my jaunts down South, we can swap stories!

HemlockMan said...

The worst part is the sudden all-knowing attitude. Bigotry at its most base and self-righteous.

Have you ever seen ANNIE HALL? The scene wherein Woody Allen transforms (in the yes of the gentile diners) into an Orthodox Jew, complete with Hasidic garb and payot.

When I go north, I feel the same way as soon as I start talking. Only the Yankees see me suddenly in the white cloak and hood of a Klansman.

They should recall that Yusef Hawkins wasn't lynched in Georgia, and Howard Beach ain't in Alabama.