It’s not the breasts that offend
Suske en Wiske is one of the longest-running comics in the Dutch language. It is mainly aimed at children, and as such feels ever growing competition of animation and games. Even though it is still the best-selling comic in Dutch (with 100,000 copies per new title), sales are continuously declining, prompting publisher De Standaard to try out various ways to update the series.
In May of this year, a new look for the series’ main characters was introduced, providing Suske and Aunt Sidonia with an updated wardrobe (hoodies and boots) and Wiske with longer hair and breasts. As could be expected, there was a bit of tutting but overall, the changes were met with a resounding, “Mèh”.
For the latest album, Mami Wata, the publisher and the creative team wanted to push the envelope a little more. The title character, the African sea goddess would make their appearance with bare breasts. Sneak peeks were released online, and the expected buzz was created. However, not as the publisher wanted…
People did take notice of the image, but they predominantly objected to the rather old-fashioned, stereotypical way the black male in picture was represented. Nozizwe Dube, the president of the Flemish Youth Council, was the first to express her anger on Twitter, but also writer Dalilla Hermans wrote that the images “called up painful memories of racist images from our colonial past”.
A campaign on social media to improve the picture resulted, amongst others, in this proposal by illustrator Stephanie Dehennin, which is as much a caricature as the original, but without the obvious racist undertones.
De Standaard has already expressed its apologies for this upheaval, but one month onwards, it is still unclear what will happen with the image in future editions of the book. Various media also asked how nobody in the decision chain of creative studio and publishing house caught on with this before the book was printed. One of the reasons may be that minorities are underrepresented, a returning complaint for Flemish media on the whole.