WHAT STRUCK DARRIN BELL first, powerfully and personally, were Trayvon’s eyes.
In them he saw something intangible, the “Candorville” creator tells Comic Riffs, “that suggested to me that he was essentially a good kid, and that one day he’d grow into a good man.”
Bell acknowledges that this perhaps was pure projection, but “isn’t that what we’re supposed to do with kids?” says the L.A.-based cartoonist. ”We’re supposed to find something good in them — even if we have to create it and project it on them — and nurture that. The most tragic part of all this, I thought, was that nobody would ever be able to do that for him; and he would never become the person he could have become.”
This week, Bell delivers a powerful story arc as his “Candorville” character Lemont “talks” with a hoodie-wearing Trayvon in the wake of the recent fatal shooting of the Florida teenager by George Zimmerman. In creating the series, Bell returned to those first riveting images.
“My only goal was to return to my initial thoughts about the tragedy — to return to what I saw in Trayvon Martin’s eyes when I turned on my TV that first morning,” Bell tells Comic Riffs. “I let all the other chatter fall away, and just focused on that, and it flowed naturally.”
Comic Riffs asked Bell to share more of his “Candorville”-channeled thoughts on the Trayvon Martin shooting:
MICHAEL CAVNA: So when did you decide to bring Trayvon into “Candorville” — and how did you approach creating your weeklong arc?
DARRIN BELL: I decided to incorporate him into “Candorville” as soon as I saw one of my Facebook “friends” post a photo of Trayvon [that turned out to not be this Trayvon], flipping off his webcam. Even if that had been the real Trayvon Martin, it wouldn’t have mattered. ... What this told me was people were starting to dehumanize Trayvon, so they could rationalize what happened and insulate their own belief about “Stand Your Ground” laws, about race, about concealed carry laws, etc., from any fallout. It was as if the country’s conservative antibodies had just been unleashed to put an end to the story before the country had to do any meaningful soul-searching.
As soon as I saw that photo, I knew I had to incorporate him into “Candorville,” if only to become a voice in the chorus that’s reminding people this was a living, breathing, vital human being with potential, not a useless stock character in the American story who deserved what happened to him.
It wasn’t hard, with that in mind. My only goal was to return to my initial thoughts about the tragedy. To return to what I saw in Trayvon Martin’s eyes when I turned on my TV that first morning. I let all the other chatter fall away, and just focused on that, and it flowed naturally. I only mention a few details of the case, and bring up one law that I think was directly responsible for Zimmerman thinking it was open season on people who don’t belong in his neighborhood. But then I bring it back to what I really want people to take away from the whole thing.
MC: What were some of your own personal reactions to the Trayvon shooting, from the breaking news through developments in the story?
DB: My first thought, when I saw Trayvon Martin’s face on the TV that morning, was “So much lost potential.” There was something intangible in Trayvon Martin’s eyes that suggested to me that he was essentially a good kid, and that one day he’d grow into a good man. Maybe even someone important and essential — if not to the world, then at least to his family. I realized that that may just be me projecting something that wasn’t necessarily there, but isn’t that what we’re supposed to do with kids? We’re supposed to find something good in them — even if we have to create it and project it on them — and nurture that. The most tragic part of all this, I thought, was that nobody would ever be able to do that for him; and he would never become the person he could have become.
Then I paid attention to the details of the story. The fact that Zimmerman wasn’t held accountable, even though he has a history of violence. And I knew what was going to happen, because America has a long and shameful history of it happening the same way: First, people are shocked. Then, before you know it, people come out of the woodwork to rationalize what happened, to excuse the killer and to suggest the victim had it coming. People are out there blaming Trayvon Martin for his own death — saying he shouldn’t have been wearing a hoodie, or that he should have been upfront and honest with Zimmerman when Zimmerman confronted him — as if he owed Zimmerman anything. It’s no different than back in 1955, when people blamed Emmett Till for his own death, saying that if he hadn’t flirted with a white woman, he’d have been fine. It’s no different than when a woman is raped, and the defense attorney suggests she had it coming because she showed too much leg, or too much cleavage, or smiled too seductively.
Then they brought up evidence that Trayvon was suspended three times from school, may have once flipped off a webcam, spoke almost entirely in misspelled slang and profanity on his Twitter account, and once got caught with a baggie that had trace amounts of pot in it. What struck me about all that was that they were basically saying being a typical American teenager is an offense so egregious that it justifies the death penalty.
The fact that they were trying to portray him as a kid who had a problem with authority suggested to me that for some reason, they saw Zimmerman as an authority figure over Martin. And they think Martin should’ve seen him that way, too, even though in reality, [Zimmerman] was just some random guy without a badge following him on the street. And I wondered, what would they do if some random stranger stalked them, and demanded to know what they were doing? Would they be “up front and honest” with him — or would they tell him to [expletive] off?
None of this had to happen, if only Zimmerman had stayed in his car that night. Considering that, the rationalization of the killing was an exercise in cognitive dissonance. I won’t say why, I’ll let this week’s strips illustrate that point.
MC: Is there any notable commentary about the tragedy and the aftermath that you felt and thought, but decided not to incorporate into the week of strips?
DB: I left out the issue of race, largely because it’s been talked about for weeks, now. It’s been talked about for centuries, really. And I didn’t want Lemont to waste his few moments with Trayvon on a discussion that everyone has already heard.
MC:What do you hope “Candorville” readers will especially take away from this arc?
DB: I hope readers will remember why they were shocked in the first place, and do whatever they can to get rid of laws like Florida’s that seem to encourage vigilante injustice.
MC: I found [this] Friday’s emotional strip particularly powerful — what did you feel as you were creating it?
DB: I felt catharsis. I felt like somewhere there is justice, even if it’s only in Lemont’s dreams.
[CANDORVILLE Q&A: How Darrin Bell made quick work of Osama bin Laden]