Marvel Mystery Monday: Gypo the Racist Cariacture

The images for this post were photographed from a microfiche viewer, if you have better images, let me know.

gypo2Background:

Every MMM, we try to focus on a really obscure character that few people have heard of and fewer have seen. In that spirit, here’s a character who has no other description on the internet: Gypo the Giant Gypsy!

Here we have a hero who stands over eight feet tall, can lift several tons and appeared in the same issue as “the Twelve” luminaries Black Widow and Blue Blade – so why haven’t you heard more about him? To be blunt, he’s an unapologetically racist caricature.

Understand that what many view as either a magical band of travelers or thieving swindlers are actually a struggling ethnic minority, no more magical or untrustworthy than any other group of human beings. Unfortunately, racism and bigotry is widespread while these stereotypes remain even as such generalizations of other ethnicities is frowned upon.

A quick aside, I’m using the term “Gypsy” for its familiarity and inclusiveness, as more specific terms such as Romani refer to groups that fall under the label “Gypsy.”

What does this have to do with comic books? These stereotypes have lead to numerous super-heroes – from the unimaginatively named Gypsy from DC to Marvel’s own Scarlet Witch, Amanda Sefton and Doctor Doom – all magical and often distrusted.

Marvel’s Golden Age predecessor, Timely Comics, was a greater offender (though it was a different era as characters like Whitewash Jones and Slow-Motion Jones were not considered inappropriate either). Captain Terror (recently of Avengers/Invaders) for example, fought a Nazi Gypsy named Black Carlo. The writers were no doubt unaware of the many Gypsy victims of the Holocaust.

The story:

gypomom22With this in the back of our minds, let’s turn our attention back to Gypo, whose first and only appearance was in USA Comics #5. He’s a fun character, he’s a fairy tale character, but he is an unfortunate ethnic stereotype.

The tale opens with Bobby, a pre-teen adolescent, sent outside to play by his elderly (adoptive?) mother.

gypowife2The bored young boy wanders around (in whatever country this is set) and remembers stories of a giant that lives in the woods. Nearby, a giant creature watches and decides to confirm the rumors with a horrible roar – met only an exasperated “f’goodness sake” on the child’s part. Unable to scare Bobby on his own, Gypo pulls monsters out of thin air and causes thunder, but the boy is still unimpressed. As the giant gives up and Bobby shows pity on him, the giant’s wife (a normal-sized old woman) calls him home to take care of his pet.

Fido, the hen-pecked giant’s pet dragon, is sitting on his house. To punish the creature, Gypo pulls it by the pointy tail and punches it in the face (is it animal abuse if your pet is a demon?). The story ends with Gypo promising to be scarier next time and a message to readers asking them to support more Gypo stories.

Abilities:

He’s big, strong and has a pet dragon.

gypofido2

Why hasn’t the character shown up again?

Well, there’s the whole racism thing.

How could the character be brought back?

I’m a firm believer in the idea that every character can be brought back into the Marvel fold, but in this case some major changes would need to be implemented to even explain how such a caricature could exist.

To talk about this guy and other strange Timely heroes, visit the Invaders Message Board!

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4 comments

  1. Captain Terror (recently of Avengers/Invaders) for example, fought a Nazi Gypsy named Black Carlo. The writers were no doubt unaware of the many Gypsy victims of the Holocaust.

    What year was this story about Captain Terror’s fight with Black Carlo published? That may account for the ignorance– even the scale of genocide against the Jews of Europe was not fully understood by the general public until many years later.

    As far as the racial stereotype of Gypo the Giant Gypsy: racism was still wide-spread in the United States in 1942 when that story was published (though, not nearly as racist as the Axis powers, of course.) Anti-Roosevelt activists, rather than making a sustained critique of the New Deal often felt it was enough to spread rumors that FDR was a crypto-Jew whose real name was “Rosenfeld” (anyone notice any contemporary parallels?) or that Eleanor Roosevelt was too friendly with African-American celebrities and activists.

    That said, while the Romani people were amongst the most heavily persecuted by the Third Reich, they occupied a more ambivalent position in the Nazi racial imagination on the account that the Romani people were known to be descended from Aryans of northern India (the Romani language is of the Indo-European, né “Aryan” language family.) The Nazis hypothesized that there was a “pure-Aryan” strain of Romani that should be allowed to live and prosper and if assimilated, even join the Nazi party– as a consequence, while most Romani were targeted for extermination, there was at least one Romani SS Unit.

    History is often strange.

    That’s the only way to explain the existence of a character like Black Carlo without assuming he was created out of total ignorance. If such a character were ever reintroduced, knowing what we know now, he would have to be portrayed as having an intense contempt for most of his people (and such folk do exist amongst many ethnic groups.)

    By the way: cool blog.

    • Thanks!

      The Carlo story would have printed in the winter of 1941-42, like all of Captain Terror’s adventures, so yeah, the writers would have had little opportunity to learn about the depth of Nazi persecution. It was not a purposeful act of racism (in my opinion), just an unfortunate irony that their misinformation could be so far off the mark. Other “friendly Gypsies” appeared, but that doesn’t help matters.

      Another story from USA comics had Nazi-sympathetic Mexicans with bullet-belts, giant mustaches and sombreros.

      Still, Timely was making an effort to show understanding. An Angel story from around the same time pointed out the blindness of Nazi-sympathizers in the U.S. and included a fictional comic book publisher called “Anti-Nazi Comics” that was persecuted in the states.

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