Cartoonist Yvan Alagbé gave a lecture titled, “Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures,” on April 16 for the Text/Image Working Group. Alagbé gave a reading of his work, “Le Negro Jeune” and discussed his artistic choices in his cartoons. Alagbé intended for his images to be raw and imprecise, representing the details of life that blur together. He also does not shade in people of color, instead making all people in his cartoons yellow. Some images emphasize the contrasts between skin tones, and the shading of characters changes from panel to panel. Throughout time, Alagbé has used the same stories while modifying images from one version to the next. He seeks to tell stories about how people experiencing discrimination can also discriminate against others. All of the characters he creates are not purely good or bad, but in between.
Alagbé described two of the scenes depicted in his reading in greater detail. One scene centered on a woman and her father. In this scene the father joked about his daughter’s love life, laughing at the possibility that she may be dating a black man. The daughter then reveals that she was indeed dating a black man, causing them to fight. This scene was based on Alagbé’s own dating life, when his girlfriend at the time experienced a similar encounter with her own father. In drawing the woman, Alagbé wanted to make her both pretty and ugly. He tries to link fantasy with reality through his images and stories.
The second scene depicted a police officer trying to find someone in a large apartment building. The character was based on an Algerian man that Alagbé met through family friends who had worked as his housekeepers. The man fought on the side of France in the Algerian war, and never completely fit within the French or Algerian community because of this. The housekeepers maintained a relationship with the policeman, hoping that he could help them with immigration, as they were undocumented. Alagbé was moved by the complexities of this relationship, which inspired him to create his book.
Here is an article on Alagbé published recently by the NY Times.