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‘Representation is not feeling different when I read or see something,’ says scriptwriter of comic with black lead character

Trecho de Jeremias - Pele reproduzido com autorização do autor.

Excerpt from Jeremias – Pele [Skin], used with the author's permission.

“I exist and I want people to see me as I am.” The phrase, uttered with a firm voice, is that of Jeremias, a black boy and a character of the Brazilian comic Turma da Mônica (Monica’s Gang). Created in the 1960s by Maurício de Sousa, the series of comic stories influenced generations of children in Brazil and around 40 other countries, having been translated into 14 languages.

Jeremias — who was created in 1960 and is the first black character of the group – had never led his own story. Until 2018. With the series Graphic MSP, creator Maurício de Sousa revisited his classic characters with the contemporary outlooks of new artists, who then told stories under different perspectives.

In the case of Jeremias, this was manifested in the works of Rafael Calça (script) and Jefferson Costa (art and colour), two black artists, inspired by so many other youths and adults for whom skin colour has already been a subject of debate.

Trecho de Jeremias - Pele reproduzido com autorização do autor.

Excerpt from Jeremias – Pele, used with the author's permission.

School age is a time of tough trials, a time of turbulent hormonal changes when one builds convictions and creates their own personality. If it is hard for most people, for a black child the journey is even more difficult, as there is one other component: racism.

Jeremias – Pele [Skin], as well as entertaining, could help children and families deal with this situation.

The authors managed to create a work that is very tough in some of the stories that it tells and very sensitive in its essence and the sweetness that endures at the end of the comic. It is a read that certainly would have helped this writer to face his days at school.

I spoke with scriptwriter Rafael Calça to learn about how he created the story and the feedback he has had from the readers since:

Global Voices (GV): In the creation of the comic, you investigated stories, events, and insecurities of a black child of school age. How has this process impacted on you?

Rafael Calça (RC): O Jefferson e eu conversamos sobre o que passamos na infância e como certos eventos são comuns na vivência negra. E foi uma catarse pra mim, listar situações e lembrar como me senti sem entender muito o que acontecia. Confesso que evitava pensar muito nisso e queria focar no hoje, mas fazer essa história foi como fazer as pazes com o menino que eu fui.

Rafael Calça (RC): Jefferson and I talked about what we went through in childhood and how certain events are common to the black lived experience. And it was cathartic for me, listing events and remembering how I felt without understanding much of what was happening. I confess that I used to avoid thinking much about this and wanted to focus on today, but making this story was like making peace with the boy that I was.

Trecho de Jeremias - Pele reproduzido com autorização do autor.

Excerpt from Jeremias – Pele, used with the author's permission.

GV: For you, what is representation?

RC: Representação para mim é não me sentir diferente quando leio/assisto algo. Não ter que me adequar a uma vivência tão diferente, dilemas que não são meus. É saber que a minha história, a história da minha família, não é só tristeza ou estereótipos repetidos por gente mau-caráter. É minha existência não estar atrelada apenas à escravidão, como a escola parece dizer e a novela repetir. É me sentir parte do mundo em pé de igualdade.

RC:Representation for me is not feeling different when I read/see something. Not having to adjust to a lived experience which is so different, to dilemmas which are not mine. It is knowing that my story, my family’s story, is not only sadness or stereotypes repeated by malicious people. It is my existence not being tied only to slavery, as schools seem to say and TV shows repeat. It is feeling part of the world on an equal footing.

GV: There is something powerful in the effects of your work, which is the feedback by people who have felt connected with the book. Like the rapper Emicida, who has praised the story in the comic's back cover, you must have received a lot of responses from readers. What can you tell us about this?

RC: Recebemos uma quantidade bem grande de depoimentos pelas redes sociais, isso constantemente nos alimenta com a sensação de que fizemos um bom trabalho e o próximo precisa ser tão bom quanto, tão respeitoso com as pessoas quanto.

No Instagram, a hashtag #jeremiaspele contém a maioria. Em eventos, as histórias chegam até nós pessoalmente, é muito bonito. Situações iguais ou similares às que contamos em Pele aconteceram mesmo com muita gente.

Outras duas coisas inesperadas e incríveis que aconteceram: pais estão usando o livro para conversar com seus filhos pequenos sobre racismo. Através da história descobriram como abordar um assunto tão duro. E professores do país inteiro estão adotando o livro, mesmo que por conta própria, para tratar de racismo em sala de aula.

RC: We received a great deal of stories via social media, and this has constantly filled us with the sense that we had done good work and that the next needs to be just as good and respectful of people.

On Instagram, the hashtag #jeremiaspele contains the majority [of those stories]. At events, the stories come to us personally, it is very nice. The same or similar things that we recount in Pele happened to a lot of people.

Another two unexpected and incredible things which happened: parents are using the book to speak with their small children about racism. Through the story they find a way to discuss such a tough topic. And teachers across the country are using the book, even on their own initiative, to deal with racism in the classroom.

Trecho de Jeremias - Pele reproduzido com autorização do autor.

Excerpt from Jeremias – Pele, used the author's permission.

GV: Does Jeremias – Pele have potential for international distribution? Do you think that these stories would resonate in other societies?

RC: Acredito que sim, já que o tráfico negreiro aconteceu em vários países, gerando uma desigualdade racial similar a do Brasil. Mesmo, claro, que em proporções diferentes, já que para nenhum outro lugar tantos africanos foram sequestrados e escravizados. Mas é possível entender o racismo na infância no mundo todo, a xenofobia na Europa é comum por exemplo.

Enfim, infelizmente o Brasil não é um caso isolado e muitas crianças poderiam ter uma perspectiva diferente com o Jeremias.

RC: I think so, given that the African slave trade happened in various countries, generating a racial inequality similar to that of Brazil. Even though, obviously, to different degrees, given that in no other place were so many kindapped Africans were enslaved. But it is possible to perceive racism during childhood across the whole world, xenophobia in Europe is common for example.

So, unfortunately, Brazil is not an isolated case and many children could gain a different perspective with Jeremias.

Capa de Jeremias - Pele reproduzida com autorização do autor.

Cover of Jeremias – Pele, used with the author's permission.

GV: We learn a lot from children and it is no different with Jeremias. What did he teach you, Rafael?

RC: Que não adianta fingir que certas coisas não machucam ou não existem. Carregamos marcas para a vida a gente queira ou não. Nosso emocional pagará um preço. Por isso é preciso levantar a cabeça e deixar de aceitar tudo o que dizem. É a nossa vida e vamos contar a nossa história do nosso jeito.

RC: That we do not advance by pretending that certain things do not hurt or exist. We bear these marks for life whether we want it or not. Our emotional state will pay a price. So it is necessary to raise your head and stop accepting everything that they say. It is our life and we will tell our story in our way.

More about the scriptwriter Rafael Calça: www.instagram.com/rafaelcalca/

 

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