I just had Ken Quattro, the Comics Detective, come speak to one of my summer classes. You may also recognize his name as the recent recipient of an Eisner Award for his ground-breaking book, Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books. It’s an enthralling and important deep dive into the lives of several black artists.
And just like every time Ken rolls up his shirtsleeves and gets down to business, it’s meticulously researched. Ken brands himself as a comic book detective, but like so many focused writers, he’s an exceptional historian.
I love writing about comics history for publications like TwoMorrow’s Back Issue Magazine and Overstreet’s Comic Book Price Guide, but I’m not in the same league as a historian like Ken.
But having written that, I think I found something new in the pop culture milestones to which historians usually refer.
Kiss Me, Captain
The original Star Trek TV series was groundbreaking in so many ways – everything from thoughtful, allegorical episodes to anticipating devices like cellphones and voice activated smart speakers.
Star Trek was also gutsy enough to debut the first interracial kiss on network TV. Granted, the characters, Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhuru did not kiss of their free will – the bad guys made them kiss one another. But still, Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura’s kiss was a milestone.
Back in 2016, Hollywood Reporter reflected on the milestone this way:
There were reasons for the cast about this TV first – the show was in its third season, and cancellation was imminent. But it was NBC that was reluctant to pull the trigger. Network execs were worried that the interracial scene would upset Southern affiliates, so an effort was made to shoot coverage where Kirk and Uhura don’t actually lock lips. “We did a few takes, but Bill was deliberately trying to flub it”, recalls (Nichelle) Nichols. “At one point, he even crossed his eyes to make me laugh.”
(To be fair, as a kid seeing Shatner behave like a horsey was the part that really bothered me, but that’s another story.)
In comics, the first interracial kiss was in Warren Publishing ‘s black-and-white horror-comics magazine, Creepy #43, published in January 1972. The kiss was part of the story, “The Men Who Called Him Monster” by writer Don McGregor and artist Luis Garcia.
For color comics, the first interracial kiss is generally considered to be in Marvel’s Amazing Adventures #31 from July 1975. This comic showcased a “War of the Worlds” series, where a hero named Killraven and his merry band adventured in a post-apocalyptic world of which H.G. Wells could only dream. Don McGregor wrote this series too. It’s illustrated by the alarmingly talented P. Craig Russel. Don recently told the story behind the story here.
It makes sense that Don McGregor wrote these stories. He’s a brilliant writer who always looked forward and delighted in writing about the human condition. He’s a kind guy full of warmth, enthusiasm and all the attributes that make good men become great ones.
He’s also a hopeless romantic. For my money, he’s written some of the very best love scenes in comics. And if you have the good fortune to meet him in person, he brings the definition of charming to a whole new level.
You might get the impression that I’m gushing about Don McGregor. And you’d be right. I think the absolute world of Don McGregor as a writer and as a person.
An Unrecognized Milestone
Even so – I think I uncovered a historic milestone. It’s in DC’s color comic, Korak, Son of Tarzan #54 published October-November 1973.
This series was all about Tarzan’s son, Korak, on a long quest to find his abducted girlfriend, Miriam. As you can imagine, he had many adventures along the way. In issue #54’s story, “Blood Brothers”, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Murphy Anderson, Korak makes a new friend, Mnumbo. After a few close scrapes together, Mnumbo introduces his lovely sister, Salamma, to Korak.
It’s easy to see that Salamma is smitten with Korak. And either she or artist Murphy Anderson read a lot of Prince Valiant comics, because she performs a fetching campfire dance that may have been inspired by Aleta’s (Valiant’s girlfriend and eventual wife) most famous dance.
And as the adventure ends, and Korak is getting ready to ride into the sunset (well, to walk into the sunset, but you know what I mean), they share a passionate kiss.
I believe that this is the first interracial kiss in color comics.
And you know what? I think there was almost the second interracial kiss in color comics in the very next issue. In that adventure, an Asian woman, Lotus, is embracing Korak and is about to plant one on him until a bad guy interrupts them.
Let’s Get Serious for a Moment
I think this is important. In the early 70s, as a kid, it was important to me to be shown love ought to be colorblind. We didn’t say “love is love” back then, but that was idea.
And to a young fan like me, it was important that my favorite creators, guys like Don McGregor and Murphy Anderson, showed the way. There wasn’t a lot of fanfare. There were no cover blurbs proclaiming these were special collectible issues. It was more about measuring the true worth of someone and following your heart.
On a personal level, one of my favorite uncles, (he was actually a great-uncle), was my Uncle John. He was Italian by way of Sicily, and married my Aunt Ruby, a wonderful Jamaican woman. He was white and was black. As an adult, I’ve learned that he suffered, and fought, bias and prejudice. But he never let the struggles show. He was consistantly confident, fun-loving and in love with his wife.
I hope that 20-somethings reading this think “what is the big deal?” And I hope that their kids think it’s even less of a big deal, and the next generation thinks it’s even less of a big deal.
For my part, I’m so appreciative I had folks like my Uncle John, Murphy Anderson and Don McGregor to help me get my head on straight at an early age. And I’m grateful now for guys like Ken Quattro researching and spotlighting the lives of brave creators who often suffered discrimination.
One last thing: go find someone you love and kiss ‘em!
* * *
Just to be thorough, there is one technicality: some consider the very first interracial kiss in a color comic to be in a Golden Age Blackhawk story where the a dying woman’s request, a kiss from the hero Blackhawk, was platonically granted. The woman was Asian, and Blackhawk seemed pretty WASPy (even though he was really Polish).