Adalisa gives us a bit more background on the cultural significance of Memin Pinguin -- recently pulled off Walmart shelves -- in Mexico. A good point she makes is that this character was created in the 1940s and was never revamped or updated, surviving to the present day on nothing but reprints.
Now, obviously, Memin Pinguin is an offensive-looking character. I can speak nothing regarding the content of the comic, having not read it. But his design, and the design of his mother, are clearly based on harsh stereotypes.
That said, what do we do with the instances of Memin Pinguins in our own backyard?
Do pockets of our community find themselves feeling nostalgic and forgiving over a character like Ebony White from The Spirit -- since it's a part of our own American pop-culture past? How about the portrayal of the Japanese in some comics during WW II? Or the cult over cheesecake bondage covers from both the comics and pulps of an earlier era? I've heard/read impassioned defenses of all these things by fans.
I've read as many defenses of Ebony White as I've read condemnations. Certainly, the character had his moments of self-sacrifice and heroism, often helped The Spirit solve cases, and was an integral part of that comic strip. On the other hand, he was drawn in a very stereotypical manner -- not unlike Memin -- and there was a lot of humor had at his expense.
From the Wikipedia entry on Ebony White:
"Eisner later expressed mixed feelings about his portrayal of Ebony White. He acknowledged that he was conscious at the time that he was using a racial stereotype and was unapologetic about it, but defended doing so by stating that "at the time humor consisted in our society of bad English and physical difference in identity.""
The difference, it seems to me, is that The Spirit's current publisher, DC Comics, does not try to push the Ebony White of the 1940s onto our mass market shelves (though he remains intact in their specialty archive editions). Instead what we have is a revisioning of the character (as depicted in the Darwyn Cooke drawing below) -- something that Adalisa says in her article Mexican publishers are too cheap or dismissive of comics culture to invest in.
I am glad that Memin Pinguin was taken off the Walmart shelves. Whatever its pedigree in Mexico, I really don't think it has a place here.
It's just that before we pat our backs a little too firmly over how much more "PC" we are in America than Mexican comic book readers, we need to revisit our own past as well. To defend the golden age Ebony White or exaggerated portrayals of Asians in wartime comics or blatant sexism in a variety of comic books on the basis of "nostalgia" and "a more innocent time" (a tactic that, as I get older, I'm having less and less patience for) and then condemn Memin Pinguin as racist is hypocrisy.
Yes, Will Eisner was a genius and awesome, but in the 1940s he used the stereotypical pop-cultural shorthand of the day to design the look and character of Ebony White. So did the creator of Memin Pinguin. The thing to do now is to acknowledge the past and create something far better in the present.