Here is the next exciting installment of Ed Wheelan’s amazing comic strip from the 1920s, in which he presented, and played with, silent film tropes of the era, which inevitably meant stumbling over or addressing head-on the racial views of the of the era’s films. What were Wheelan’s own views on this? We think that he viewed them (as he viewed everything about silent movies) with a healthy dose of irony.
Here, for example, he jumbles together wildly conflicting views on “Chinatown” — the “mysterious” villains are simultaneously despicable and enticing, and Wheelan highlights his heroine’s erudition by demonstrating that she knows how to speak and read Chinese, something viewed as impressive and admirable! And the industrialist at the center of the drama has a half-Chinese daughter.
By throwing so many conflicting views into a single story, sometimes into a single four panel strip, Wheelan may intend to highlight the ridiculous inconsistency in the era’s views.
Of course, it is possible that I may read contemporary sensibilities into Wheelan’s work simply because I admire him; but even if I’ve completely misunderstood his message here, it’s important to present his work as he drew it, because he is an innovative and forgotten artist who deserves to be known.