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'I am being silenced over white feelings from a gag comic': Black comic artist on her work being pulled from newspapers

“This is a complete step back in the wrong direction,” the artist said.
Image: Bianca Xunise
Bianca Xunise.Courtesy Bianca Xunise

A recent installment of long-running syndicated comic strip “Six Chix” tackling anti-mask rhetoric from a Black Lives Matter movement perspective was pulled from some newspapers last Tuesday.

Founded in 2000, “Six Chix” is a collaborative comic strip that’s been syndicated daily to more than 120 newspapers, focusing on a broad range of topics from a woman’s perspective, including gags about breaking news, the economy and even zombies.

The group features a rotating team of female creators, including Bianca Xunise — the Chicago-based cartoonist behind the controversial edition — who became the first Black woman to join the team and second to be nationally syndicated in comics history earlier this year.

The newest installment depicts a Black woman at a grocery store wearing a face covering and “I Can’t Breathe” written across her shirt — a nod to the death of George Floyd in police custody earlier this year, Xunise told NBC News.

A blue-eyed, older white woman says: “If you can’t breathe, then take that silly mask off!”

Tea Fougner, editorial director at King Features, the comic strip’s syndicate, confirmed to NBC News that angry responses to the strip resulted in some newspapers dropping “Six Chix” from publication entirely.

While the company is not allowed to share the names of its clients, Fougner said, an apology was printed at an undisclosed newspaper in the comic’s usual spot later in the week.

“We have notified the syndicate that provides the comic that we will no longer be running Six Chix in our newspaper as a result,” the apology read. “We’ve also requested an apology from them. Our apologies for a cartoon that reflected the exact opposite of what we stand for as a newspaper.”

In response, Fougner, along with Xunise’s colleagues at “Six Chix,” defended the cartoon.

“Bianca created the July 28, 2020, ‘Six Chix’ cartoon to be a joke commenting on how Black issues are often disregarded as a personal problem and not a systemic issue,” Fougner said. “She is shedding light on two pandemics right now: one on race and another on COVID-19, and both are not being taken seriously while they are destroying lives.”

Isabella Bannerman, the Monday cartoonist for “Six Chix,” echoed similar sentiments, defending the comic as an “important dialogue” bridging both issues.

“I am not apologizing for this comic and this censorship,” Xunise said. She explained how there was no misunderstanding behind the messaging of her comic strip.

“I am being silenced over white feelings from a gag comic,” she said. “This is a complete step back in the wrong direction.”

Xunise added that the comic went through two checkpoints: one with her editors and another with the newspaper editors that made the final decision to publish it.

“The editors at whatever newspaper it lands at should’ve read the comics and flagged it if they got offended,” Xunise said. “I’m just an artist; that’s your job.”

After the backlash, Xunise and her team responded to each newspaper’s concerns. The ones that dropped the comic after their explanation were upset, she said.

“We spent due diligence explaining the ‘hard to grasp’ satire,” she said. “Please stop giving the benefit of the doubt to people who silence Black voices.”