If some nervy street-corner Romeo spots Barbara Brandon and calls out, "Hey, Mamacita," here's what happens: She gets angry, and then she gets even.> The process is entirely civilized, as Brandon is an entirely civilized person. She also is a syndicated cartoonist, who administers justice neither with sneer nor Tae Kwon Do maneuver but with righteous employment of pen and ink.Male chauvanists who assess a woman's looks at full voice and from a considerable distance may succeed merely in sparking another installment of Brandon's weekly comic strip, "Where I'm Coming From."
"I could have been a piece of meat walking down the street," she says, recalling the rude fellow in her Brooklyn neighborhood. Fed-up, one of Brandon's female characters declared in a recent cartoon: "I can't deny women are sexy, but that's not ALL we are."
As the only syndicated cartoonist in America who is both a woman and black, Brandon, 34, takes seriously her role as social commentator-- conveniently, something of a family tradition.
Her father, Brumsic Brandon Jr., created the topical comic strip, "Luther," which ended its 16-year run in 1984. Now 66, Brandon, writes a column for a Florida newspaper and draws political cartoons for a black publishing syndicate.
"The whole family is interested in current events," said Brumsic Brandon. His wife, Rita, a teacher, and their three children often rehashed the day's news at what was then the family home in New cassel, N.Y.-- "probably more than the kids wanted to, at first," Brandon said.
The dinner-table dialectic proved nourishing. Focusing on contemporary issues and relying on skills and relying on skills first learned at her father's drawing board, Brandon created a slick, weekly comic now carried in 80 papers.
Brandon had the knack--and the connections.
After quitting Syracuse University a few credits short of an art degree, Brandon spend several years in the clothing industry before joining Essence magazine as a fashion and beauty writer. In 1987, an editor in Detroit asked Brumsic Brandon if he could recommend a new black comic strip artist. He did: his daughter.> With an unorthodox style reminiscent of Village Voice cartoonist Jules Feiffer, the young illustrator impressed Marty Claus, then a managing editor at the Detroit Free Press and now a news executive with Knight-Ridder in Miami. "Her work stood out like a light," said Claus. In 1989, the Free Press published Brandon's first cartoon. Two years later, she joined Universal Press Syndicated of Kansas City, Mo.
Her characters--nine black females whom Brandon reveals from the shoulders up--engage in light conversation on heavy matters. Sometimes with friends, and often in dialogue with themselves, Brandon's women ponder subjects like the attitude of black men toward feminism, white response to the Martin Luther King holiday, gang violence, the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill controversy, and the Rodney King trial.
"We CAN all get along," said a Brandon cartoon after the most-recent verdi t. In small letters, she added: "...When there's equal justice!"
For Brandon, "getting along" is a reflex action. She smiles easily, laughs loudly, and speaks often of friends-- including her landlord, Spike Lee, who two years ago bought the building in which Brandon and her roommate rent a three-bedroom apartment.
The artist even endures readers like the outraged individual who recently suggested that Brandon stow an offending cartoon where it would make her least comfortable. Brandon says she will write back, but plans to ignore the advice.
Most fans-- those who follow the comic strip in Atlanta, Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago, San Francisco and other cities-- prefer that Brandon keep her cartoons in public view.
For them, good news. Later this month, Brandon's syndicate will release a "Where I'm Coming From" soft-bound collection. Brandon is working on a line of greeting cards. Several papers have decided to take her strip. And, yes, a TV deal could be brewing. "Two months ago, I couldn't afford health insurance," said the cartoonist.
That's the comics: Funny how things work out.