During the segregated years of the 1900s through 1960s America, the Black Press offered comic strips that featured African American heroes & heroines in a wide variety of life situations. These characters were not confined to gritty 'inner-city' stories, poor 'ghetto' life or as one dimensional comic relief as today .
A lead Black comic strip character could be found in situation from a detective yarn & Si-Fi adventures, to westerns & romance serials. Of course, during the war years, (1941 - 46) Black protagonists could be found fighting Nazis & Fascists for the glory of the flag & country. (which still refused to treat its veterans with equity upon their return.)
Often unmentioned in most comic histories as if it were of no consequence, is the work of over a dozen cartoonists & the strips they produced. A few prolific cartoonists such as Jay Jackson (no relation) of the Chicago Defender appears to be the artist of no less than 5 different comics & editorial cartoons, along with illustrations of various ads.
Major Black-owned papers sometimes had its own staff cartoonist(s). Smaller papers were supplied with strips by the Black-owned Continental Features Syndicate & Smith-Mann Syndicate (ownership not known as yet). There is still a need for a Black-owned syndicate to provide an outlet for African American cartoonists even today. The national cartoons syndicates seem to believe that two or three "Black" strips constitute diversity.
Thanks to the Vivian Harsh Collection of Afro-American History located in the Carter G. Woodson Regional Branch of the Chicago Library-- I am able to present the cartooning work of our Pioneering Cartoonists of Color.
"Say, Ping- how're your marks in school?"
"---They're above water!"
"Whad'ya mean Above Water?"
|"--Above 'C' -level !"|
The comic strip, Bungleton Green was drawn by four different cartoonists between 1929 to 1968. Naturally at the hands of a different artist, Bungleton Green takes on a sliglthly different tone, reflecting the times. "Bung" evolves from a top hatted lay-about, to a self-made millionaire, a proud father, back to near vagrant status, to a hard working family man to a serious role model for neighborhood teens (the Mystic Commandos, what the media would dismiss as a street gang today) to a veritable super-man fighting injustice. This strip dealt with situations from the purely comical to a stark reflection of city life & youth clubs to evil Nazi mad-men with a time & space manipulation device.
Adventure serial, Bungleton Green And the Mystic Commandos... (?? to 1950 ). This version by Jay Jackson. In the above strip Bun & the Mystic Commandos are transported to 1778 America, where they are instrumental in a slave revote. They are then bounced 100 years into the future where peace & equality rules Bungleton is transformed into a tall handsome, muscular man with super strength & the added wisdom of his past adventures. Without the Mystic Commandos, who choose to remain in that time, Bun returns to the present (1940s) to tackle Jim Crow America.
|"Hey Bun... Where'd you get the black eye?"||
"...For kissin' the Bride after the ceremony."
"Isn't that the usual custom?"
|"But this...was three years after the ceremony!"|
Gag Strip, Bungleton Green, as interpreted by Chester Commodore from 1950 to 1968.
Western Adventure serial, The Chisolm Kid, by Carl Pfeufer, followed the daily adventures of cowboy hero, Chisolm Kid. The Kid took on the usual bushwackers, cattle rustlers, claim jumpers & drygulchers as he made the wild west safe for... uhm...hmm... Of course there were constant attacks from unfriendly 'Injuns', but I refused to include those due to its unfortunate portrayal of Native Americans. Just because everybody did it at the time, still doesn't make it o.k.!
No doubt the caption is unreadable, so:
Scene: woman on Phone with a bat & a man hiding behind chair.
Woman: "Hi Mabel... `member them New Year's resolutions you an'
me made? Well, I'm fixin' to take care of mine now... How you comin' with
Dark Laughter, by Ollie Harrington. Dark Laughter was a single panel gag cartoon with a very pointed social commentary. Although Dark Laughter had a changing cast of people, there was one ongoing appearances of one Brother Bootsie, an obese, man-about-town who, even if he didn't appear, seemed to be the subject of gossip in the cartoon. In one cartoon that comes to mind, 2 children are looking out of the window at a robin. One says to the other, "Oooh, look, Sis, a robin red breast, and it must be spring. Do you reckon Uncle Bootsie was lying when he said spring comes three weeks earlier over 'cross town where the white folks live?"
Here is an appearance by Brother Bootsie himself from July of
"Not so fast, Mr. Bootsie. I said when you get a job--- not when you think about getting one!"
As his cartoons demonstrate, much of his life and work was shaped by outrage at the way he and other Blacks were treated."
His criticism of what he called nationwide apathy about legislation against lynching came under scrutiny from the FBI during the McCarty era. Mr. Harrington left the United States and lived for some years in Paris, where he was part of a group of black American expatriates that included the authors Richard Wright and Chester Himes. Other cartoons by Ollie Harrington: Pee Wee's Off-Jive, & Jive Gray.
Guy Fortune by Edd Ashe, was an adventure serial that followed the exploits of globe-trotting special agent, Guy Fortune who took readers to far-flung & exotic locals. Accompanied by various companions (in this story a boy named Jimmy as they try to find the boy-king of Iran, abducted by 'evil' Red Agents).
Mark Hunt by Edd Ashe (I am told) followed the the serial adventures of ace detective Mark Hunt as he unravels twisted mysteries & tackled ruthless 'hoods' in both the Black & White communities.
Kandy by Al Hollingsworth.A romance adventure serial where the beautiful Kandy MacKay pursues the life of a smart, young, independent Black woman & the men who love her & some times 'done her wrong.'
Space adventurer Neil Knight followed the si-fi exploits of the intrepid Neil Knight as he travels space, stopping occasionally to encounter such worlds as one where 'prehistoric life on Earth is duplicated' to lose his ship, be set upon by Neanderthals only to introduce them to fire, & weapons to protect themselves from 'six foot predecessors to modern wolves,' only to find his lost ship, escape the planet, 'then suddenly, as if seized by some giant invisible hand, the ship is turned aside'---- This panel is also the last strip I could find of a year-long 1955 adventure. Artist remained uncredited. Some sources say Carl Pfufer was involved. Back to the microfilm!
Don Powers, by A. Samuel Milai (Also See Bucky). a "soap opera" serial developed in the mid-1940s about a clean-cut young pro athlete, Don Powers. Don Powers tells the inspirational story of as the star character goes thru his paces at the comic's Cranford University. Appeared on the pages of the Pittsburgh Courier.
Speed Jaxon, by Jay Jackson follows the serial adventures of soldier of fortune Speed as he sabotages Nazi troop trains & fighting Italian fascists in Ethiopia, to discover hidden kingdoms of Africa (see above). Earlier Speed Jaxon strips were signed Pol Churi, but many conclude it was Jackson under a pen name since he illustrated so many other cartoons. In its very anti-Nazi sentiment, Speed Jaxon often equated segregation & American racism to the Nazi ideology.
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