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Robyn McGee

cartoonist and creator of the “Curtis” comic strip, was born in Wake Forest, North Carolina, to Henry Billingsley and Laura Dunn Billingsley. The youngest of three children, Billingsley credits his sister Maxine and, particularly, his older brother Richard with inspiring many of the plots and themes of the popular comic strip. Billingsley began drawing at age eight as a way of competing with his brother's renderings of portraits, still lives and landscapes. Ray remembers that Richard received much praise from adults for his creations. When Ray tried to draw like his brother, he did not garner the same kind of favorable response, so he decided to switch to cartooning instead.

After the Billingsley family moved to Harlem, twelve‐year old Ray was discovered by an editor of Kids magazine while drawing during a class visit to the Presbyterian Hospital in New York. His first assignment at Kids was to ...


Kristal Brent Zook

cartoonist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the youngest of three children of Brumsic Brandon Jr., a pioneering black cartoonist and creator of the long-running comic strip Luther, which debuted in the late 1960s and was syndicated by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate in 1971.

As a young girl growing up in New Cassel, Long Island, Brandon often assisted her father with his work. Later she studied illustration in the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University, but left six credits short of completing her degree. At age twenty-four Brandon created her own comic strip called Where I'm Coming From, which featured the faces of a diverse group of nine African American women friends.

Although her characters perspectives were quintessentially African American the cartoonist stressed that the voices were universal reflections on life and love The characters were talking heads without bodies Women are too ...


Vincent F. A. Golphin

artist and creator of Luther, one of the first comic strips with African American characters to be widely published in U.S. newspapers, was born in Washington, D.C., two blocks north of Union Station, then the national capital's major transportation center. Brumsic Brandon Sr. worked there as a railway porter. Brandon Jr.'s mother, the former Pearl Brooks, was a stock clerk and maid at the Kann's Department Store.

At Charles Young Platoon Elementary School, Brandon was a high achiever who loved to draw, which inspired him to pursue art as a career. In 1942, when he entered Armstrong Technical High School, he took nearly every painting, sketching, and sculpture course. Also, at the urging of teachers, he added courses in drafting, which later made him more employable. Brandon graduated in February 1945 intent on becoming a comic strip artist but instead he became one of the first African ...


Lorin Nails-Smoote

political and editorial cartoonist, was born Chesterfield Commodore in Racine, Wisconsin, the fourth of five children of Elizabeth “Bessie” Fite and Pascal “Pat” Commodore, a Creole laborer and model maker from Louisiana. One Commodore ancestor, Peter D. Thomas of Racine, a former slave, was the first elected black official in Wisconsin.

The family resided with Bessie Commodore's mother, Della, in her Racine boarding house until 1923 when the three girls and their parents moved to Chicago where Pat could pursue better employment opportunities. Chester, as he was known, remained with his grandmother and his older brother until 1927 when he joined his parents.

Commodore grew up in a culturally stimulating environment Because of its convenient proximity to Chicago and Milwaukee and because black entertainers in pre integration years were not allowed above the first floor of the Chicago and Milwaukee hotels where they appeared Della Fite s ...


Christine G. McKay

cartoonist, was born Oliver Wendell Harrington in New York City, the son of Herbert Harrington, a porter, and Euzenie Turat. His father came to New York from North Carolina in the early 1900s when many African Americans were seeking greater opportunities in the North. His mother had immigrated to America, arriving from Austria-Hungary in 1907, to join her half sister. Ollie Harrington grew up in a multiethnic neighborhood in the South Bronx and attended public schools. He recalled a home life burdened by the stresses of his parents' interracial marriage and the financial struggles of raising five children. From an early age, he drew cartoons to ease those tensions.

In 1927 Harrington enrolled at Textile High School in Manhattan He was voted best artist in his class and started a club whose members studied popular newspaper cartoonists Exposure to the work of Art Young Denys ...


Alonford James Robinson

Known to friends as Ollie, Oliver Wendell Harrington was born in Valhalla, New York, the eldest of Herbert Harrington and Eugenia Tarat's five children. He graduated from high school in 1929 and moved to New York City during the Harlem Renaissance.

Harrington attended the National Academy of Design, where he studied painting and drawing. By 1932 his comic strips were being featured in black newspapers, including the Pittsburgh Courier, New York Amsterdam News, and Baltimore Afro-American. Bootsie, a cartoon character who mimicked the styles and trends in the urban black community and who would become Harrington's most famous creation, first appeared in a comic strip called “Dark Laughter.” In 1958 a collection of Bootsie comic strips was published as Bootsie and Others.

In 1940 Harrington received his bachelor s in fine arts degree from the Yale University School of Fine Arts Two ...


Eric Bennett

George Herriman was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1880, but his family soon moved to California, perhaps because his light-skinned Creole parents hoped to pass as white and begin a new life there. Indeed, Herriman himself obscured his African origins during his lifetime, leading to speculation that he was either Greek or French. As a teenager Herriman contributed drawings to local newspapers. In his early twenties he moved to New York, New York and freelanced until white newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst saw his cartoons and hired him for the New York Evening Journal.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, Herriman explored a number of characters and settings before developing Krazy Kat. The strip's main characters emerged from a cat and mouse he drew in the margins of his first success, The Family Upstairs. The Krazy Kat strip gained its independence ...


Charles Pete Banner-Haley

cartoonist, was born Aaron Vincent McGruder in Chicago, the son of Bill McGruder, an employee with the National Safety Transportation Board, and Elaine (maiden name not known), a homemaker. When McGruder was six years old the family moved to the planned community of Columbia, Maryland. Created by the Rouse Company in the late 1960s, Columbia was envisioned as an integrationist, post–civil rights utopia.The young McGruder attended a Jesuit school outside of Columbia from seventh to ninth grade. It was, as he said in a New Yorker profile, “a very strict, very, very white Jesuit school.” As oppressive as the atmosphere was, it was while at this school that McGruder discovered the humor of Monty Python. When he transferred to public school in the tenth grade, he found himself mostly in the company of other black students. He became a fan of Star Wars kung fu ...


Nancy Goldstein

cartoonist, was born Zelda Mavin Jackson in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the younger daughter of Mary Brown Jackson, homemaker, and William Winfield Jackson, printer and printing business owner. “Jackie,” the name she would be known for, came from Jackson, her maiden name. Jackie Ormes was the first African American woman cartoonist. She created four different cartoon series, all in African American weekly newspapers, mostly in the late 1940s and early 1950s: Torchy Brown in “Dixie to Harlem” from 1 May 1937 to 30 April 1938 in the Pittsburgh Courier; Candy from 24 March 1945 to 21 July 1945 in the Chicago Defender; Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger from 1 September 1945 to 22 September 1956 in the Pittsburgh Courier; Torchy in Heartbeats from 19 August 1950 to 18 September 1954 in the Pittsburgh Courier Ormes grew up in a middle class mixed race neighborhood in Monongahela Pennsylvania where she once ...


Charles Rosenberg

cartoonist who originated the widely syndicated Wee Pals comic strip, was born Morris N. Turner in Oakland, California, the son of James E. Turner, a Pullman porter, and Nora C. Spears Turner. He had three older brothers, Edward, Marion, and Joseph, and grew up in west Oakland near Poplar Street, between 8th and 11th, then near 5th and Wood streets, at that time a neighborhood of Portuguese, African American, Italian, and Irish families.

Turner attended Lowell Junior High School, then went to McClymonds High School for two years, until his family moved to nearby Berkeley, California. Graduating from Berkeley High in 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force in February 1943, serving in the 477th Bomber Group, 99th Pursuit Squadron, which was activated in January 1944 but was never sent into action Turner did a number of art related projects on assignment to Special Services ...