Morrie Turner, a cartoonist who broke the color barrier twice — as the first African-American comic strip artist whose work was widely syndicated in mainstream newspapers, and as the creator of the first syndicated strip with a racially and ethnically mixed cast of characters — died on Saturday January 26, 2014 in Sacramento. He was 90.
Mr. Turner’s comic strip “Wee Pals,” featuring childhood playmates who were white, black, Asian, Hispanic and Jewish (joined in later years by a girl in a wheelchair and a deaf girl), was considered subversive in 1965, when a major syndicate first offered it to newspapers.
Only two or three of the hundreds of newspapers in the syndicate picked it up. By early 1968, there were five. But of the many changes that occurred after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that April and the urban uprisings it started, some of the first appeared in the nation’s funny papers
Charles M. Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts” and a Northern California resident, met Mr. Turner in the early 1960s and became a friend and mentor, said Andrew Farago, curator of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco.
“They were the same age, they both were in the war — they just clicked,” said Mr. Farago, who has curated shows of both men’s work. In a conversation one day, Mr. Turner lamented the lack of black characters in newspaper comics, and Schulz suggested he try to do one. He also offered to share his contacts in the syndication business.
In the imaginary world Mr. Turner created, a diminutive African-American boy named Nipper, who wears a Confederate cap that always masks the top half of his face, leads a small gaggle of friends, including Jerry, a freckle-faced Jewish boy; Diz, a black child permanently arrayed in dashiki and sunglasses; and Ralph, a white boy who parrots the racist beliefs he hears at home and accepts his friends’ reproofs more or less good-naturedly. Nipper has a dog named General Lee. Mr. Turner told interviewers that while the strip broke racial barriers, he was rarely conscious of the racial identities of his characters. “I just tried to make them say things that kids say to each other,” he said. click to read entire article
I had the honor of meeting the man on several occasion, Mr. Turner was gentle, warm and loving. He will be missed