Today, we present the great comics historian R. C. Harvey, and his obituary for the late Wee Pals creator, Morrie Turner. Here’s an excerpt:
Morrie met Charles Schulz at a gathering of California cartoonists, and they became friends. The civil rights movement was gathering momentum with sit-ins and marches in the South, and once while they were having lunch, Morrie asked Schulz why he didn’t have any black kids in Peanuts, and Schulz told Morrie he should create his own.
“I couldn’t participate in the marches in the South, and I felt I should,” Morrie later told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I was working and had a wife and kid. So I decided I would have my say with my pen.”
Right about then, Dick Gregory, comedian cum civil rights activist, came along and gave Morrie another nudge.
In 1962, Gregory had published a memoir, From the Back of the Bus, about his crusading adventures. (“Segregation is not all bad. Ever hear of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?”) The comedian was working on a continuation of this literary venture, a more overt autobiography, which in 1964 he would entitle Nigger (so that every time his mother hears the word, Gregory explained, she’d know her son’s book was being discussed and promoted). And a friend brought Gregory around to Morrie’s place to meet the cartoonist. The two spent the day “rapping” (as Morrie put it), and Gregory suggested that Morrie illustrate his book with cartoons and comic strips.
“It wasn’t the kind of cartoon that I was drawing then,” Morrie remembered when I talked at length with him last spring. “At the time,” he said, “I was doing all right with industrial cartoons. They weren’t making a lot of money, but I was having a lot of fun. Gregory wanted me to do some cartoons that related to black people, and I liked the idea because it was me. All the drawings and cartoons I’d done up to that point were not really me. They were something foreign to me. I would create cartoons about golf, but I knew nothing about golf. Never played the game at all. And medical cartoons, doctors, dentists—not me.”
The cartoons Morrie did for black magazines and newspapers like the Chicago Defender were more to his liking. “Some were very close to being editorial cartoons—very close,” Morrie said, “—but they were not. They were humorous, funny, and then I realized they were funny because they were editorial cartoons.”
But they still weren’t Morrie. Gregory’s proposal, which eventually came to nothing, started Morrie thinking. And just about then, Charlie Brown appeared in a Civil War cap. Morrie pondered: what if Charlie Brown were Black? And what if the cap were a Confederate cap? “Now that,” wrote Tom Carter in the Cartoon Club Newsletter, “was indeed a laugh—a child so naive he could sweep away generations of ill will with one innocent, ironic gesture.”
—Reviews & Commentary. Nicholas Theisen has an interesting academic response to Hannah Miodrag’s Comics and Language. Dan Kois writes at length about Michel Rabagliati’s Paul comics. Bob Heer talks about Preacher, Omaha the Cat Dancer, Stokoe’s Godzilla, and Tom Gauld. Christopher Stigliano on Charles Rodrigues’s Ray and Joe. Shea Hennum reviews Dash Shaw’s New Jobs.
—News. Tom Spurgeon reports that DC no longer retains the media rights to Preacher, for which there was just announced a major television adaptation. He also has published his own Morrie Turner obituary. The Billy Ireland library has announced two big shows starting next month, featuring original art by Bill Watterson and Richard Thompson. Slate and CCS have announced the nominations to their annual Cartoonist Studio Prize. Brian Cremins reports back from a Samuel R. Delany appearance supporting Bread & Wine, the graphic memoir he created with Mia Wolff.
—Misc. Chris Ware was among the writers the New York Times asked to share the literature that taught them bout love. Occasional TCJ contributor Sean Michael Robinson got involved in a complicated, protracted discussion on a Cerebus printing snafu.