CBLDF is kicking off Black History Month with our Profiles in Black Cartooning series. The series, created in 2016 in partnership with Black Nerd Problems, features Black cartoonists and creators both past and present. Each profile features an artist that not only made an impact on the comics community but also made a significant contribution to free expression. Below is the entire collected series.
Zelda Jackson Ormes, better known as Jackie, was the first African American woman to make a living as a cartoonist. Between 1937 and 1955, her strips were syndicated extensively nationwide in the Black press, featuring Black women front and center in roles and social situations they were never accorded in the mainstream media of the day.
Ormes got her start in journalism while she was still in high school, reporting for the Pittsburgh Courier, which had nationwide distribution. For her first assignment she covered a boxing match — with the Courier’s sports editor as a chaperone since “I was just a punk,” she said later. She relished the excitement of the news business, recalling in an interview that she “had a great career running around town looking into everything the law would allow, and writing about it.” Read the full profile
If you were to call Orrin C. Evans bold in the pursuits he enjoyed in his life, it would be like saying the monuments in Egypt are bigger than average. More than that, Evans’ life work wasn’t so much being bold as it was surviving the best way he knew how. A man whom The New York Times proclaimed “The Dean of Black Reporters,” Evans rose to a position of becoming one of the first comic book writers as an outsider to comics himself and stepped into a limelight that had scarcely seen his like. Read the full profile
Black History Month has become a multifaceted parade of Black greatness in all of my social media feeds — first Black man to do this; first Black woman to do that. This is our community stepping in to share a history most of us didn’t learn in school, and highlighting trailblazers who brought us to the multicultural world developing around us. In that spirit, I approached learning more about Richard Eugene “Grass” Green — a pioneering fan and cartoonist whose work started in the 1960s and continued until his death in 2002. Read the full profile
In the 1940s and 1950s, Clarence Matthew Baker — best known as Matt Baker — was widely regarded as the master of the “good girl” style and is credited as the first successful Black comic book artist in the comics industry.
From Phantom Lady (Fox Features Syndicate, 1947) and Canteen Kate (St. John, 1952), to what many consider the first graphic novel, It Rhymes with Lust (St. John, 1950), Baker’s fun-loving, glamorous gals and classy, statuesque women could be seen on every newsstand across the United States (and most likely in many G.I. quarters overseas). Although, Baker was celebrated in the comics community for his strikingly beautiful and more anatomically correct portrayals of women, his art would also become one of the primary targets in the crusade against comics and in the infamous Dr. Fredrick Wertham’s 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent. Read the full profile
One of the most complicated truths about Black History Month is this: while celebrating means being able to feel pride in our rich culture, it also often means discovering just how many important historical figures continue to be erased from public consciousness. For instance, although she was the first African American woman to publish a nationally syndicated comic strip, Barbara Brandon-Croft’s incredible impact with her all-Black-women strip, unfortunately, does not get nearly the recognition she deserves. Years before comics like Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks became one of the most recognizably Black comic strips with important political commentary, Brandon-Croft’s Where I’m Coming From reclaimed the funnies as a space where Black women’s voices could be represented and amplified. Read the full profile
This is the story of a mild-mannered accountant, Bertram A. Fitzgerald, who unexpectedly became a pioneer in comics publishing. At a time when the field of African American Studies was largely confined to academia, Fitzgerald saw the pedagogical potential of both the comics format and Black history as a means to engage youth who had seldom seen themselves reflected in their history books. Read the full profile
Larry Fuller—a.k.a. A. Christian White—with his quick wit, eye for innovation, and keen sense of opportunity is regarded as one of the indisputable kings of the 1970s underground comix movement. From Ebon to White Whore Funnies, Fuller wrote comics, drew comics, published comics, and would become one of the premier businessmen in an industry characterized by its fast, loose, and decidedly un-business-like attitude that arose out of the aftermath of the 1954 Comics Code. Fuller’s ability to effectively use satire to comment upon social issues such as race and sexuality would make him an influential and important icon not only in the Black, but also the LGBTQ comics communities. Read the full profile
What do you think of when you hear the name Aaron McGruder? To most fans, the mention instantly brings sight to Huey and Riley Freeman, characters from his politically charged comic strip turned smash hit cartoon, and rightfully so. His most recognizable series, The Boondocks is also one of the most recognizably Black works in popular media. “It’s South Park for Black people,” I heard it explained, more than once. But put that aside for a moment, as if we’re playing a game of Taboo and each Boondocks character is on the list of words you can’t say. What do you think of when you hear Aaron McGruder? Read the full profile
Over a more than 30-year career, Kyle Baker has seemingly made his mark in every corner of mass media, from Cartoon Network to The New York Times. But it’s in the comics world that his boundless creative energy has truly taken flight, whether he’s reimagining existing characters or creating them anew. Read the full profile
The push for diversity is a discussion that has gained much traction in recent years. We are starting to see more artists of color taking more routes to promote and produce stories about Black characters and other characters of color. In return, there has also been a resounding response from the readers, an audience that wanted more diversity in the comic books they’ve been buying for years on end. We are at a point where change is being made. Read the full profile