Yesterday news broke the Wee Pals creator Morrie Turner had passed away. He was the first African-American to be syndicated. He impressed and inspired many.
“Morrie was a pioneer with his ‘rainbow power’ message many decades before it became a household name,” said Rick Newcombe, founder of Creators. “I started working with Morrie in 1984, and we clicked right from the beginning. He was warm, funny, gentle and loving — one of the kindest people I have ever known.”
Nationally, Turner will likely be remembered as the first African-American cartoonist to draw a nationally syndicated strip, bringing humorous and honest racial dialogue into newspapers. (His ?Soul Corner? on the right side of the strip often celebrated black heroes.)
Locally, I think artists and fans viewed him as more than that. After Charles Schulz died in 2000, Turner embraced his role as an elder statesman of Bay Area comic strip artists. He was a generous and gracious presence at WonderCon and other events, and younger talents were eager to absorb his wisdom. His work also generated pride in Oakland, where Turner?s strip reflected the city in a nuanced way that residents could understand.
When he came to our class he spoke about his craft and showed us how he worked and what his job demanded. He spoke about his newspaper comic strip and how he had to write it every day. He spoke about the diverse cast of characters in his strip, but he never once spoke about the issue of his race.
But for me he didn?t have to. The fact that he, a black artist, even existed, spoke volumes. I was living in the notorious West Oakland Acorn projects. It was full of all the negative things you can dream of in an economically depressed inner-city.
The San Jose Mercury News has an interesting round-up of reaction of Morrie’s passing through social media.