Ray Billingsley, Once and Still KFS Cartoonist

Discussing the new Kwanzaa Tale by Ray Billingsley the other day I may have started a rumor that Ray would be retiring soon. It was my fear of losing the Curtis comic strip that had me mention a blurb I saw on Ray’s Facebook page stating, “Former Syndicated Cartoonist at King Features Syndicate.”

I reached out to Ray and he was kind enough to assure me that he has no plans to retire
(and gave me permission to share his thoughts):

Yes I did see that “former syndicated….” line but I am still here.

No, I haven’t left the grind yet.

I’m still here to inspire others, to forge ahead with their own dreams and to push themselves beyond the boundaries of the status quo.

above: Curtis debuts October 3, 1988

Ray explained that when his mother passed away in early 2018 he fell into a depression that ultimately affected his physical health. Of course during all that time he was still expected to turn out a daily comic strip; sometimes that became impossible and it led to reruns appearing. But now:

However, working on the strip has been good therapy and I am settling back into a comfortable pace.

above: a recent Curtis strip

Ray continued:

I’m still here to inspire others, to forge ahead with their own dreams and to push themselves beyond the boundaries of the status quo. It would be wonderful to be pushed out into the public eye like Peanuts or Garfield but I don’t see it happening. At least not right now. But maybe one of my students will make the change happen.

I remarked, in that Kwanzaa item, that part of what I liked about it was the change in art style. Ray has said that as a student of Will Eisner he was forced to stretch his abilities:

I credit [Will Eisner] for something I do in my strip now, a superhero called Super Captain Coolman. Will used to tell me about drawing in different styles and going beyond my comfort zone and experimenting. He gave me the belief that cartooning is art and every now and then, you should experiment. I don’t really see many people doing that. They don’t really get out of their comfort zone. Every now and then I like to do different things and work on different artwork that may not even look like I drew it or wrote it.

Now Ray is teaching others the same and to expand their horizons.

above: another change-of-pace Curtis strip

Ray expands on his duties as one of the most prominent African-American cartoonists:

I believe I have to represent a positive image of African-Americans. Without Curtis the view would be very dim. To this day we are struggling for a minor bit of recognition and that is a sad declaration of this industry, including animation and merchandising. I still have dreams that I had when I first started out, that I would expand into other venues.

above: a couple of Ray’s Lookin’ Fine strips

Last year was the 30th anniversary of the Curtis comic strip; next year will mark 40 years since Lookin’ Fine by Ray Billingsley began appearing on comics pages. Ray’s survival, since those early years barely out of his teens, has solidified his status as a (young) elder statesman for cartoonists of color.
He takes that position seriously.

Again – Ray has no intention of giving up on the daily grind; I apologize for thinking that,
and we thank The Powers That Be that his talent will continue to be a part of our lives.


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