The School of Visual Arts highlights cartoonist Ray Billingsley with an interview.
Raised in Harlem, Ray Billingsley was still a kid himself when he started drawing for the magazine Kids at the age of 12 … He debuted Curtis in 1988. Distributed by King Features, Curtis—a multilayered tale of an urban African American family of four and their wider community—has been a remarkable success, appearing in more than 250 newspapers.
These days, Billingsley is living and working out of his home in Stamford, Connecticut. We caught up with him several months ago to discuss his career, his time at SVA, and underrepresentation in comics.
The journalist Richard Prince once wrote that one reason why Black comic strips are usually about children is that strips with Black adults are seen to be threatening.
I found that out the hard way, when I was drawing Lookin’ Fine. I had a chat with Morrie Turner of Wee Pals—he warned me right away, he said, “You’re going to be in trouble.” I spoke about drug use and inequalities in schools and stuff like that. And when you have adults talking about it on a comics page, if you’re next to Ziggy or Nancy or Marmaduke, it’s discomforting. But if a child says the same thing, he can get away with it.
All of us were basically learning on our own. We had to learn what worked and what didn’t, and take chances. Morrie Turner doing the first integrated strip, he took a lot of chances. But you can’t please everyone, so you don’t even try. I’m at the point where I’m basically drawing the strip for me, first. This is my world, if you want to come into it, fine. If you don’t, that’s fine, too.