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Reuben Award Winning Cartoonist Ray Billingsley

Ray Billingsley didn’t much like his second-floor Harlem home on Bradhurst Avenue back then. It was affordable — this being the mid-’80s — but he felt isolated, and he knew crime was a threat: “One evening while in bed with the window open, I actually heard three guys planning on burglarizing my apartment.”

Yet this setting was also where, later that night after going to bed, Billingsley drew inspiration. He awoke with a creative burst. “I had a vision of these two kids. I sketched them down in the dark and went back to sleep. That morning, I found the first images of Curtis and Barry.”

There they were, two cartoon brothers — the taller one wearing Curtis’s signature ball cap, the shorter one in suspenders. With minimal line work, he had rendered his future.

It was Walker and Schulz, in fact, who assured Billingsley for years that awards would come his way — even as he held out hope for book and animation deals that never materialized. “They used to tell me: ‘You’re going to win the Reuben one day.’ “ Years went by, hope faded into resignation. Billingsley takes a breath:

“That made the win more overwhelming.”

Michael Cavna, for The Washington Post, talks with Ray Billingsley.

WHEN BILLINGSLEY AND [R. C. HARVEY] TALKED a few years ago, [Ray said] he’d been working on other strip ideas back in the eighties: Curtis was one of several.

“I had one called Polly. It was about a fat, lazy parrot who had a really smart mouth…

“I did another strip called Ma’m, and it was about this Hollywood legend, this woman who had been really big back in the silent era, and she was tryin’ to make a comeback…

He did a take-off on Tarzan.

“Wizard of Id — that kind of humor. It was broad slapstick. So I tried a gamut of different things before I came back to Curtis.”

“Why,” I asked, “did you decide you were going to go to a Black milieu?”

Simple. He followed the aged axiom — Do what you know.

“And I knew about being a Black kid,”…

Elsewhere R. C. Harvey, at Humor Times, takes a more in-depth look at Ray’s career.

Curtis © King Features Syndicate
top image cribbed from the National Cartoonists Society

Community Comments

#1 Kip Williams
@ 4:20 pm

It’s a quiet strip, but once in a while it surprises me with a belly laugh. I’m glad to see him get some recognition.

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