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Ollie Harrington’s Dark Laughter

Dark Laughter Revisited: The Life and Times of Ollie Harrington is a retrospective presented by the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum from November 13, 2021 – May 8, 2022.

above: "Practice Makes Perfect"

The remarkable exhibition highlights the work of an artist whose incisive satire and unapologetic activism intersected with the Harlem Renaissance, World War II, the Red Scare, the Civil Rights era and more. And yet, few people are familiar with Harrington’s cartoons. “He was completely shut out of the mainstream press because of his race, so he worked as he could for the Black press for the first part of his career,” said co-curator Jenny Robb, an associate professor at Ohio State and longtime curator at the Billy. “His work is not very well known, not even within the cartooning community. We’re hoping to change that with this exhibition.”

Columbus Alive reviews the showing with a profile of Ollie Harrington.

Often, that caustic world can look quite dark. In one panel from 1942, a white man stands next to the corpse of a Black man being dragged behind a car and speaks to two German soldiers standing over the body of a woman and child: “You Nazis are pretty good, but we Texans don’t do so badly ourselves!” In another World War II-era panel, a Black soldier holds up a sign titled “War Aims” with text below: “Freedom not only for people of the ravished Europe, but also for the millions of terrorized colored people of the USA.” 

“This exhibit starts early and often with the heavy punches,” Clopton said. 



And now About Comics has released two book collections of Ollie Harrington cartoons.

Bootsie’s War Years: A Dark Laughter Collection

Collected in this book for the very first time are almost 150 “Dark Laughter” cartoons from 1941 through 1946, during which time Bootsie goes from being a draft evader to a draftee, an enlisted man, a serviceman on the ground in Europe, and ultimately to a veteran for the winning side. In these, cartoonist Ollie Harrington’s lively art captures the rich reality of Bootie’s world while telling tales that are sometimes joyous, sometimes very harsh, like the world itself.


Bootsie’s Big ’50s: A Dark Laughter Collection

“Negro America’s Favorite Cartoonist” That’s what Langston Hughes called Ollie Harrington, whose cartoons and comic strips were a staple of America’s Black newspapers for decades starting in the 1930s. In his single-panel series “Dark Laughter,” Harrington brought out the vibrancy of Harlem life in its day, while serving some cutting looks at the politics of the time.

Here’s a collection of prime cartoons from the mid-1950s, drawn with the detailed joy that only Ol Harrington (who also worked as Oliver W. Harrington) could bring, finally available to a larger audience.

© Dr. Helma Harrington and the Estate of Ollie Harrington

Community Comments

#1 Janet Ober
@ 2:28 pm

I had never heard of Ollie Harrington, to my detriment. His work is especially apropos considering many in this country want to return us to those times. On the other hand, many would say we have never left them. If blocked from high school classes, I would love to see these included in college courses. Thank you so much for bringing him to my attention.

#2 Al Holter
@ 11:38 pm

I clipped the cartoon at the top, “Practice Makes Perfect”, and filed it away in the 1980’s. Much later, combing through and finding it again I wondered if this unfamiliar artist was mentioned online. A world opened. I was not only able to collect Oliver Harrington’s books but in 2014 traveled to New York City to NYU’s Tamiment Library where the Wagner Labor History collection housed a vast trove of CPUSA material from the Daily Worker which Oliver Harrington contributed Biting Cartoons from Vietnam era to post- Reagan issues. Damn, this guy could draw! In the reading room I was able to ruffle through hundreds of drawings from a stack of archival boxes of his original art. I saw only a fraction of what they had. Inspiring stuff. Wishing much success to this show of an artist that deserves wider attention.
I work in animation in Los Angeles.

#3 Janet Ober
@ 7:28 am

Al Holter, thank you for sharing that. Loved getting another piece of the picture.

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