Black Cartoonists Exhibit at Laney College

By Tracey Brown
Special to

In 1965 there was "Wee Pals," a friendly comic strip advocating racial integration. Now there is "Boondocks," a comic strip morphed into an animated TV series whose primary characters are two inner-city kids who have moved to the suburbs--Huey, an angry revolutionary, and Riley, a wannabe gangsta. The evolution of this social commentary by black cartoonists--"Coloring Outside the Lines: Black Cartoonists as Social Commentator's," is on display at the Laney College Library through Oct. 23.

Created and curated by Kheven LaGrone, "Coloring," which premiered at the San Francisco Main Public Library, features black cartoonists whose comic strips appear in newspapers across the nation.

Born from a retrospective exhibit of Berkeley native Morrie Turner's "Wee Pals" comic strip at the San Francisco Library last September, "Coloring" focuses on contemporary cartoons strips with characters from today.


"Coloring" even shows new millennium "Wee Pals" characters that are tech savvy.

A strip from June 2009, features Randy, the athletic black kid with the backward baseball cap, and Oliver, the chubby white nerd modeled on a boy Turner went to school with in Oakland during the Depression:

Randy: "I'll text-message you on my African American Berry when I get home."

Oliver: "You mean BlackBerry, dontcha Randy?"

Randy: "Not at my house!"

LaGrone's intent with the Turner exhibit was to focus on social commentary from a black perspective. While many did not view "Wee Pals" as social commentary, LaGrone said that "Lots of his [Turner] work had been seen, but most people didn't know it was his political perspective that was being made in his cartoon."

A desire to inspire his nephew, a black youth, to think of success as a path in life, positioned LaGrone for his foray into showcasing art as a motivating medium for young people. In 2006, LaGrone created the art show "Black Artists' Expressions of Father," an exhibit which premiered in San Francisco and Richmond, and was later expanded in 2007 to become "BABA: Black Artists' Expressions of Father," a featured exhibit at the International Fatherhood Conference in Atlanta.

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The show was eventually brought to New York City the following year. In 2007, along with his 19-year old nephew Jarrel Phillips, LaGrone curated the art show "ASPIRE! Black Teen Artists Interpretations of Success" which was exhibited in San Francisco and Richmond. LaGrone served as the curator of the visual arts program for 2008 AfroSolo Arts Festival in San Francisco.

After the Turner exhibit in San Francisco, other black cartoonists approached LaGrone to present their work as well. "Coloring" was born.

In addition to Turner, other cartoonists participating in the exhibit are:

Darrin Bell, creator of "Candorville."

"Candorville" is about a brilliant, but under-achieving blogger, a gangsta rapper with a heart of fool's gold and a Latina advertising executive. The two have been friends since childhood and they struggle to stay close even though life's taken them in vastly different directions.

They battle backstabbing coworkers, discrimination, crooked politicians, evil vampires, a lazy mainstream media and a hilariously amoral corporate America to get their piece of the American Pie that might've been left out of the fridge a little too long.

Cory Thomas, creator of "Watch Your Head."

"Watch Your Head" chronicles the lives of six students attending Oliver Otis University, a traditionally black college. The strip is told largely through the eyes of Thomas, who's academically brilliant and socially awkward, especially with girls.

Jerry Craft, creator of "Mama's Boyz."

"Mama's Boyz" follows the lives of Pauline Porter and her two teenage sons, Tyrell and Yusuf. The strip has been syndicated weekly since 1995 by King Features Syndicate and is sent to more than 1,500 newspapers and magazines around the world. In 2009, "Mama's Boyz" was named "Best Comic Strip" by the African American Literary Awards Show.

Keith Knight, creator of "K Chronicles," "(th)ink," and "The KnightLife."

In addition to being a regular contributor to MAD Magazine, his comic strips appear in more than 100 publications worldwide. "K Chronicles" is the winner of the Glyph Award for Best Comic Strip in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010. "The Knight Life," also was nominated in 2010. Knight is currently producing a graphic novel about being a Michael Jackson in high school.

Morrie Turner, creator of "Wee Pals."

"Wee Pals" was the first nationally syndicated racially integrated comic strip. Created in 1965, initially, few newspapers were interested in a racially-integrated cartoon. After the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., there was a surge of interest in racial integration and as a result, 100 newspapers published "Wee Pals."

Through the comic, Turner portrays a world without prejudice. It is a world where people's differences--racial, religion, gender, as well as physical and mental abilities--are cherished and not scorned. Turner served as a forum member of the White House Conference on Children in 1970.

Nate Creekmore, creator of "Maintaining."

"Maintaining" is about life's absurdities and the ways in which a bi-racial high school student named Marcus tries to make sense of them. At its peak, "Maintaining" appeared in about 40 newspapers nationwide, including the Detroit Free Press, the Portland Oregonian, The Trentonian and Honolulu Star Bulletin. In addition, the strip appeared in New Delhi, India and London.

Brumsic Brandon, Jr. author of "Luther."

"Luther" was first syndicated by Newsday Specials and then The Los Angeles Times Syndicate. Based on his social criticism, Brandon was invited to serve (and served) as a forum member of the White House Conference on Children in 1970. Brandon also wrote and illustrated several Luther segments for the children's television show "Vegetable Soup" and "Bebop Fables" (which was narrated by Dizzy Gillespie).

Barbara Brandon-Croft, creator of "Where I'm Coming From."

"Where I'm Coming From" was internationally distributed from 1991 to 2004 by Universal Press Syndicate. It appeared in more than 60 newspapers and voiced social and political commentary through the voices of "the girls"--fictional characters based on Brandon-Croft and her friends. The strip included about a dozen women, ranging from the issues-conscious Lekesia to the self-absorbed, man-obsessed Nicole.

Black cartoons often disappear from the pages of newspapers without warning. LaGrone said that the public needs to take action when this happens. "When newspapers take away our black cartoons, we must call them, write letters. We have to demand that they bring them back. Otherwise they don't know that we care," he said.

LaGrone, a Bay Area native, is a licensed civil engineer holding a BS degree in Civil Engineering from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and an MA in mass communication from Emerson College in Boston.

Tracey Brown is the Editor-in-Chief of the Laney Tower newspaper. This article originally appeared in the Laney Tower.

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