Comic Strips from Black Newspapers

Uncommon now, newspapers that served the black community were available in most every city back in the pre-Civil Rights days. The Chicago Defender and Pittsburgh Courier were the most important and they both have a rich history of comic strips produced by the black community for the black community. Black papers in other cities often bought syndicate content from these two leading papers, but they also purchased from individual cartoonists and from the mainstream (white) syndicates.

The examples above are interesting anomalies. They appeared in the Atlanta World in 1944, both titles having short runs. The World was a very unusual black paper in that it was published daily, not weekly as most of these papers were. The daily frequency gave them a voracious appetite for material without the budget to pay for much. They used a lot of cheap reprints from King Features (including the bizarre choice of “Tim Tyler’s Luck”, a strip whose setting was ‘darkest Africa’, where young white boys ran around barking orders at the natives). The World also occasionally bought material from small syndicates like the Elmo Feature Syndicate – I believe that the above examples, though uncredited, are from that bargain basement syndicate. A second layer of interest comes from the fact that both strips were done by Al Smith, who uses pseudonyms on both. Al was not only the successor to Bud Fisher on “Mutt & Jeff”, but he also started his own syndicate (The Al Smith Service) in the early 1950s. I guess he needed a bit of extra cash so he did these quickies for H.T. Elmo. Perhaps his experience with this grade-Z syndicate was the catalyst for his creation of the Al Smith Service just a few years later on.

Remember, you can see a larger view of each image by clicking on it. And sorry for the quality of reproduction – these images came from badly deteriorated microfilm.

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