Two from Ollie Harrington


Oliver Harrington was without a doubt the most important cartoonist to emerge from the American black press. In addition to being a fine cartoonist, he was a zealous political activist and outspoken critic of the American social and political systems. His is a tremendously interesting story, and I recommend you look for these books to learn more about him:

Dark Laughter: The Satiric Art of Oliver W. Harrington by M. Thomas Inge
Why I Left America and Other Essays by Oliver Harrington

Both books are out of print and, last time I checked, rather expensive on the used market, but well worth the coin.

While his Dark Laughter panel (sometimes informally known by the name of the character Bootsie) is widely recognized for its trenchant observations, fewer remember his weekly comic strip Jive Gray. This strip, written and drawn in the Milton Caniff tradition, is full of adventurous derring-do and breathless prose, but with a black soldier as the hero the spectre of American racism is as much an enemy as the Nazis and the rest of the rogues gallery.

The strip is notoriously hard to follow because few papers printed it on a consistent basis (or even in proper order for that matter). Much like the blind men and the elephant, each historian who has taken a crack at researching Jive Gray comes away with a different history depending on the newspaper they use as their source.

In trying to pin down the basics on Jive Gray I have indexed its run in five different papers. My conclusion is that the strip began on October 18 1941, ran until April 19 1942 then went on hiatus (I believe Harrington at this point became a European war correspondent). On October 25 1942 the strip reappears, seemingly without missing a beat, and runs until June 16 1951. Now some of this run may well be reprints, a practice common in the black papers, but I believe I’ve pinned the dates down about as well as anyone is ever likely to do. The last and best step to be taken is to go through these papers making copies of the strips in an attempt to assemble a complete unbroken run of the story, a task I leave to others.

Our samples today are bothe from a 1947 issue of the Pittsburgh Courier.

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