Obscurity of the Day: Dinky Fellas

First of all, my apologies for falling down on the job again and letting the blog lie fallow for a week. I can only plead that my personal life would make even Mary Worth lose her cool.

Let’s turn the lights back on, though, and  talk about Dinky Fellas. Morrie Turner, a black cartoonist  who gained some modest success as a freelancer in the 1950s and early 60s, turned to newspaper cartooning in earnest in 1964. He created four different features in quick succession, the most notable of which is Dinky Fellas. The idea behind the strip was to have children of different races interacting as equals, a concept whose time was ripe in the years of the civil rights movement. The strip was initially sold to the Berkeley (Ca.) Post and the Chicago Defender, both black papers. The strip began appearing five days a week in the Defender on July 25 1964, but may have run in the Post a little earlier (anyone know?).

Unsatisfied with ‘preaching to the choir’, Turner wanted to have the strip running in mainstream ‘white’ papers as well. He reworked the strip, adding new characters of more races and faiths, and with the help of impresario Lew Little, marketed the tweaked strip as Wee Pals. Little, a salesman of the highest caliber, convinced mainstream newspaper editors that the time had come for a multi-racial strip that preached equality and racial harmony. Dinky Fellas was discontinued in favor of the new strip on December 18 1965 after Wee Pals had been running for ten months. In 1967 Wee Pals was picked up by the Register and Tribune Syndicate and became a staple of as many as a hundred newspapers. The strip was eventually even adapted into a Saturday morning cartoon series, Kid Power, a favorite of yours truly as a young rugrat. Turner has received many well-deserved accolades for his soft-pedaled message of peace between races in Wee Pals, which continues today from Creators Syndicate. Now in his late-80s, Turner no longer signs the strip but his message is still there loud and clear.

A biography of Turner for juvenile readers written by Mary Kentra Ericsson was published in 1986 by Childrens Press. Although sadly light on the facts of Turner’s work for the Chicago Defender, Turner’s inspirational story is otherwise well told in Morrie Turner Creator of Wee Pals and is recommended reading.

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