Morrie Turner, creator of Wee Pals, and the first African-American cartoonist with a nationally syndicated strip, passed away Saturday at the age of 90. He had been undergoing dialysis treatment for kidney ailments. Turner won the Milton Cainiff award in 2003 and the Bob Clampett Humanitarian award in 2012.
Turner was inspired by Charles Schulz to create his Peanut-esque strip about a bunch of kids having kid adventures in a typical comic strip suburb. The cast was ethnically diverse, featuring several black kids as main characters—including Diz, the kid in the beret and sunglasses who apparently idolized bebop jazz musicians—but also Latino, and Asian characters. Turner also real life profiles of real life heroes and heroines in his Sunday strips. It was turned into a cartoon called KID POWER that ran for 17 episodes in the early 70s.
Wee Pals debuted in 1965 and was carried by only five papers; after the assassination of Martin Luther King, the paper was soon being carried by 60 papers. Turner continued drawing the strip until he became ill; you can view them on GoComics. Although the most recent strips seem to show signs of Turner’s illness, in its early days, Wee Pals had a sweet quirky look to it, and a ready flow of gags.
Turner died surrounded by family including great grandchildrem, and lived to a pretty good age doing what he loved up until the end, becoming a pioneer, and by all accounts, a truly nice guy as well. I’d call that a life well lived.
Mark Evanier has some thoughts here.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.