Morrie Turner receives the Milton Caniff Award in 2003, pictured with cartoonist Michael Ramirez
The world of cartooning lost a true pioneer this weekend when the creator of “Wee Pals” Morris “Morrie” Turner passed away from complications of dialysis treatment at age 90.
A native of Oakland, CA, Morrie took drawing courses from the correspondence school Art Instruction Schools, which among it’s staff included a pre-Peanuts Charles Schulz. During World War II, Morrie’s cartoons appeared in Stars and Stripes and he created a strip called “Baker’s Helper” while working at the Oakland Police Department following the war.
Morrie credited Schulz as being a “mentor” for him in his cartooning endeavors. In the mid-sixties, Morrie questioned why there were not more minority characters in comic strips. With the encouragement of Schulz, Morrie created “Wee Pals” in 1965. He became the first nationally syndicated African-American comic strip cartoonist. “Wee Pals” was syndicated by the Des Moines Register and Tribune Syndicate, and originally appeared in only five dailies as many papers refused to run a strip featuring black characters. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the number of papers carrying the strip grew to 60, eventually appearing in over 100 dailies, and since the mid-1980’s syndicated by Creator’s Syndicate. “Wee Pals” was also the basis of an animated series called “Kid Power” which ran on ABC Saturday mornings in 1972-73.
In 2003 Morrie received the Milton Caniff Limetime Achievement Award from the NCS for his brilliant career. He was a true trailblazer in the comic strip industry, and a champion of equality both on and off the comics pages. He passed away at a Sacramento hospital on Saturday Jan 25th, surrounded by family including his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Here are a number of links to news stories and tributes to a great man and a great cartoonist:
NCS membership is open to all creative professionals who earn a substantial part of their income working in the fields of cartooning, illustration, animation and graphic storytelling. We are an organization of esteemed peers and we welcome new members!