Thursday, August 10, 2006

Legends: Morrie Turner

Morris Turner was born on December 11, 1923 in Oakland, California but prefers going by the name Morrie. He attended Cole Elementary and McClymonds High Schools in Oakland and graduated from Berkeley High School in June of 1942.

Turner had had no formal art training and sought the advice and encouragement of other professional cartoonists. When he began questioning why there were no minorities in cartoons, his mentor, Charles Schultz of Peanuts fame, suggested he create one.

Turner initially thought to create a solely black version of Peanuts. He came up with Dinky Fellas, which was initially produced for the black-owned-and-operated newspaper, The Chicago Defender. Turning introspective, Turner admits: "I used to complain about comics being all white, then I saw that mine was all black." So he integrated Dinky Fellas to create Wee Pals.

The Wee Pals era began in 1964 at The Oakland Tribune, The Philadelphia Bulletin, and The Los Angeles Times. At its zenith, Wee Pals was syndicated in a hundred newspapers nationwide, and in 1972 had its own animated TV series on KGO, Kid Power. Today it still runs in forty publications across the country. Throughout its long life, the strip's thrust has remained the same -- it touches on "whatever is going on in the world," Turner says. At the same time, he comments on and profiles African Americans notable for their contributions to society. On Turner's desk are piles of clippings on athletes, entertainers, and actors, including one on media mogul Russell Simmons. What's that all about? "It's not that I'm a fan of the music," he explains. "I think he's important." It's just that simple -- Turner has always prioritized what he thinks is important for society. "Because we need to know," he stresses. "And I want kids to know too." When asked his opinion of Aaron McGruder's The Boondocks, he cleverly replies, "Boondocks is hip-hop and Wee Pals is cool jazz." Classic.

On Sundays an additional panel is included called Soul Corner detailing the life of a famous person belonging to
an ethnic minority.

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