Ray Billingsley: An Inspired Cartoonist
Mr. Ray Billingsley created the comic strip Curtis, which is distributed by King Features Syndicate and printed in more than 250 newspapers nationwide.
Mr. Billingsley was born in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and raised there in his earliest years. Later, his family moved to Harlem, New York. He contributed early cartoons to Kids, a magazine “by kids for kids” published in Cambridge, Massachusetts and then in New York City from 1970 to 1975 under the co-editorship of Ms. Jenette Kahn, future president and editor-in-chief of MAD Magazine and DC Comics. Those intricately detailed drawings already showed a cartoonist in the making. After graduating from the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, he attended the School of Visual Arts on a four-year scholarship. After graduating, he began an internship at Walt Disney Studios in 1979.
Mr. Billingsley drew a nationally syndicated strip called Lookin’ Fine from 1979 to 1982. By 1988, he was freelancing in advertising and public relations; doing television commercials, posters and animation; and working for magazines such as Ebony. In October of that year, King Features Syndicate introduced Curtis. Mr. Billingsley states that the inspiration for Curtis came to him in the wee hours of the morning. “It was 3:30 or 4:00,” he said. “I didn’t even turn on a light. I just sketched a little boy, and the next morning, there he was: Curtis.” He credits sibling rivalry with sparking his initial fascination with cartooning. As a young boy, he learned to draw in order to emulate his older brother, who studied fine arts.
Mr. Billingsley acknowledges that Wee Pals creator Mr. Morrie Turner, the first Black cartoonist in national syndication, opened the door for Curtis and other strips. He also credits Mr. Will Eisner, creator of The Spirit, for encouraging him to stretch out artistically. “[Eisner] always told me to reach out and do more than I thought I could. I continually draw strength when I relive his teachings,” Mr. Billingsley said.