Black Comic and Cartoon Pioneers
By Prof. William H. Foster III
Comic Book Historian
Since it began seven years ago, the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention has made it its mission to pay tribute to the people whom we call “Pioneers.” These are the individuals who have worked very hard, usually against overwhelming odds, to produce positive images of people of color in the comic book/cartoon medium.
But with all our well meaning attempts to inform people (including Black people!) of the existence and importance of Black comics, there are many people who still don’t have a clue. So perhaps it is important now to say something about this select group of people whom we call “The Pioneers of the Black Age of Comics.”
The first comic book created by an African American (Orrin Evans and All Negro Comics #1) didn’t arrive until 1947. But there were a number of Black people featured in both mainstream and Black newspaper press strips for many years before that.
Not all of the images that were presented were positive or free of stereotypes, but all of them were steps towards the explosion of characters present in the year 2006. As such, we have barely scratched the surface of the number of people who have lent their talent, imagination, creativity, time, financial resources and more in this important work. We have a long way to go.
We have paid tribute to both cartoonists and comic book creators, because they are worthy of having their passages marked, of having their stories told. More often than not, the people selected for the exalted Pioneer Award have been surprised because they did not toil for rewards. These pioneers have told us that they worked because “it needed to be done.”
That they did not want another generation in America to have to search (sometimes in vain) this popular and important medium for images of people who looked like them..
And what could be a more clear definition of a pioneer? It is truly someone who takes the first steps forward on a little used or totally new path. It is the individual that takes whatever risks are necessary with no clear guarantee of success, because even the slight chance that you might succeed is worth everything. So we continue to salute the efforts of both present and past generations because it is important to do. We give back in some small way to those who have faced risks for us. And we do it so that we insure that there will always be a new generation of pioneers.
See more information about past Pioneer Award recipients here