Samuel Joyner

In an ongoing quest to bring recognition to our pioneering Cartoonists of Color, we present an illustrator whose resume & portfolio of art has successfully endured five decades.

Born in 1924 to an entrepreneurial Philadelphia interior house painter is Samuel Joyner. By the age of 7 he drew imitations of cartoons in the daily paper. Shortly after the 1930 depression was in full force upon the nation. Being one of 4 brothers, Mr. Joyner’s parents somehow managed to supply him with how to draw books & materials because they saw how fascinated he was with drawing.

Encouraged by his elementary school teachers, he was recommended for lessons at the Free Graphic Sketch Club in south Philadelphia on Saturday mornings. Although the art instruction here was free, the students had to supply their own art material, such as charcoal, pencils, colored chalk & etc. Still his parents sacrificed and kept him in supplies for the classes.The art classes opened up a new world for the teen-aged Samuel Joyner. He discovered pastels & plate finished vellum & bristol board. His junior high art teacher allowed him to cut the design for the school yearbook on linoleum block, which served as the printing plate for the yearbook cover.

In the 1930’s there were few role models for young Black artists to emulate, & even fewer Black-owned magazines to submit art work to, yet Samuel Joyner never lost sight of his ambitions to be an artist. In 1939, young Mr. Joyner entered South Philadelphia High school with hopes of earning a living with his artistic talent. Although he enjoyed swimming & basketball with friends, Black NBA players were still unheard of.

His high school art teacher, which he greatly respected took him aside one day, and warned him not to get his hopes up about becoming an illustrator or a commercial artist. He told him that the Black community had no mass circulation magazines, no top quality advertising agencies, or successful art services that he could work for. The instructor asked young Joyner how he planned to make a living, knowing this. in spite of his being a very skilled & talented artist, but no mainstream art directors or art departments would hire him simply because of his race. Instead, the teacher suggested that he study landscaping. He believed White people wouldn’t have a problem with a Black man cutting their grass or shaping hedges or arranging flower beds. To the teacher, this was a reasonable artistic outlet for a creative young Black man.

(Keep in mind, in 1940, there were no publications such as Ebony, Essence,Vibe for Black artists to submit work to.)

There were, however Black-owned newspapers with national circulation, such as the Pittsburgh Courier, but even if an artist could get his/her work published in it, there was the reality that in those days race-intolerant groups like the White Citizens’ Council & the KKK who would burn the crates of newspapers at the railway yards, & what was left sometimes was only an incomplete part of the edition.

Role models were few during the 40s, yet one day, Mr. Joyner happened upon a copy of Esquire Magazine. (known for its glamorous pin-up girl paintings) In a photo of the art staff, he noticed one E. Simms Campbell listed as the cartoonist. Campbell not only painted attractive four color cartoons of sensuous women, he also wrote the gags & punch lines for the ‘pretty girl’ cartoons. Campbell not only contributed art to Esquire, but to The Saturday Evening Post, Judge Magazine & Life. He also had a syndicated cartoon with King Features called Cuties. E. Campbell Simms, Joyner was delighted to discover, was African American.

This discovery enforced his belief that there was a chance he could earn a living as an illustrator. He transferred out of South Philadelphia High School, to the Edward Bok Vocational Technical High School. Here he pursued his training in commercial art under the guidance of teacher who this time was himself Black, the renown artist, Samuel Brown.

During the war years, Samuel Joyner was drafted in 1943. His considerable talent was used to paint sings on military equipment, & lettering army charts. It is important to note, according to Mr. Joyner, while Black soldiers fought for the American way & freedom in World War 2, while stationed in Alabama, when it came time to eat, the White troops went first, then the captured Nazi prisoners ate next. All U.S. Black troops were fed last!

After an honorable discharge, Mr. Joyner used his veteran benefits to continue his education, graduating from the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art in 1948. He continued mailing decorative spot drawings & gag cartoons to publications of the day, & like most of us accumulated a collection of rejection slips. “But I also received checks in the mail…” This was the encouragement that launched a professional career as a cartoonist.

With determination & a full portfolio of work, thanks to successful selling of illustrations to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Mr. Joyner landed a free-lance position with the headquarters of the publication division of Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., developing drawings for Sunday School material & church literature. This job took on a multitude of forms; weekly papers, quarterly & monthly magazines, paperbacks & coloring books.

In the 1950’s, while sharing studio space with two other cartoonist, Mr. Joyner got the opportunity to assist (anonymously) in the drawing background or lettering many popular comic strips & books. Also during the `50’s he became the first Black man to work as an illustrator for a prestigious art service. His drawings appeared on brochures & supplements for corporations such as Sears & General Electric. Although his work was used as long as no one knew who drew it, Samuel Joyner found it difficult to simply show his portfolio in person in these same corporations. He would find himself sitting all day in the outer office until closing without ever being shown in to see the art directors. (Some things never change)

Also in the early 50s, he marries. His oldest son is born the following year, so they found it necessary to move from his apartment & buy a house. This called for a second job. He inked an agreement to provide cartoons & illustrations for a national Negro publication, Color Magazine to create artwork on a freelance basis, later becoming the publication’s art director. Color had a circulation of 70,000 to 200,000. This 14 hour day task was bringing in good pay until the 1960 recession. His first job reduced it’s staff & Color magazine folded.

In the 60’s, he worked as an illustrator for the Navy department, airbrushing technical illustrations of machines & weapons for handbooks & parts manuals. With the help of his wife & children Samuel Joyner opened a store-front print & graphics shop, where he illustrated everything from booklet covers & letterheads to hair conditioner labels & posters.

All the while, he continued his education, attending Temple University, College of Education. Ultimately reaching his goal as a technical high school art teacher. From 1971 to 74, he gave back to the community at at the Visual Communications Middle School, and Commercial art at Bok Vocational Technical High School from 74 until 1990, when he retired from the Philadelphia School Board to create freelance artwork for a school text book publishing firm.

Still he continues to draw cartoons. From 1947 until today, the art of Samuel Joyner, & the energy provided by God, still meets the deadlines of scores of Black Press publications such as the Texas Houston Sun, The Philadelphia Tribune, the Georgia Metro Courier, the Orlando Times, the Virginia New Journal & Guide, the Ohio Buckeye Review & many others.

(I’m proud to say that my cartoon, Things That Make You Go Hmm… sometimes share the pages of the Buckeye Review with the art of Samuel Joyner.)

Samuel Joyner acknowledges that it’s only by the grace of God he has survived the ins & outs, the ups, downs & sideways of the art business. we agree, & salute another living chapter in African American heritage & Pioneer Cartoonist of Color. This article taken from

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