An Interview with “Pioneering Cartoonists of Color” author Tim Jackson

February 28, 2017

local authorTim Jackson knows a thing or two about cartoons.  A syndicated editorial cartoonist whose work has appeared in the Chicago Defender, Chicago Tribune, Cincinnati Herald, and many other newspapers, Jackson recently became a cartoon historian with the publication of his book Pioneering Cartoonists of Color.  Praised as “an unprecedented look at the rich yet largely untold story of African-American cartoon artists,” the Ohio native’s book provides a historical account of the black men and women who created editorial cartoons, illustrations, and 70-plus comic strips from the 1880’s to 1968. On February 27 Jackson visited EPL to discuss Pioneering Cartoonists of Color, and as an encore, he spoke with us via email about his motivation to write the book, his painstaking research, and the cartoonist Morrie Turner.

Evanston Public Library:  Can you tell us a little about your background as a cartoonist?  How long have you been drawing?

Tim Jackson:  I always respond to questions about how long I’ve been drawing by answering, “Forever.”  There is one piece of art that is dated, making me seven years old around the time it was given as a gift to my grandmother.  My first inspiration would have to be my older brother.  I watched him draw and imitated him.

EPL:  What motivated you to write Pioneering Cartoonists of Color?  When did you first have the idea for the book?    

TJ:  I was motivated by the lack of information available about Black cartoonists in other books about cartoonists.  It became more important when I learned that there was going to be a celebration of 100 years of American cartoonists.  I created a website about Black cartoonists and illustrators so it could not be said there was no information about African-American cartoonists.

EPL:  Could you give us a sense of the research that was required to write the book?  Where did you track down the cartoons from the 19th and early 20th centuries?  Did you uncover anything surprising?  

TJ:  I spent hours upon hours searching through microfilm and digital databases to glean whatever information there was to be found.  My greatest source of comics and cartoons was the Vivian G. Harsh Collection in the Carter G. Woodson Library on 95th & Halsted.  My greatest discovery was the sheer number of Black cartoonists there have been from the 1880s through 1968.

EPL:  Who are a few of the cartoonists from the book who made an impression on you?  Why is it important for us to know about them?

TJ:  One of the artists that made an impression on me was Morrie Turner (1923-2014), creator of the first integrated comic strip “Wee Pals.”  Turner was one of the three African-American cartoonists who were accepted in the mainstream press following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

EPL:  Can you suggest additional books or resources for those interested in learning more about African-American cartoonists?

TJ:  Two additional books are Jackie Ormes: The First African American Women Cartoonist by Nancy Goldstein and Dark Laughter: Satiric Art of Oliver W. Harrington edited by M. Thomas Inge.

Interview by Russell J.