Morrie Turner, comic strip artist, died Saturday at the age of 90 in Sacramento, California. Turner was a man of firsts– the first African American comic strip artist who was readily syndicated in mainstream magazines and the first one whose comics included characters of different races, ethnicities, and creeds.
Turner had a hard go of it in the beginning. Being a black artist in the midst of the 1960’s meant it wasn’t easy for him to get his work published. At the start, only five newspapers picked up his comics. Ironically, after his hero Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Turner’s comics picked up speed and popularity–it was a bittersweet thing, he admitted.
Aside from being a comic strip artist, Turner served in World War II in the Army Air Corps. During the war he wore many hats– he was a staff clerk, journalist, and illustrator for the 332nd Fighter Group. In addition to his writing during the war, Turner went on to pen children’s books and was a frequent guest on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Turner was bestowed the National Cartoonists Society’s lifetime achievement award in 2003. Surviving Turner are his son and four grandchildren.