The First Black Super Hero?

© 2020 Ken Quattro

In one of those rare coincidental confluences of serendipity, I have been made aware of a recent series of articles appearing in the CHICAGO DEFENDER by Steve Carper the comic strip “Bungleton Green” and the possibility that it contained the first appearance of a Black super hero.

Carper is a popular culture historian and he brilliantly describes the circumstances surrounding a continuity sequence of Jay Jackson’s “Bungleton Green” strip featuring the main character’s transformation from a “normal” cartoonish human into a “super robot.”

Comic book fans may well notice the similarity of this transformation to the Jerry Siegel/Leo Nowak creation, “Robotman,” that first appeared in STAR SPANGLED COMICS #7 (April 1942). It is reasonable to presume that Jackson was aware of this character, but he also was well acquainted with the science fiction genre as he had illustrated many pulps previous to the 1944-1945 “Bungleton Green” sequence.

The “super” version of “Bungleton Green” ended with the revelation that it was all a dream sequence, similar to the later “St. Elsewhere” television series of the 1980s.

I hesitate to definitively state that this incarnation of “Bungleton Green” is THE first Black super hero. There is still the Bill Alexander claim that he and Gene Bilbrew created the “Brown Bomber” for the CALIFORNIA SENTINEL in the 1940s that has yet to be corroborated or refuted. Until that is fully explored, I withhold any personal judgement.

However, I encourage everyone interested to read Carper’s articles. They are historically accurate and he makes a very good case.

As you read through the strips, you will note that Jackson was concerned with far more serious issues than just providing carefree entertainment. This “super robot” was meant to be a slave and the entire sequence was an allegory to the history of Blacks in America.

Here are links to Carper’s articles:

https://chicagodefender.com/op-ed-chicago-defender-cartoonist-jay-jackson-and-the-first-black-superhero-pt-1/

https://chicagodefender.com/op-ed-chicago-defender-cartoonist-jay-jackson-and-the-first-black-superhero-pt-2/

https://chicagodefender.com/op-ed-chicago-defender-cartoonist-jay-jackson-and-the-first-black-superhero-finale/

E. C. Stoner and THE MESSENGER

© 2020 Ken Quattro

Elmer Stoner was freshly arrived from a summer of study in Europe when he landed in New York City. It was 1922, in the midst of the Jazz Age and Harlem was the center of all the excitement.

Although it had not yet been given a name, the Harlem Renaissance was burgeoning. Stoner, a young artist used to the rough-hewn coal miners and hard-earned lifestyle of his hometown Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, had to be overwhelmed. He entered the groundbreaking “Exhibit by Negro Artists” at the Harlem branch of the New York Public Library and quickly assimilated into its art community.

Meanwhile, Vivienne Anderson Ward was already a fixture and a force in the city. The young woman, born in Raleigh, North Carolina, had first lived on Long Island before settling in Manhattan where her father found work as a mail carrier.

Vivienne (née Vivian) attended Columbia University for one year, worked as a stenographer at the National League on Urban Conditions (predecessor of the National Urban League) and made a name for herself as a dedicated social worker expert in the housing conditions of Blacks.

In 1918, Vivienne became the Assistant Superintendent of the New York State Bureau of Labor and later that year, was named as the head of the Young Woman’s Christian Association’s (YWCA) room registry, which oversaw the critical housing shortage facing Black women whose husbands had been inducted into military service. She was the first Black to ever hold that position and she was only 25 years old.

In 1918, Vivienne also married Rev. Anderson Thomas Stokes, but the marriage was not to last long. In June 1922, the couple divorced. It is not known how or when she and Elmer Stoner met, but it was only a year later that they, too, married, on June 23, 1923.

The newly wed Stoner’s fit right into the social world of Harlem. They hobnobbed and partied with the literary and cultural elite and were name-dropped in Black press society columns that kept track of such activities. As an up-and-coming painter and a respected social activist, they were well on their way to the sort of middle-class lifestyle championed by Asa Philip Randolph and his magazine, THE MESSENGER.

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Randolph, a labor leader and early civil rights activist, and his partner Chandler Owens, founded THE MESSENGER in 1917, as a forum for their socialistic beliefs. Their stance drew a lot of governmental scrutiny and harassment, so over time, the magazine transitioned into more of a literary and arts magazine and featured work by noted Black authors and artists.

Though less obviously political, the magazine still maintained its political viewpoint–evident mostly in pointed editorials and the abundance of advertisements for socialist organizations–it became the leading platform for any Black writer hoping for a break. As such, THE MESSENGER featured early work by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.

The Stoners were part of the literary circle from which THE MESSENGER drew its authors. It is unsurprising, then, that Elmer would emerge as one of its illustrators. At least for a time.

His first work at the magazine appeared in its March 1924 edition, accompanying a story written by Theophilus Lewis, THE MESSENGER’s drama critic.

To someone only familiar with Stoner’s later comic book work, the illustration for “A Deserter From Armageddon” is startling. Thick, painted lines and deep, dark shadows, effectively conveying the terror called for in the text.

One month later, Stoner would again contribute to THE MESSENGER and this time, his name would appear in an advertisement for the issue that ran in the PITTSBURGH COURIER, a leading Black newspaper.

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In the April issue itself, Stoner was tasked with drawing two illustrations for “Raum-Sheba (The Ruby Girl)” by Mamie Elaine Francis. Francis, both and author and a schoolteacher, had written a story of a young, light-skinned Black woman named Sheila, who loses her husband Bruno to an ancient, ghostly woman who seduces him with a dance and lures him away from her.

The first of the Stoner’s two illustrations depicts the young woman learning the story of Raum-Sheba, the husband-stealing apparition, from her old Aunt Chloe. Again, Stoner’s lines are heavy and give the drawing the weight of a sculpture.

The second illustration is once again filled with dark, menacing shadows, underscoring the haunting imagery and the moment when Bruno meets Raum-Sheba.

Several months would elapse before Stoner again contributed to THE MESSENGER, but this time, it was the cover illustration.

Stoner utilized his thick linework and usage of flat, two-dimensional forms, to give the impression of a travel poster, as a stylish, young Black woman awaits her train, luggage and a tennis racket near at hand.

Despite this early flurry of work, Stoner rarely took assignments in the Black media. He chose instead to take work in the lucrative world of mainstream white media. Yet, he never forgot the other Black artists as he frequently served as a conduit for others trying to break in, getting them assignments when he could.

Adolphe Barreaux, Illustrator of Homilies

© 2020 Ken Quattro

Adolphe Barreaux was a living dichotomy.

Barreaux was Black, yet he chose to spurn his Black identity and due to his light skin color, created a new white one. Born in South Carolina, he often commented on his loathing for the Northern cities, their residents and attitudes, yet he lived much of his life in New York.

So, perhaps it should not be too surprising that while he skated along the edge of acceptable propriety by drawing the scandalous “Sally the Sleuth” for Harry Donenfeld’s “spicy” pulp magazines, Barreaux was also illustrating the snow-pure homilies of George Matthew Adams.

Adams was born in Saline, Michigan, a bucolic, Midwestern farming community just south of the college town of Ann Arbor. His father was a Baptist minister and when George was still quite young, he was transferred to a church deep in America’s heartland.

[Adams] earned his way through Grinnell, Iown High School by sweeping out a factory; peddled papers and tended furnaces to pay for college Ph.B. degree. Went to Chicago with nine dollars captial, worked up to advertising writer job with Swift & Company and lost it in 1907.”

According to Adams, though, he was undeterred by this setback.

“‘I had no money. I was nearly always hungry. I was very much alone in the world. But I knew that I had ideas. They boiled and steamed out of me. I laid awake nights talking with my ideas and we became great pals. I did not know what a syndicate was, but the idea appealed to me–you could talk to millions through a syndicate.'” [“Ideas boiled and steamed out of me,” advertisement, NASHVILLE BANNER, Nov. 23, 1932.]

The resultant George Matthew Adams Syndicate eventually became one of the nation’s largest syndicators of newspaper columnists, text stories, cartoons and genteel, inspirational doggerel. This sort of optimistic, uplifting material was a hallmark of the Adams Syndicate’s material; from the popular homespun poems of Edgar Guest, to Adams own daily column, “Today’s Talk.”

It was no facade. Adams’ faith in the “Protestant Ethic” of hard work and thrift was ingrained. His Baptist upbringing and religious education informed his outlook on life and his personal story of rising up to success through tenacity and dedication to an idea confirmed his beliefs.

By June 1938, Adams expanded his output to include a Sunday column that featured a text illustration running along its top. The column was unnamed, but the sentiments expressed were the same as in “Today’s Talk.”

The first illustrator of these columns was Orson Lowell, but by September of that year, Barreaux began contributing text illustrations as well.

The seemingly odd employment of an artist best-known for his depiction of scantily-clad women to illustrate Adams puritanical homilies, was not so strange upon closer consideration. Adams and Barreux had a history.

“George Matthew Adams, the man who discovered and built up such well-known personalities as Bob Ripley; Percy Crosby; Gene Byrnes…and a host of others, has again done something unusual. He has assembled into one group a most unusual set of artistic personalities…”

“A graduate of Yale School of Fine Arts, Adolphe Barreaux is our sophisticated artist–the one who draws THE ENCHANTED STONE OF TIME.” [“Northport Journal To Issue Clever Comic Section,” NORTHPORT JOURNAL, June 21, 1935.]

Barreaux’s “Enchanted Stone of Time” was an adventure-fantasy comic strip that Adams contracted for his Sunday color-comics section he sold to small newspapers in 1935.

Unfortunately, Adams Sunday supplement had a short run leaving Barreaux’s strip and the others without a home. That was resolved when “The Enchanted Stone of Time” and several other orphaned Adams Syndicate strips were reprinted in early issues of Dell Publications comic book, THE COMICS. The reprints began with issue #6 (Feb. 1938) and ended with THE COMICS #11 (March 1939).

So, Barreaux was a known quantity to Adams when he came on as illustrator of the latter’s Sunday homilies. The classically-trained Barreaux was more than capable and obviously versatile.

It should also be remembered that both Barreaux (born in 1899) and Adams (born in 1878) likely shared many of the same values. They were raised in the America of Horatio Alger stories; stories of boys from humble means succeeding against great odds.

Both had come from such backgrounds. Adams as a poor, Midwestern preacher’s son who attained his success through perseverance; Barreaux, raised by his aunt who accepted the advantage permitted by their light skin to allow the talented young man to gain entrance to an Ivy League school. Such stories were celebrated and used as examples for youngsters, no matter their race.

Barreaux continued to illustrate Adams’ columns sporadically, into the 1940s. The latest found to this point came in 1949.

It truth, both “Sally the Sleuth” and illustrating Adams’ homilies were simply assignments; just jobs that put food on the table and it is unknown whether Barreaux valued his work on one over the other.

The juxtaposition of the two, though, provide yet another intriguing facet to the story of a complex man.

Merry Christmas from Jay Jackson

© 2020 Ken Quattro

In 1948, Jay Jackson moved from his longtime home in Chicago to Los Angeles. Over the next few years, he found work consistently, including working for Telecomics, a company formed to transform comic strips into animated cartoons.

Still, Jackson wanted more, so in 1951 he founded Jay Jackson Feature Syndicate to sell and distribute two new comic strips he created.

One strip was Girli Gags, a single-panel cartoon similar in concept to Don Flowers Glamor Girls: scantily clad young Black women providing sarcastic commentary on the men who desired them.

The other strip was Home Folks and that, too, resembled a pre-existing strip–Jimmy Hatlo’s long-running, They’ll Do It Every Time. Like Hatlo’s large panel, Home Folks gave a birds-eye view of a single event and presented it from the multiple viewpoints of the Black family depicted.

The strip was syndicated nationally and was found at times in the Black-owned CALIFORNIA EAGLE and also the NEW YORK AMSTERDAM NEWS.

When Jackson died suddenly in 1954, his widow worked out an agreement with his old paper, the CHICAGO DEFENDER to continue running the remaining strips which Jackson had drawn.

Below is a Home Folks panel celebrating Christmas, 1951.

Tribute to Samuel Joyner

© 2020 Ken Quattro

One of the first questions I am usually asked regarding INVISIBLE MEN is: Why did you write it? My answer is clear and succinct: Mr. Samuel Joyner.

Mr. Joyner was a Black cartoonist from Philadelphia and the man who started me on my long inquiry into the history of Black comic books artists that resulted in my book, INVISIBLE MEN. We first corresponded nearly 20 years ago when I contacted Mr. Joyner regarding information about Matt Baker. He kindly responded not only with information about Baker (whom he met only once), but a host of other Black artists.

His response started me on my quest that lasted over 15 years, to document the lives and careers of the first generation of Black artists and writers to work in the comic book industry. Mr. Joyner was a link to a forgotten past. He and future comic book artist Cal Massey were young friends in the late 1940s when they made the trek to New York City together to meet other Black commercial artists and get tips on how to enter the industry themselves .

As with all the artists who appear in INVISIBLE MEN, Mr. Joyner also had an interesting life story. And like all the others, his story really began before he was born.

_____________________________________________

Like many Blacks headed north during the Great Migration in the early years of the 20th Century, Samuel Joyner settled in the first major city he came to north of the Mason-Dixon Line: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

While his father worked in Norfolk, Virginia shipyard, Samuel went in another direction. Whether he started his trade in his hometown of Portsmouth or learned it when he got to Philadelphia is not known. What is known is that in 1909, Samuel started up his own business as a house painter and paperhanger.

…from the middle class to rural women to the working-class immigrant; all women, regardless of their class status, income, or geographic location were believed to be susceptible to the sensuous qualities of wallpaper. Like many other consumer goods, wallpaper’s affordability and availability helped to democratize the American interior and to blur the apparent boundaries of social class.” [Jennings, Jan. “Controlling Passion: The Turn-of-the-Century Wallpaper Dilemma.” Winterthur Portfolio, vol. 31, no. 4, 1996, pg. 254.]

Appealing to all who desired professional home improvements, Samuel ran advertisements in both the large white-owned PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER and the Black-owned PHILADELPHIA TRIBUNE.

Samuel established his business and eventually met and married a young woman who had moved to the city from Nanticoke, Maryland. Lola Elizabeth Nutter.

Lola’s father was an oysterman; one of the many Blacks toiling in the lucrative industry that flourished in Chesapeake Bay.

“Since the Chesapeake Bay was, by 1860, the main supplier of oysters in the United States, oystering was a natural pursuit for blacks, as it was for others. With little capital outlay required and a high demand for seafood, which had begun to boom in the late nineteenth century, individuals could make a modest living alongside larger companies that were operating for much bigger stakes.”

“‘Oystering was one of the highest paying jobs for black men…'” [Anderson, Harold, “Slavery, Freedom and the Chesapeake,” MARINE NOTES, pps. 4-5, March-April 1998.]

Lola grew up surrounded by a large extended family unit, consisting of the Nutters and the Elseys, that expanded when her parents divorced when she was very young and her father remarried. It was a period of her life that she later recalled fondly.

“When I was a little girl, I wrote jingles and Mrs. Beckett’s mother, the late Mrs. Elsey, who was my teacher, kept them in a little book for me.” [Prigmore, Barbara S., “Mother of Three In Great Demand As Poet-Reader,” PHILADELPHIA TRIBUNE, Aug. 19, 1944.]

Upon coming to Philadelphia, Lola became a cook in a white household. She would continue to work as a “domestic” for a while even after she and Samuel married. Once her children were born–four boys in six years–Lola relinquished her outside job and stayed home to raise them. Samuel, meanwhile, continued to work steadily, even during the Great Depression, maintaining his business and even serving as the president of the local Paper Hangers and Painters’ Mutual Association.

Lola actively encouraged her children to explore their talents. The formation of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) by the federal government in 1935, created opportunities for minorities in the arts. One WPA community outreach program offered art classes to interested children and then sponsored an exhibition of their work at a local settlement house. Among the exhibitors were several of Lola’s boys, including her oldest, Samuel Hudlen Joyner, Jr. Misidentified as “Daniel” in the article accompanying the photograph, Samuel was selected for special mention.

[Samuel] Joyner had his pastel of a landscape in the recently concluded Cultural Olympics which reached the final rounds.” [WPA Youngsters Amaze Proud Parents,” PHILADELPHIA TRIBUNE, July 8, 1937.]

There was no such mistaken identification in a later article which also mentioned his participation in the Cultural Olympics and noted Samuel’s future ambitions.

“Samuel plans to enter the field of commercial art, a good choice, since there is much opportunity in it for Negro boys and girls.” [Butler, Anne, “Presenting,” PHILADELPHIA TRIBUNE, Feb. 10, 1938.]

Samuel attended South Philadelphia High School which provided him with an education in both art and entrenched discrimination.

“Art teachers began to notice his flare for color schemes and his attention to detail. The would comment on how ‘unusual’ it was for a ‘colored boy’ to be such a good artist. Yet, while his white instructors were constantly praising and applauding him, they were also constantly discouraging him from pursuing a career in commercial art. They would give him the ever-stereotypical line that a ‘Negro shouldn’t waste time on all them silly dreams of drawing because no white man is ever going to pay a single dime for those damn doodlings. Stick to something you can make money with…like a trade.'”

“The ‘money-making’ career choice they tried to force him to pursue was landscaping.” [Rochon, Michael J., “Legendary Cartoonist Leads By The Pen,” PHILADELPHIA TRIBUNE, March 27, 1998.]

Undaunted, the budding artist transferred out of South Philadelphia High to the Edward Bok Vocational School to further his studies in his chosen career.

The future may have looked bright for Samuel, but not so for his younger brother William. William, who shared his older brother’s artistic skills, had an unidentified, but lingering illness. The details of it not made public, but its ravages were crippling and costly.

“Friends of William Joyner, 17 year-old son of Mrs. Lola Joyner of 1816 Webster street [sic], are giving a musicale on Friday evening, October 30, at Tindley Temple to raise fund to buy him an artificial leg.” [“Glances,” PHILADELPHIA TRIBUNE, Oct. 24, 1942.]

The well-meaning efforts of the community would matter little, as on November 5, 1943, William Joyner, just 26 days past his 18th birthday, died of lung cancer.

The death of one so young, the death of a sibling, must have been devastating for Samuel. In the wake of his brother’s death, Samuel (who was working in his father’s company as a painter and paperhanger) enlisted in U.S. Army on January 12, 1944, several weeks before he would turn 20 years old on February 7.

As can be imagined, William’s death also effected his mother deeply. During his illness she found comfort in her church, Tindley Temple and for solace, she turned to writing and reciting, inspirational religious poetry.

“Altho [sic] Mrs. Joyner has had no special training in composing poetry her poems are realistic, rhythmical and have great religious emotional appeal”

“It was her son, Samuel Jr., now in the armed forces stationed at Rome, Georgia, who encouraged Mrs. Joyner to write poetry.”

“‘My son, Samuel, said to me just before he left for camp, ‘Mother, continue to write those beautiful thoughts you have about people and things, then rewrite them. For it is real poetry.'” [Mother of Three, Prigmore.]

Samuel was serving at Camp Claiborne in Louisiana when he became too ill to continue his training. He was sent to Battey General Hospital in Georgia for treatment for a pre-existing condition. While there, according to his mother, he was assigned to be the “‘cartoonist for the Army’s daily paper, at the Special Service Branch.'” [Mother of Three, Prigmore.]

Samuel was discharged on August 22, 1944.

Lola continued giving recitations of her poetry at Tindley Temple and beyond. As her notoriety grew, she would receive “star” billing in advertisements promoting her poetry readings.

Sadly, tragedy would once again strike the Joyner family. Lola took ill in the early days of 1946 and on January 11, she passed away from pneumonia. She was only 52 years old.

A few months later, honoring a wish Lola had expressed in the TRIBUNE article in 1944, Samuel paid for the publication of THE POEMS OF LOLA NUTTER JOYNER, a 44-page collection of her poetry.

Despite the personal tragedies, Samuel continued toward his goal of becoming a commercial artist. He enrolled in classes at the Philadelphia Museum of Art School in 1947. Coincidentally, that put him in the same school at the same time as several of the Black artists and writers who would help create Orrin C. Evans’ ALL-NEGRO COMICS #1. If Joyner ever knew about the planned publication or if he was ever approached about working on it, is unknown.

Soon after, Samuel and another aspiring commercial artist named Cal Massey would make the trip north to New York City to visit with working Black professionals and to check out the prospects in the field.

“Around 1950 or 1951, [Massey and] I went to New York City with my portfolio of cartoons and advertising spot drawings. As a beginning cartoonist I was encouraged to talk to other colored illustrators for information about breaking into the lucrative field.”

“I was given the names and studio address of a few African-American professionals. Most worked in Manhattan. E.C. Stoner, Matt Baker, Ted Shearer, Chas. Allen, Mel Bolden…etc.”

“Most of these illustrators were earning lots of cash, but they took time from their busy schedules to offer me encouragement. I’m sorry I didn’t take my camera.”

“I visited Matt Baker’s studio workshop only once and he too was encouraging. I was with another beginner [Massey] and Matt showed us several pages of comic book art, gave us tips on how to approach assignments. The other artist and myself were thrilled to meet and talk to Matt Baker. Sorry that my encounter [with him] was so limited.” [Joyner, Samuel. Letter to the Author. 4 April, 2004.]

As detailed in INVISIBLE MEN, Massey would go on to work steadily in comic books during the 1950s. It was through him that Samuel would make his own, brief foray into the industry.

“Calvin Massey and I worked in the same downtown art/illustration studio in the 1950s. When Cal was struggling to meet deadlines on some of his comic book pages, he would slip me a few greenbacks to ink in some of the comic book backgrounds and balloon lettering.” [Joyner, Samuel. Letter to the Author. undated.]

Around the same time, Samuel became the art director of Ira J. K. Wells’ COLOR magazine. This was the first pictorial magazine aimed at the Black readership, predating EBONY by a year. Samuel worked for COLOR for six years, his tenure ending when the magazine folded in the mid-1950s.

In the summer of 1953, Samuel married Grace Hutty.

Grace was a graduate of West Philadelphia High School and four years older than Samuel. She was working at RCA in Camden, New Jersey as an electronic technician when she and Samuel married.

Meanwhile, despite the obstacles, Samuel established himself as a Black commercial artist working in a predominantly white field.

“The commercial [art] companies appreciated his art, but in every instance, there was a catch. All of his characters had to be white people, no ‘colored,’ no exceptions.”

“‘All of my characters were of blond and blue-eyed white people,’ Joyner recollects. ‘I did my best to make them look extra-white, all Scandinavian. You see, the white establishment would not allow colored art work. The didn’t want it or recognize it.'”

“Joyner also remembers how the agencies would send out the representatives to sell his work under the presumption he was white.” [Legendary Cartoonist, Rochon.]

Samuel elaborated in a personal letter, reiterating experiences told by other Black artists in INVISIBLE MEN.

“A white art salesman sold my drawings because some clients did not want me to come to their offices during the 1950s.” [Letter to the Author, Joyner.]

Despite the blatant prejudice and discrimination he was subjected to in the field of advertising, Samuel persisted.

“I drew a multitude of stylized illustrations with Caucasian characters for clients like General Electric, Sears Roebuck, Lukens Steel Words, etc., etc. I was not allowed to sign my name to the art, but the pay was very good.” [Letter to the Author, Joyner.]

As he was trying to break through into the white world of commercial art, Samuel never left the Black media behind. He continued drawing for both local and national Black newspapers. One example came in the form of the comic strip “The Crisis of Booker T. Washington” he co-created with writer Clayton Martin in 1953.

Samuel opened up his own print shop in the 1960s, returned to school and earned his teaching certificate by taking evening classes at Temple University. This allowed him in 1974, to begin teaching art and visual communication classes at Edward Bok Vocational School, his alma mater.

Samuel continued teaching at Bok until 1990, all the while providing spot illustrations, advertisements and cartoons for various publications.

On July 27, 1994, tragedy once again touched Samuel’s life when his wife, Grace Hutty Joyner died.

Now a widower, Samuel carried on. He still found steady work in the Black newspapers, often illustrating political cartoons or historical panels depicting Black history.

In 1996, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a group representing 205 Black-owned newspapers, awarded Samuel the first place award for having drawn the best editorial cartoon that year.

Over time, he became an inspiration to younger generations of Black artists and cartoonists. He was a recurring guest at the annual East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC) in Philadelphia and his collection of original artwork formed the “Exhibitions of Samuel Joyner: A Cartoonist” at the Urban Archives at Temple University in 2002. Eventually, Samuel donated his collection of art, photographs and related ephemera to Temple forming the Samuel Joyner Art Collection.

And even as he reached his ninth decade of life, Samuel H. Joyner Jr. never stopped drawing.

_____________________________________________

One last personal note.

In his final letter to me, in 2006, Mr. Joyner made mention of the book I told him I was working on regarding the Black comic book artists.

“If I am still around, Lord willing, when you finish your book, please mail me a copy.”

That line haunts me. Mr. Joyner passed away at the age of 96 years old on March 24, 2020. Eight months before INVISIBLE MEN was released.

I will always remember Mr. Joyner’s kindness and grace. He was truly a wonderful human being and the reason this book exists.

Elmer C. Stoner’s CHRISTMAS PLAY BOOK

© 2020 Ken Quattro

The concept for the CHRISTMAS PLAY BOOK was straightforward: a child’s activity pamphlet, 16 pages in length, containing puzzles, games and Elmer C. Stoner drawings throughout. It was distributed through department stores and apparently, also by 20th Century Fox.

Fox bought the pamphlet from Gould-Stoner and was selling it to exhibitors, who would in turn distribute it to movie-goers. Reportedly it had a print run of 1,000,000 copies and was a great success.

Except that in 1945, Fox had bought another publication with the name of CHRISTMAS PLAY BOOK and the publishers of that publication were now suing both Fox and Gould-Stoner for copyright infringement and damages of $100, 000. The outcome of the suit isn’t known, but the fact that no other publication was forthcoming from Gould-Stoner seems to indicate that it effectively killed the company.

Of course, both 20th Century Fox and Elmer Stoner survived the lawsuit and went onto other things. For his part, Stoner continued producing commercial comics–promotional booklets given away by companies to entice buyers and promote their products. Most, if not all of Stoner’s commercial comics, were a joint effort with his wife and creative partner Henriette, who wrote them.

The booklet contained no actual stories and qualifies as a “comic book” due to its format, size and paper quality. Stoner’s drawings of Santa Claus gave the “Jolly Old Elf” a stern, sometimes cranky, look. It’s likely the children for which it was intended didn’t notice, though, as it is presumed they were more intent on connecting dots, filling in blanks and coloring than studying the artwork. Even more likely was that nobody noticed that all the people in the comic–the children, the elves and of course, Santa–were all white.

The copy below was distributed to Sam’s, a now-extinct department store located in downtown Detroit.

Hollingsworth and Baily

© 2020 Ken Quattro

Alvin C. Hollingsworth started young. He began working in the comic book industry while still in junior high, alongside his school friend, Joe Kubert. Both boys longed to be artists, so they took basic, menial positions in Charles Quinlan’s studio to learn the craft.

Hollingsworth was a quick learner and soon he was assigned work by his mentor Quinlan.

The comic book industry of the era was built for production over quality. To meet the voracious need for material, the assembly line-like studios known as “comic shops” were formed, with artists and writers literally sitting cheek-by-jowl in cramped rooms, churning out stories and artwork as quickly as they could. Quinlan’s shop was one such. Bernard Baily’s was another.

Like many of the people heading up these shops, Baily was an established artist in his own right. He was a stalwart employee of Detective Comics (DC), where he co-created The Spectre with Jerry Siegel and Hour-Man with Ken Fitch. Baily knew that the big money didn’t come from working for someone else, though, so he ventured out and formed his own studio.

Being a small, new shop meant that Baily couldn’t pay his artists and writers much. Furthermore, the advent of WWII had depleted the pool of creative talent, with most able-bodied young white men being conscripted to serve in the military. Like everyone else in the comic book industry, Baily’s shop was filled with mostly elderly artists in the twilight of their careers and very young artists not old enough to be drafted. As detailed throughout INVISIBLE MEN, it also provided an opportunity for Black artists who local draft boards passed over in favor of white recruits.

Black comic book artist Elmer C. Stoner was already working through the Baily shop when Hollingsworth got his first assignments from the studio. In fact, the young artist’s first “signed” work appeared in BLUE BEETLE #42 (July-Aug. 1946), which also featured Stoner’s work on the title character.

Using the pseudonym of “Alec Hope,” Hollingsworth drew the two appearances of Bronze Man; in the aforementioned issue #42 and #44. Reading of the two stories seems to indicate that the second story should have been published first, as it contains more of Bronze Man’s origin.

[side note: The first page of the Bronze Man story in BLUE BEETLE #44 looks as if another hand was also involved in its drawing. In particular, the faces of the characters all seem to be the work of another artist. Possibly Stoner or Henry C, Kiefer, another Baily shop artist at the time, helped out the young Hollingsworth.]

Hollingsworth would go on to work for through other shops and for other publishers. A decade later, however, he and Bernard Baily crossed paths once again.

Baily, always the entrepreneur, was making yet another try at becoming his own boss. While still working for DC on various comics, he formed his own publishing company and among the publications he was producing were two men’s magazines. They were cringingly titled HI! and HO!

The shortness of the titles were in part a result of the magazine’s format. Baily had opted for an oblong-shape; tall and thin, that in theory would fit perfectly into a man’s suit coat pocket. It was a short-lived experiment, as within a couple of months, HO! soon folded and HI! became HIGH and went to a standard magazine size.

The magazines were Baily’s entry into the exploding men’s magazine market created by Hugh Hefner and PLAYBOY. The newsstands were filled with PLAYBOY imitators, each trying to duplicate that publication’s combination of sophistication and slick soft-pornography.

Baily, not having the financial resources of larger publishers, did most of the editing himself along with some writing and illustrating under various pseudonyms to give the appearance of having a large staff. Most of the stories that appeared were reprinted from other sources and given a fresh look with new illustrations to accompany the text. One of the first outside illustrators Baily hired was Hollingsworth.

Hollingsworth was obviously a known quantity to Baily from his previous stint in his shop. Furthermore, the young artist had already been providing illustrations for several men’s “sweat” magazines–those testosterone-fueled pulpish magazines featuring stories of fantastical he-man adventures, most often depicting semi-clad women in dangerous situations on their covers and white saviors coming to their rescue. Not quite pornographic, but they walked a fine line to stay within existing legal standards.

Hollingsworth’s assignments for the Baily publications were not as graphically explicit as the “sweat” illustrations or as blatantly lewd. And for the first time, he was able to present his expanding artistic interests in print.

For the September 1957, issue of HIGH #4, Hollingsworth provided an abstract-influenced illustration for the Frank Brookhouser story, “Sally in Her Alley.” The two-dimensional flatness of the art, the aggressive use of patterns, gave an indication of Hollingsworth’s experimentations with this artwork.

Even more representative were the three pages dedicated to observations of Harlem that Hollingsworth had committed to his personal sketchbook. It was indicative of Baily’s respect for Hollingsworth that he devoted the space and wrote a flattering commentary for the drawings.

These sketches were likely antecedents and the creative basis of Hollingsworth’s “Cry City” series of paintings in the mid-1960s.

In later issues, Hollingsworth moved into yet another direction. In HO! #3 (Jan. 1958) and HIGH #6 (April 1958), the artist depicted the figures more traditionally, but with heavy, thick outlining lines and blotches of black ink and wash, giving them weight against sketchy backgrounds. He also utilized the limited duo-tone coloring to good effect, giving a painterly look to the line drawings.

By issue #10 of HIGH (Jan. 1959), Hollingsworth abandoned all semblance of traditional illustration. The loosely delineated figures decorating the two-page “The Battle of the Exes” article could have stepped out of Picasso’s “Guernica,” and given the subject matter, that may have been intentional.

Hollingsworth was ever growing, expanding his artistic vision. In coming years he would mostly leave commercial art for teaching and painting. His work for Baily was an important step in his progression.

Lostoni: The Hidden African Kingdom of Jay Jackson

©2020 Ken Quattro

As shown in INVISIBLE MEN, Jay Jackson was an incredibly prolific artist. Beginning his career in the late 1920s, the Oberlin, Ohio native built a nationally-recognized career as a pulp illustrator, commercial artist and a brief foray into comic books. Most of his work, though, was produced in service to the CHICAGO DEFENDER, one of the country’s leading Black newspapers.

Starting circa 1933, Jackson was the DEFENDER’s go-to man for everything from spot text illustrations, to editorial cartoons, to the ubiquitous Murray’s Superior Products ads that ran for years during the 1940s.

Most notably, Jackson was a top-notch cartoonist. His Tisha Mingo strip of the late 1930s extended the boundaries of comic strip convention with its combination of text and drawings and its forthright portrayal of mature subject matter that mainstream white newspapers would not dare. He also drew a panel cartoon entitled So What? that provided slice-of-life commentary on the ordinary Black experience. He also took over Bungleton Green from its previous artist, Henry Brown. But the high point of Jackson’s contributions to comic strip history came with Speed Jaxon.

Debuting November 28, 1942, Speed Jaxon chronicled the adventures of a Howard University graduate student studying abroad at Oxford University during wartime. Speed, who was also a former track star, is recruited by British Intelligence and immediately assigned to a mission that will take him into Italian-occupied Ethiopia.

In some ways, Speed Jaxon is reminiscent of Vic Jordan, another daily that ran in the liberal PM DAILY newspaper. That strip also featured an American civilian working overseas covertly for a foreign government, in Jordan’s case, the French resistance. As Vic Jordan began in December 1941, it is possible that it was an inspiration for Speed Jaxon’s creation a year later.

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The strip was to have a five-year run in the DEFENDER, ending without fanfare in 1947. During that time its protagonist faced all sorts of Nazi and other Axis enemies, but it was near the war’s end that Speed would embark upon a mission once again to Africa that found him discovering the lost kingdom of Lostoni.

Part Edgar Rice Burroughs lost city of Opar from his Tarzan novels, with a touch of Shangri-La thrown in, Lostoni was unique in that it was a Black African civilization that was self-contained, articulate and peace-loving. A far cry from the usual depictions in white media that portrayed Africans as gibberish-speaking, animalistic, head-hunting natives.

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The storyline itself finds Speed undercover posing as a Nazi sympathizer. They welcome him as they consider it a coup to have a “Negro” on their side. He is assigned a mission to Africa in which he is to “incite the natives…they are ready for rebellion.” So instructed, Speed is paired with a pilot who is to fly him to his assignment.

During the flight, Speed overpowers the German pilot, causing the airplane to crash. Speed parachutes to safety while the dying pilot leaves a message in his own blood identifying the American as a traitor to the Nazi cause.

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Meanwhile, Speed familiarizes himself with his surroundings. Unknown to him, he is being watched by people from Lostoni, who at first assume he is a promised savior sent to help the city against “an unknown foe.”

For the rest of this sequence, which runs from March into November 1945, After Speed helps the kingdom repel an invasion by Nazis, he becomes the object of unwanted affection by one of the king’s daughters. This princess in turn tries to seduce a captured Nazi–who she refers to as “the colorless one”— to make Speed jealous! Needless to say, this plot point portrayal of a mixed racial romance would never have been possible in a mainstream white comic strip of the same era.

The continuity is action-packed, at times surprisingly violent, and often sexy. It had more in common with certain comic books of the era than the more family-friendly fare found in white newspapers.

Below is the entire Lostoni continuity as presented in the CHICAGO DEFENDER.

Real-world events interfered with Speed Jaxon’s adventures in Lostoni, as the defeat of Nazi Germany and the declaration of Victory in Europe Day dominated the May 12 edition of the paper.

The reaction of Black America to the news was similar and yet different from that of whites.

While happy to see at least one of the country’s enemies defeated and the end of war in sight, Blacks also were leery of what to expect once peace was declared.

The American people as a whole were appalled by the genocidal actions of the Nazis against the Jews. This had the effect of causing many to question the treatment of Black Americans and led to increasing calls for the ending of Jim Crow discrimination throughout the country. Whether those calls would result in actual changes was a paramount concern for most Blacks, including Jackson who often found equivalency between Nazis and racist Americans and depicted them in his editorial cartoons.

No “Speed Jaxon” strip ran on September 15. It may simply have been an error, as there was no obvious reason to exclude it as there had been with the VE Day news that crowded it out in the May 12 edition. It is apparent that Jackson intended for a strip to run on September 22, as that date appears in the first panel of the very next strip, which ran on September 29.

The Search for Warren Broderick

© 2020 Ken Quattro

INTRODUCTION

Not every quest ends with the grail in hand. Often, the search reaches an impasse, a dead end, or a path that wanders off to to nowhere. It doesn’t mean the quest is over, it just means that it hasn’t yet achieved its goal. My pursuit of Warren Broderick’s story is such a quest.

Broderick should have been included in INVISIBLE MEN. He was of the same generation and worked in the same specified time period as the others in the book. However, I felt that his story was unfinished. Too many gaps that left too many questions to get a full measure of the man. My inquiry into his life and career continues. My telling of his story is incomplete, but I will share what I have learned so far.

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As with many Jamaicans, Alfred George Broderick made his way to the United States indirectly from his native island. He first migrated to the Panama Canal Zone in search of work.

A canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via the isthmus of Panama had long been a dream. It would provide a time-saving shortcut for shipping and prove to be a financial boon to any country that could pull off its construction. Where France and the efforts of diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps had failed, the United States and President Theodore Roosevelt had determined to succeed.

The French failure was due in part to their insistence upon building a sea-level system as opposed to a series of locks to connect the two oceans; a blunder that made the project subject to massive flooding during the rainy season. Their other major problem was disease. Mosquito-borne malaria and yellow fever laid waste to their workers and doomed their plans.

Meanwhile, the United States made other plans. It, too, desired the economic advantages that came with control over a canal in Central America, so with the French failure, the US made its move.

Ignoring an earlier treaty in which it acquired the land from Colombia to build a canal, the US instead decided to back the efforts of Panamanian rebels who hoped to gain freedom for that region from Colombia. With the backing of American troops and warships, the revolution was quick and Panama declared its independence in November 1903. Soon after, the new nation and the US worked out an agreement for the construction of a canal through the isthmus and the establishment of a surrounding zone that would fall under its administration indefinitely.

Finding workers to build the canal was a project in and of itself. The French had found getting people to relocate to the sweltering, disease and bug-infested tropics a problem, so they created a recruitment campaign in Jamaica promising prosperity and riches for those who would come work on their canal. Jamaicans, desperate to escape the servile lives they suffered working on sugar plantations, flocked to Panama, only to find hard, dangerous working conditions and little wealth.

Still, many stayed and when the United States took over the canal project, even more Jamaicans and other Afro-Caribbeans came in search of steady work. In the time it took to complete construction, some 100,000 migrated to Panama. Alfred Broderick came and found a job as a clerk. Women came as well, including Myrabel Elizabeth Padmore, who traveled there from her home in Kingston, Jamaica.

Myrabel, who went by the abbreviated name of Myra, was a dressmaker. She came to the Canal Zone, like many others who endured the brutal conditions in support of their boyfriends and spouses, hoping to break free from the poverty of their native island. It would only be a stepping stone, though.

At some point, Alfred and Myra met and made plans beyond the Panamanian jungle. In July 1917, Alfred boarded the SS Zacapa, a steamship owned by the United Fruit Company, in the port town of Cristobal and set sail for the United States. He arrived in New York City on July 5 and one month later, on August 8, so did Myra. Two days later, they married.

The newlyweds moved into an apartment on 131st Street in Harlem, Alfred got a job as a porter at Consolidated Gas Company and in 1918, Myra gave birth to their first child, Raymond.

By the end of 1925, the young family had moved to another home on 111 Street in central Harlem, Alfred was now a messenger and they had three sons: Raymond George, Alfred Vance, born in 1925, and the middle child, Warren Hugh, who was born February 2, 1923.

The Brodericks had moved to W. 53rd Street in Hell’s Kitchen by 1930, and it is there that the trail runs cold.

To date, no evidence has been found of Warren Broderick’s early years. No articles or mentions of him or his family in newspapers, no school listing him as a student. Even the 1940 US Census has so far turned up nothing, as neither his father nor any other family member has been found.

In 1942, Warren registered with the Selective Service Administration, his registration indicating that the family had moved to Ozone Park, Queens, he had finished high school and was working as a file clerk. The next year he followed his older brother Raymond, who joined in the summer of 1941, into the Army, enlisting on June 15, 1943. Warren stayed for the duration of WWII and was discharged on January 15, 1946.

On June 22, 1944, President Franklyn D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the G. I. Bill of Rights. This landmark legislation rewarded wartime servicemen with immediate financial benefits to ease their way back into civilian life. Among those benefits were provisions for educational opportunities.

“Any person who served in the active military or naval forces on or after September 16, 1940, and prior to the termination of hostilities in the present war, shall be entitled to the vocational rehabilitation subject to the provisions and limitations of Veterans Regulation Numbered 1 (a), as amended, part VII, or to education or training subject to the provisions and limitations of part VIII.” [Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. Pub L. 346. 22 June 1944. S. 1767.]

The G. I. Bill provided returning veterans who wished to further their education free tuition up to $500 and a cost of living stipend. The only requirement being that they had to use the benefit within two years of their discharge from the military.

The financial windfall offered to educational institutions by this huge pool of potential students was obvious. Taking full advantage, in 1947, Burne Hogarth, the noted illustrator of the “Tarzan” comic strip, partnered with Silas H. Rhodes, an educator and a Navy veteran, and formed the Cartoonists and Illustrators School. Soon after the school’s founding, Warren became one of its students.

Many noted comic book artists would attend the school in those early years. Among them was the great science fiction artist Roy G. Krenkel, the future drawing team of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, and the legendary Wally Wood.

A well-known photo class photo from that era provided by artist Marion Sitton to historian Dr. Michael Vassallo, depicted an apparently Black student in the back row, sitting next to Sitton on the far left and directly behind a young Wally Wood. It is quite possible that student was Warren Broderick.

Since no other photos of Warren have yet been found, a comparison can be made between this class photo and a known photo of Warren’s older brother, Raymond. That photo of Raymond was taken while he was in the Army and approximately the same age Warren would be in a photo taken circa 1947-1948. There is a resemblance.

Broderick was apparently a talented student, since his artwork began appearing in comic books by 1948 and possibly as early as late 1947.

The earliest story bearing Broderick’s signature was “A Gangster Dies!” in HEADLINE COMICS vol. 4 #1 [#31]. Since this comic was produced entirely by artists working through the Joe Simon-Jack Kirby studio, it means Broderick was for a time a member of that shop.

Interestingly, Alvin C. Hollingsworth, another Black comic book artist, also worked on this same comic. Hollingsworth was already an established pro by this time and Simon remembered him as a staffer years later. However, when asked by historian Harry Mendryk if he recalled Broderick, Simon replied that he did not.

Comic book “shops,” which were the assembly line studios that produced the material, generally had transient staffs. Some stalwart creators stayed in the employ of these shops for a time, but often artists and writers would be freelancers, who would come and go. That being the case, it isn’t too unusual that Simon wouldn’t remember Broderick. However, there may have been another reason.

Black comic book artists tended not to work in the studios with their white counterparts. Racism–both overt and covert–and ingrained societal divisions created uncomfortable environments for the minority Blacks. Research has shown that frequently Black artists would receive an assignment from the shop and then they would complete the artwork in their own home or studio. While some Black artists such as Matt Baker and Hollingsworth did work among the white artists, most did not.

Broderick seemed to be regularly employed over the next few years. He drew several signed jobs for Fox Feature Syndicate before he began getting steady assignments from Stan Lee at Timely (Atlas).

Several of Broderick’s early jobs for Fox were noted in a “Chalktalk” column which appeared in a 1948 Cartoonists and Illustrators school publication.

“BRODERICK had drawn two stories for Fox Features. He then went out and bought a ’48 car. The stories pertained to cowboys and injuns so he was faithful to them and purchased a PONTIAC…” [“Chalktalk,” CARTOONISTS AND ILLUSTRATORS BULLETIN BOARD #4, (1948).]

Mentioned in that same column was another artist who Broderick would partner with a few years later.

“After Wally [Wood] and I broke up I was working mostly for Fawcett [Publications], and I had a friend by the name of Warren Broderick, who was also in school with me, doing my pencilling. He was a black guy who didn’t want to get in there and push, didn’t want to face whitey in the office. We developed a nice clear style, no great shakes, but it worked.” [Spicer, Bill and Serniuk, Pete, “Harry Harrison Interview,” GRAPHIC STORY MAGAZINE, #15, (Summer 1973).]

Years later in his autobiography, Harrison, writing in a different era, provided a more collegial, less condescending view of his relationship with Broderick.

“Woody and I had personal differences and the partnership was dissolved. I became a fast and talented inker and found myself drawing less and less. It was then that I started a partnership with Warren Broderick, a talented artist. He came from South Jamaica [Long Island], very close to where I grew up in Jamaica. It was a nice, middle-class family. His father was a railroad porter; one of the few jobs open to intelligent blacks at the time. [Warren] was a shy guy and didn’t like to face art directors. So we had a good relationship. I went out and sold the stuff. He penciled the stories and I inked them. We worked together until I found myself doing more packaging and writing. As the work slackened we drifted apart, since I was doing very little art.” [Harrison, Harry, HARRY HARRISON! HARRY HARRISON!, pps. 73-74, (2014).]

It is not entirely clear exactly which stories the team of Broderick and Harrison worked on, but using Harrison’s timeline it was likely in the years of 1950-1953. Both artists had individually signed work published during this period. So, was it Broderick who signed the work or Harrison? Even though Broderick was likely the stronger artist, as most pencilers are in such teams, Harrison may have signed their joint work using just his name.

After the split with Harrison, Broderick continued on into 1954. That year, he penciled several stories for Charlton Comics Group on such titles as TRUE LIFE SECRETS. His inker on all of these stores was Ray Osrin, who was Matt Baker’s primary inker for many years. Osrin’s inking gave Broderick’s pencils a “Bakerish” look and his presence suggests that perhaps Baker had a hand in the artwork himself.

There are no known Broderick artwork after 1954. Was he caught up in the downturn suffered in 1955 by many comic publishers in the wake of the 1954 Senate hearings, Dr. Fredric Wertham’s SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT book and the controversy surrounding comics? Or had he just tired of the industry itself and the inconsistent income experienced by freelancing?

What Broderick did for a living after leaving comics is unknown. What is known that in 1962, he married Annie Christine Robinson in New York City. Sometime later, in the 1980s, they moved to California, living in several cities before settling down in Moreno Valley, near San Bernardino. That is where they were living when Warren died sometime in 1996 and was interred in Crestlawn Memorial Park in Riverside. Annie eventually remarried, but she too passed away, in 2005. She chose to be buried alongside Warren where, per their headstone, they would be “Together Forever.”

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