|Launch date||February 15, 1965|
|Syndicate(s)||Lew Little Enterprises
then Register and Tribune Syndicate,
then United Feature Syndicate,
then Creators Syndicate
|Genre(s)||Humor, Children, Teens, Adults|
Wee Pals is a syndicated comic strip about a diverse group of children, created and produced by Morrie Turner. It was the first comic strip syndicated in the United States to have a cast of diverse ethnicity, dubbed the "Rainbow Gang."
When cartoonist Morrie Turner began questioning why there were no minorities in the comic strips, his mentor, Charles M. Schulz of Peanuts fame, suggested he create one. Morris' first attempt, Dinky Fellas, featured an all-black cast, but found publication in only one newspaper, the Chicago Defender. Turner integrated the strip, renaming it Wee Pals, and on February 15, 1965, it became the first American syndicated comic strip to have a cast of diverse ethnicity.
Initially syndicated by Lew Little Enterprises, it was then carried by the Register and Tribune Syndicate, before moving to United Feature Syndicate in the 1970s. When it debuted, the strip originally appeared in only five daily newspapers, as many papers refused to run a strip featuring black characters. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the number of papers carrying the strip grew to 60; today it appears in over 100 dailies.
By the early 1970s, Wee Pals was followed on a daily basis by nearly 25,000,000 readers. As the comic strip's popularity grew (in many ways also due to the Kid Power animated program [see below]), Turner added characters. He included children of more and more ethnicities, as well as a child with a physical disability. He also added a weekly section called "Soul Corner," which profiled notable African Americans from history. The all-inclusive nature of the comic strip and the relevance to everyday people were part of Turner's secret to success.
The strip is currently distributed by Creators Syndicate. Turner still wrote and drew the strips up until his death in early 2014.
- Nipper — African-American boy who always wears a blue or grey American Civil War kepi, and has a dog named General Lee. Turner based Nipper on himself as a child.
- Ralph (Caucasian) — neighborhood bigot and ruffian who frequently gets his racist, sexist rear handed to him when he insults the other kids in the neighborhood
- Connie — athletic white girl who frequently clashes with Ralph over his misogyny and racism. She's an outspoken member of the neighborhood "Girls' Lib" organization (a play on the Women's Liberation Movement)
- Sybil — African-American girl who is also in the Girls' Lib organization
- Oliver — chubby, bookish white boy with glasses. Sometimes referred to as "Lil' Ebert" for his resemblance to a young Roger Ebert. Usually the straight man in strips where one of the kids misinterprets an idiom or makes a pun
- Diz — African-American boy who's never without his sunglasses and beret. He plays trumpet like his namesake Dizzy Gillespie and often narrates the "Funky Fables" strips
- Charlotte — white bespectacled girl confined to a wheelchair. She has a pet parrot named Polly Esther
- Randy (African-American)
- Pablo (Chicano/Mexican-American)
- Mikki (African-American; about four years old)
- Rocky (Native American)
- George (Asian-American of Chinese origin)
- Jerry (Jewish)
- Trinh (Vietnamese)
- Sally (nationality unstated, but deaf-mute)
- Wellington (nationality unstated, dark hair covering eyes)
Wee Pals bibliography
- Wee Pals That "Kid Power" Gang in Rainbow Power (Signet Books, 1968) ASIN B002T6NAOG
- Wee Pals (Signet Books, 1969) ASIN B003ZUKTLW — introduction by Charles M. Schulz
- Kid Power (Signet Books, 1970), ASIN B001IKPRM2
- Nipper (Westminster Press, 1971), ASIN B002IY2XOM
- Nipper's Secret Power (Westminster Press, 1971) ISBN 0-664-32498-3-0325
- Wee Pals: Rainbow Power (Signet Books, 1973) ASIN B000M8UYII
- Wee Pals: Doing Their Thing (Signet Books, 1973) ASIN B00129HWKO
- Wee Pals' Nipper and Nipper's Secret Power (Signet Books, 1974) ASIN B001M5GOOS
- Wee Pals: Book of Knowledge (Signet Books, 1974) ISBN 0451058003
- Wee Pals: Staying Cool (Signet Books, 1974) ISBN 0451060768
- Wee Pals: Funky Tales (New American Library, 1975) ASIN B00072KLVE
- Wee Pals: Welcome to the Club (Rainbow Power Club Books, 1978) ASIN B003VC7JQW
- Choosing a Health Career: Featuring Wee Pals, the Kid Power Gang (Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service, Health Resources Administration, 1979), ASIN B0006XCLLC
- Wee Pals: A Full-Length Musical Comedy for Children or Young Teenagers (The Dramatic Publishing Company, 1981) ASIN B0006XW1I0
- Wee Pals Make Friends with Music and Musical Instruments: Coloring Book (Stockton Symphony Association, 1982) ASIN B00072YGD8
- Wee Pals, the Kid Power Gang: Thinking Well (Ingham County Health Department, 1983) ASIN B0007259DY
- Wee Pals Doing the Right Thing Coloring Book (Oakland Police Department, 1991) ASIN B0006R4G98
- Explore Black History with Wee Pals (Just us Books, 1998) ISBN 0940975793
- The Kid Power Gang Salutes African-Americans in the Military Past and Present (Conway B. Jones, Jr., 2000), ASIN B0006RSDC4
Animated series: Kid Power
During the 1972-73 television season, the monolithic and monoethnic nature of American television began to change, and Morrie Turner and his artistic talent were instrumental in this change. Wee Pals was animated as Kid Power, which was produced by Rankin-Bass and Videocraft Productions (animation was done in Japan at Topcraft). It aired in the USA on ABC television Saturday mornings. All of Turner's characters were featured, and they were united through the coalition the characters themselves dubbed as "Rainbow Power." A total of 17 episodes were made, most of which aired from September 16, 1972, to January 6, 1973, followed by reruns. In the following year, a few new episodes which were unfinished during the first season aired on Sunday mornings (combined with reruns) until September 1, 1974.
- Producer/director: Arthur Rankin Jr., Jules Bass
- Teleplay: William J. Keenan
- Associate Producer: Basil Cox
- Animation Supervision: Toru Hara, Tsuguyuki Kubo
- Music: Perry Botkin Jr.
- Songs: Jules Bass, Perry Botkin Jr.
- Editorial Supervision: Irwin Goldress
- Sound Engineers: Jim Harris, John Boyd
- Donald Fullilove (Diz and Randy)
- Michelle Johnson (Sybil)
- Charles Kennedy (Nipper)
- Gary Shapiro (Jerry and Wellington)
- Jay Silverheels Jr. (Rocky)
- Greg Thomas (Oliver)
- Jeff Thomas (Ralph)
- April Winchell (Connie)
- Carey Wong (George)
Wee Pals on the Go
During the same 1972–73 television season, Wee Pals on the Go was aired by KGO-TV (an ABC owned-and-operated station in the San Francisco Bay Area). This live-action Sunday morning show featured child actors who portrayed the main characters of Turner's comic strip, Nipper, Randy, Sybil, Connie and Oliver. With and through the kids, Turner explored all kinds of venues and activities that were of interest to child viewers of the time, from a candy factory to a train locomotive.
- Markstein, Don. "Wee Pals," Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Accessed Jan. 27, 2014.
- Ross, Martha. "Morrie Turner: Pioneering 'Wee Pals' cartoonist, dies at 90," Contra Costa Times (Jan. 27, 2014).
- Jesse Hamlin (2009-09-13). "Wee Pals retrospective at S.F. library". San Francisco Chronicle.
- Cavna, Michael. "RIP, MORRIE TURNER: Cartoonists say farewell to a friend, a hero, a ‘Wee Pals’ pioneer," WashingtonPost.com: Comic Riffs (Jan. 31, 2014).
- Jones, Steven Loring. "From 'Under Cork' to Overcoming: Black Images in the Comics," Ethnic Images in the Comics (The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, 1986), p. 27.
- "About Morrie Turner," Creators.com syndicate website. Accessed Jan. 27, 2014.
- Strickler, Dave. Syndicated Comic Strips and Artists, 1924–1995: The Complete Index. Cambria, CA: Comics Access, 1995. ISBN 0-9700077-0-1.
- Wee Pals at Creators Syndicate
- Wee Pals at Don Markstein's Toonopedia
- Kid Power at the Internet Movie Database