Morrie Turner in 2005
|Born||Morris Nolton Turner
December 11, 1923
|Died||January 25, 2014
Turner got his first training in cartooning via the Art Instruction, Inc. home study correspondence course. During World War II (where he served as a mechanic with Tuskegee Airmen) his illustrations appeared in the newspaper Stars and Stripes. After the war, while working for the Oakland Police Department, he created the comic strip Baker's Helper.
When Turner began questioning why there were no minorities in cartoons, 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 in 1965 it became the first American syndicated comic strip to have a cast of diverse ethnicity. Although the strip was only originally carried by five newspapers, after Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968, it was picked up by more than 100 papers. By the early 1970s, Turner's "integrated" strip was followed on a daily basis by nearly 25,000,000 readers.
In 1970 Turner became a co-chairman of the White House Conference on Youth.
Turner appeared as a guest on the May 14, 1973, episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, where he showed the host pictures he had drawn of several of his neighbors, as well as presented a clip from his Kid Power animated series, which was airing Saturday mornings on ABC at the time.
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. Turner's comic strip became televised in two different ways. The show Kid Power became a popular Saturday morning cartoon that aired throughout the United States. All of Turner's characters were featured, and they were united through the coalition the characters themselves dubbed as "Rainbow Power". During the same season, Wee Pals on the Go was aired by ABC's owned-and-operated station in San Francisco, KGO-TV. This 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. After a successful pilot, this project was filmed and aired for an entire television season (also 1972-73). This exposure helped increase Turner's popularity exponentially.
As the comic strip's popularity grew, Turner added characters. He included children of more and more ethnicities, as well as a child with a physical disability. The all-inclusive nature of the comic strip and the relevance to everyday people were part of Turner's formula for success.
Turner was impressively knowledgeable about African American history and combined his artistic talent with historical facts to publish books, calendars and other materials that were educational, esthetically pleasing and humorous.
He had the original copy of the book Wee Pals, which was burned in a fire at his home in Berkeley in the late 1980s. The house was later rebuilt.
Turner preferred being called "Morrie" and contributed his talents to concerts by the Bay Area Little Symphony of Oakland, California. He drew pictures to the music and of children in the audience.
On May 25, 2009, Turner visited Westlake Middle School in Oakland to give a lesson to the OASES Comic Book Preachers Class of drawing. Turner collaborated with the class's students to create the book Wee the Kids from Oakland, which gave a chance for students to express their challenges, successes, and pride as youth in Oakland.
Turner died on January 25, 2014, at age 90.
Turner married Letha Mae Harvey on April 6, 1946; they collaborated on "Soul Corner," the weekly supplement to Wee Pals. Morrie and Letha had one son, Morrie Jr; Letha died in 1994. Late in life, Turner's companion was Karol Trachtenburg of Sacramento.
The Family Circus character of Morrie, a playmate of Billy — and the only recurring black character in the strip — is based on Turner. Family Circus creator Bil Keane created the character in 1967 as a tribute to his close friend.
Throughout his career, Turner was showered with awards and community distinctions. For example, he received the Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Inter-Group Relations Award from the Anti-Defamation League of Bnai Brith. In 1971, he received the Alameda County (California) Education Association Layman's Annual Award.
Wee Pals collections
- 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
Willis and his Friends
- Ser un Hombre (Lear Siegler/Fearon Publishers, 1972) ISBN 0822474271
- Prejudice (Fearon, 1972) ASIN B00071EIOG
- The Vandals (Fearon, 1974) ASIN B0006WJ9JU
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Freedom (Ross Simmons, 1967) ASIN B0007HK27W
- Black and White Coloring Book (Troubadour Press, 1969) — written with Letha Turner
- Right On (Signet Books, 1969)
- Getting It All Together (Signet Books, 1972)
- Where's Herbie? A Sickle Cell Anemia Story and Coloring Book (Sickle Cell Anemia Workshop, 1972) ASIN B00BKQ85LE
- Famous Black Americans (Judson Press, 1973) ISBN 0817005919
- Happy Birthday America (Signet Book, 1975) ASIN B000RB1SGM
- All God's Chillun Got Soul (Judson Press, 1980) ISBN 0817008926
- Thinking Well (Wisconsin Clearing House, 1983), ASIN B00072F9E8
- Black History Trivia: Quiz and Game Book (News America Syndicate, 1986) ASIN B000727N5Q
- What About Gangs? Just Say No! (Oakland Police Department, 1994) ASIN B0006R58TA
- Babcock (Scholastic, 1996) — by John Cottonwood and Morrie Turner, ISBN 059022221X
- Mom Come Quick (Wright Pub Co., 1997) — by Joy Crawford and Morrie Turner, ISBN 0965236838
- Super Sistahs: Featuring the Accomplishments of African-American Women Past and Present (Bye Publishing Services, 2005), ISBN 0965673952
- Cavna, Michael. "RIP, MORRIE TURNER: Cartoonists say farewell to a friend, a hero, a ‘Wee Pals’ pioneer," WashingtonPost.com: Comic Riffs (Jan. 31, 2014).
- Turner entry, Lambiek's Comiclopedia. 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.
- "About Morrie Turner," Creators.com syndicate website. Accessed Jan. 27, 2014.
- Kelly, George. "Remembering 'Wee Pals' creator Morrie Turner: Social media reaction," San Jose Mercury News (Jan. 27, 2014).
- Ink-Slinger Profiles: Morrie Turner
- Chang, Jeff (2009). "Morrie Turner and the Kids". The Believer (November/December). Retrieved 2013-03-18.
- RIP, MORRIE TURNER: Cartoonists say farewell to a friend, a hero, a ‘Wee Pals’ pioneer, by Michael Cavna, at the Washington Post; published January 31, 2014; retrieved March 16, 2014
- Turner entry, Who's Who of American Comic Books, 1928–1999. Accessed Jan. 27, 2013.
- Morrie Turner Collection – original artwork
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