Turtel Onli

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Turtel Onli
Born (1952-01-25) January 25, 1952 (age 72)
Chicago, Illinois
Area(s)Cartoonist, Writer, Artist
Notable works
NOG, Protector of the Pyramides
AwardsGlyph Comics Awards Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award, 2006

Turtel Onli (born January 25, 1952[1] in Chicago, Illinois) is an American artist, entrepreneur, author, art therapist, educator, and publisher.

Over Onli's career, his work has touched upon a variety of disciplines in fine and applied visual art, producing works in painting, drawing, illustration, publishing, fashion,[2] and multimedia production. Onli has authored and illustrated numerous comic books and graphic novels, including NOG, Protector of the Pyramids, Malcolm 10, Nog Nu and Grammar Patrol. He is known as "the Father" of the "Black Age of Comics,"[3] a movement dedicated to the promotion, creation, and support of Afrocentric comic books and graphic novels. Onli coined the term "Rhythmism" to define and interpret his stylizations,[4] which fuse primitive and futuristic concepts. A public school art teacher, now retired, Onli worked in the Chicago Public Schools for more than two decades.[5]



Onli graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. He later returned to the Art Institute and earned a Master of Arts in Art Therapy. His education includes studies in Paris, France, at The Sorbonne and the Centre Georges Pompidou.


In 1970, Onli founded the Black Arts Guild (BAG), which featured touring art exhibitions and published work by its members.[6] In 1974, in conjunction with BAG, he published Funk Book and a series of greeting cards. In 1980, he co-published a zine called PAPER with the Osun Center of the Arts. In the early 1980s he created five issues of another early comics zine, Future Funk.

Onli's illustration clients include Playboy Magazine, Chicago Magazine, Avant Garde Magazine, McDonald's, Motown Productions, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, MODE magazine, and Paris Métro magazine. His work is in the collections of Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, the Chicago Children's Museum (The Rhythmistic Bench), and Johnson Publishing Company which, when he was 19, bought the first painting he sold.[7] Onli has been a visiting artist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In 2005, Onli curated "Reverend Phillips and Turtel Onli: An Artistic and Spiritual Legacy," at the Center for the Visual and Performing Arts in Munster, Indiana, an exhibition featuring the visionary charts created by his late grandfather, the Rev. Samuel David Phillips, and Onli's own Rhythmistic paintings.[8]

In 2010 he opened the new Onli Studios at the Bridgeport Arts Center in Chicago.


Throughout his career, Onli has created Afrocentric Rhythmistic-powered characters who tap into humanity’s innate attraction to exaggeration, the supernatural, and pseudo-theological mythology. They represent Onli's belief in the ideal of the powerful defending the weak. He uses the "hero vs. villain" paradigm as his vehicle for reaching beyond “perceived” norms.[9]

Onli's character NOG, Nubian of Greatness, one of the earliest Afrocentric comic book characters,[citation needed] was featured in the Chicago Defender, starting in 1979, before transitioning to the comic book NOG, Protector of the Pyramides from 1981-82.[5][10] NOG returned in NOG is Back!! in 1994 and Nog Nu!! in 2011.

Black Age of Comics[edit]

In 1993, Onli spearheaded the inaugural Black Age of Comics[3] convention at the Southside Community Arts Center in Chicago,[10][11] where it was held for three consecutive years.[12] Black Age of Comics Conventions have since been held in Atlanta, Los Angeles,[13][14] and Detroit;[15] with Philadelphia's annual ECBACC being the most prominent.[16] Other recent Black Age of Comics conventions were held in Chicago's Bridgeport Arts Center and Kenwood Academy.[17]


From 1984 to 1989 Onli worked as an art therapist with young people in Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes.

Onli worked as an art instructor in the Chicago Public Schools.

Onli has taught at Columbia College Chicago, and is currently an adjunct professor of Art Appreciation & Drawing at Harold Washington College.

Onli is also the Founder of B.A.G the Black Arts Guild where his “Rhythmistic” style and approach provides a futuristic think tank for young emerging artist to evolve in various mediums.[18][6]

Honors and awards[edit]

  • 2006: Glyph Comics Awards Pioneer Award — for bringing positive, diverse images to the world of graphic novels and comic books



  • NOG: Protector of the Pyramides (self-published, 1981–1982)
  • Future Funk (BAG, 1980s)[6]
  • Malcolm 10 (self-published, 1992)[19]
  • Sustah-Girl (Castel Publications, 1993) — with Cassandra Washington
  • Grammar Patrol (Castel Publications, 1994) — with Cassandra Washington[20]
  • Nog is Back (self-published, 1994)
  • The Origins of Team Blanga: Heroes of the Black Age (Onli Studios, 2007) — includes an original CD soundtrack by Hardy Headz
  • Let's Go Green in the City (Onli Studios, 2008)
  • Sasa (Onli Studios, 2010)
  • Nog Nu!! (Onli Studios, 2011)
  • East/West Zodiac & Journal (Onli Studios) — with Kocao Winbush
  • The Legend of the AZANIAC


  • 1977: Second World Festival of Black and African Art and Culture (FESTAC) (Lagos, Nigeria) — group show
  • 1991: Prairie Avenue Gallery (Chicago, Illinois) — "The Return of Watermelon: The Redefining of a Stereotype" — group show[6]
  • 2001: The African American Cultural Center (Chicago)[21]
  • 2005: Center for the Visual and Performing Arts (Munster, Indiana) — “Reverend Phillips and Turtel Onli: An Artistic and Spiritual Legacy”[8]
  • 2006: The Kennedy center -"Turtel Onli as a Tortellini"
  • 2007: "Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet Chicago" group show — "It'z A Rhythmsitic World." Never Boring!!!“[22]
  • 2011: Tubman African American Museum (Macon, Georgia) — "Afro Futurism in the Visual Arts" — group show
  • 2011: ETA Creative Arts Foundation (Chicago) — “Passion Fruit: The Other Chicago Black Movement” — solo exhibition
  • 2013: DuSable Museum of African American History (Chicago) — "AFRICOBRA: Art and Impact" — group show[23]
  • 2015: Harold Washington Library Center (Chicago) — Rhythmistic Journey: The Art Enterprises of Turtel Onli[24]
  • 2020: Hyde Park Arts Center (Chicago) "Rhythmistic Residency" [25]
  • 2024: Cafe Logan at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts (Chicago)[26]



  1. ^ Miller, John Jackson (June 10, 2005). "Comics Industry Birthdays". Comics Buyer's Guide. Archived from the original on February 18, 2011.
  2. ^ "South Siders pool talents for fashion," Chicago Tribune (04 Apr 1984), p. h2.
  3. ^ a b Williams, L. Pat. "Comic creator crafts Black Age Movement," Chicago Defender (30 Aug 2003), p. 20.
  4. ^ Randle, Yvonne. "Business challenge in art is identifying art styles," Chicago Defender (26 Jan 1993), p. 20.
  5. ^ a b Gestalter, Morgan; West, Niles. "Teach for the Stars: Turtel Onli; Art teacher by day, artist by night," Chicago Tribune (23 Feb 2012), p. 12.
  6. ^ a b c d Rowland, Debran. "Watermelon? Black artists attack stereotype head-on," Chicago Tribune (19 Feb 1991), p. 3.
  7. ^ Tribune, Christopher Borrelli | Chicago (2024-03-05). "Often overlooked, Turtel Onli, an advocate for Black artists in comics, has a new exhibition in Café Logan". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2024-03-10.
  8. ^ a b "Show Work Shows Spiritual Side," The Post-Tribune (11 Feb 2005), p. D5.
  9. ^ B., Rhonda. "The Black Age of Comics, Turtel Onli," Examiner.com (May 6, 2012).
  10. ^ a b Caruthers, Chrystal. "Blacks Bring Own Reality to Comics," Chicago Tribune (13 Sep 1993), p. 3.
  11. ^ Onli, Turtel. "Black Age of Comics," Comics Buyer's Guide (Feb. 26 1993).
  12. ^ Washington, Cassandra. "The Next Panel," Chicago Tribune (27 July 1995), p. 14.
  13. ^ Lacher, Irene. "Heroes of a Different Color Pow! Whoosh! Comic-book super-heroes of every ethnicity and gender are out to leap tall stereotypes in a single bound," Los Angeles Times (14 Nov 1993), p. 1.
  14. ^ Schenden, Laurie K. "Celebrating Black History," Los Angeles Times (23 Feb 1995), p. 6.
  15. ^ "Motor City Black Age of Comics: creators and fans urged to learn together," Michigan Citizen (18 Jan 2009), p. A8.
  16. ^ Peters, Monica. "Celebrating blacks' work with comics: Two-day convention in Philly," Philadelphia Inquirer (18 May 2012), p. W.28.
  17. ^ Setzer, Harris. "Dawn of the Black Age: Graphic Novels and Cartoons Emerge at the Black Age of Comics," Chicago Weekly (Oct. 10, 2007).
  18. ^ Hyde Park Arts. Org
  19. ^ MacMillan, Kyle. "Beyond Batman: Comics come of age as art form: Exhibitions at Belmar and CU pay tribute to their increasing diversity and depth," Denver Post (06 Feb 2009), p. D.1.
  20. ^ Boothe, Patricia. "Book: The Grammar Patrol No. 1," Everybody's vol. 18, #7 (Sep 30, 1994), p. 46.
  21. ^ "Chi. — What's Up?", The Post-Tribune (23 Feb 2001), p. D13.
  22. ^ "Urging Action Through Art," New York Times (Aug. 6, 2008).
  23. ^ "AFRICOBRA in Chicago," UChicago Arts (April 16, 2013).
  24. ^ [Chicago Public Library. Org Exhibitions Rhythmistic Journey: The Art Enterprises of Turtel Onli
  25. ^ "HPAC JULY 2020"
  26. ^ Tribune, Christopher Borrelli | Chicago (2024-03-05). "Often overlooked, Turtel Onli, an advocate for Black artists in comics, has a new exhibition in Café Logan". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2024-03-10.

Sources consulted[edit]

  • Chicago Sun-Times (Apr. 17, 1981).
  • Lacher, Irene. "Comics Open the Door to Minority Heroes," Chicago Sun-Times (28 Nov 1993), p. 18.
  • Wisconsin State Journal (Jan. 31, 1994).
  • Irvine, Martha. "Giving drawing power to black heroes: A handful of artists, some self-published, cross racial-ethnic lines in comic books," Associated Press (07 Sept. 1999).
  • Jennings, John and Duffy, Damian, curators. Other Heroes: African American Comic Book Characters and Archetypes (art exhibition catalog), (Other Heroes, 2007).
  • Onli, Turtel. "The Black Age of Comics 101: A Brief History by a Founder," Chicago Art Magazine (Oct 15, 2010).
  • Richardson, Clem. "Super Heroic Fest Will Highlight African-American Comic Book Pioneers," New York Daily News (10 Jan 2013), p. 39.

External links[edit]