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Morrie Turner Collection

A description of the collection at Syracuse University


Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 25 Sep 2008



Biographical History

Morrie Turner (1923-2014) was a Black cartoonist and creator of the Wee Pals comic strip.

Morris (Morrie) Turner was born December 11, 1923 in Oakland, California. His mother was a devout Christian who instilled these beliefs in her son. Turner started drawing cartoons in the fifth grade. Like many of his contemporaries, Turner drew newspaper cartoons during his service in World War II with the Army Air Force.

Turner had no formal art training and worked as a police clerk while he also did freelance cartoons. In 1959 his strip Dinky Fellas was picked up by the Chicago Defender, a major Black newspaper. The strip was conceived as an all-Black Peanuts, though by the end of its run Turner had introduced several white characters.

In 1964 Turner devoted himself full time to drawing comic strips. "I’d been critical of the major metropolitan newspapers for not having anything but whites reflected in their cartoon strips," he once told an interviewer. "So I decided to make myself right before I popped off anymore." Turner's Wee Pals first appeared on February 15, 1965 with the Register and Tribune Syndicate, but due to racial tensions in the United States at the time it only ran in five major newspapers. According to the Creator's Syndicate, "Within three months of [Martin Luther] King's death, the strip was appearing in over 100 newspapers nationwide."

Wee Pals was unusual at the time, as it featured a group of children of varying ethnicities and, later, disabilities. The strip led to an ABC Saturday morning Rankin-Bass animated show, Kid Power, which premiered September 16, 1972. Turner took his message of harmony and acceptance to larger audiences through writing and illustrating children's books on topics including African-American history, racism, deafness and drugs. Wee Pals has also been adapted into a play. Turner regularly lectured and visited inner city school children, teaching and talking about cartooning.

Turner received numerous awards for his work and commitment to diversity. He was honored with the California Black Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award and the Anti-Defamation League's Humanitarian Award. The American Red Cross and Boys and Girls Clubs have also acknowledged his contributions. The Cartoon Art Museum presented Turner with the Sparky Award in 2000. The National Cartoonists Society recognized Turner's unique and groundbreaking work in 2003, awarding him the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award.

Turner continued to draw Wee Pals until his death in 2014.

[Some information in this biographical sketch adapted from Turner's obituary in the Los Angeles Times, 29 Jan 2014.]


Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Morrie Turner Collection is divided into 2 series.

Cartoons (1970-1972) contains 32 original cartoons from Turner's Wee Pals comic strip distributed by the Register Tribune Syndicate. There are 16 daily cartoons and 11 Sunday cartoons. The cartoons were drawn with pen and ink on illustration board. Traces of blue pencil are visible and each bears a printed date and the name of the Register and Tribune Syndicate.

Wee Pals depicts the activities of a diverse, socially conscious group of children In this collection of strips, characters Randy, Wellington, Connie and Sybil as well as other unnamed children are depicted. Main character Randy frequently wears a t-shirt bearing the slogan, "Rainbow Power" as well as sunglasses and a beret. Topics included in this particular collection of cartoons are ecology and revolution as well as activities related to children including punishment and play.

Missing from the collection are ten Sunday Wee Pals comic strips.

Correspondence consists of one typed letter signed by Turner dated December 10, 1968. Written to Mr. Sam J. Sackett of Fort Hays Kansas State College, Turner discusses matters related to the Wichita Eagle and the effect of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination on his sales.


Arrangement of the Collection

Daily and Sunday cartoons are arranged separately in chronological order.


Restrictions

Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.


Related Material

Special Collections Research Center has collections of over one hundred cartoonists. Please refer to the SCRC Subject Index for a complete listing.


Subject Headings

Persons

Turner, Morrie.

Corporate Bodies

Des Moines Register and Tribune Company.
Register and Tribune Syndicate.

Associated Titles

Wee Pals (comic strip)

Subjects

African American children -- Caricatures and cartoons.
American wit and humor, Pictorial.
Caricatures and cartoons -- United States.
Cartoonists, United States.
Children -- Caricatures and cartoons.
Children and the environment -- Caricatures and cartoons.
Comic books, strips, etc. -- United States.
Cultural pluralism -- Caricatures and cartoons.
Ethnic groups -- Caricatures and cartoons.
Ethnic groups in art.
Ethnic wit and humor -- Caricatures and cartoons.
Friendship -- Caricatures and cartoons.
Minorities -- Caricatures and cartoons.
Multiculturalism -- Caricatures and cartoons.
School children -- Caricatures and cartoons.
Social movements -- Caricatures and cartoons.

Places

United States -- Caricatures and cartoons.
United States -- Race relations.

Genres and Forms

Cartoons (humorous images)
Comic strips.

Occupations

Cartoonists.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Morrie Turner Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Cartoons gift of Morrie Turner, 1972-1973.

Letter purchased, 2009.


Table of Contents

Cartoons

Correspondence


Inventory