A new book details the work of Black cartoonists in Chicago between 1940-1980
Published in conjunction with an exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Black Cartoonists in Chicago, 1940-1980 features work from nine prominent Black cartoonists, plus a painted cover by Kerry James Marshall.
- Ayla Angelos
- 1 June 2021
Launching today in conjunction with Chicago Comics: 1960 to Now – an exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago – is a book titled It’s Life As I See It: Black Cartoonists in Chicago, 1940-1980. Edited by Dan Nadel and featuring essays by Charles Johnson and Ronald Wimberly, the publication dives into the artworks of Chicago’s Black cartoonists, all of which was created between 1940-1980.
Chicago is the home of many major artists spanning music, literature and performance. Cartooning was also one of those disciplines, but it remained dominated by the work of white artists. Only now is this work being celebrated in the form of a new book and accompanying exhibition, diving into notable illustrators such as Tom Floyd, who was known for his 116-page book Integration Is a Bitch! which published his record of entering and exiting the white-collar workforce. Other illustrators include Richard “Grass” Green, a cartoonist, performer and entrepreneur who contributed to Xal-Kor the Human Cat, The Adventures of Wildman and Rubbery; Seitu Hayden, who had work published in comic books like Yellow Dog and Slow Death; Jay Jackson who illustrated an anti-racist adventure Bungleton Green; Yaoundé Old and Turtel Onli who are know for their Afrofuturist comics; plus illustrators Jackie Ormes, Morrie Turner and Charles Johnson. The book cover is also designed by by acclaimed painter Kerry James Marshall, creator of the Rythm Mastr comic strip series.
“The work in It’s Life as I See It expands our understanding of science fiction, fashion, autobiography, and identity in comics,” explains Dan, a guest curator for the MCA exhibit, in the press release. “It is another example of the richness of twentieth-century Black Chicago culture, and perhaps most importantly a signpost pointing to the need for a larger recovery of the Black contribution to comics history in the Windy City and in America at large.”
Dan has contributed with an introduction to the book, which begins with a reference to Jay Jackson’s Bungleton Green and the Mystic Commandos – published in the 1940’s pages of the Black newspaper The Chicago Defender. In this story, it’s 2024 America, and “taxis won't stop for a white man. White people wear pointy caps labelled ‘WHITE’ and are second-class citizens. People of colour, especially those of the green race rule North America. ‘On a continent of prejudiced green people… the green folks have ideas much the same as present-day Americans but they vent their hatred against whites!’”
“Chicago, like few other cities in the world, has a rich and diverse history of cartooning,” Dan continues to write in the book's intro, taking the reader on a tour of the city’s most prominent contributions. It’s a landmark book and one that details the untold stories of the Black illustrators who shaped the world of cartooning. He adds: “Chicago had a vibrant yet utterly separate Black publishing industry that encompassed multiple comic strip genres in the Chicago Defender newspaper and a raft of panel cartoons about Black life in the locally published magazines including Jet and Negro Digest.” Dan also stumbled across Jay’s Bungleton Green and the Mystic Commandos and thought his work to be "the most politically radical of the first half of the twentieth century, and yet it's unaccounted for in all but a single survey of the medium – Tim Jackson’s landmark 2016 book Pioneering Cartoonists of Color.
There's much to learn about in the pages of It’s Life As I See It. Head here for more more information about the book, and here for the exhibition, which will be on view from June 19 to October 3 2021.
An extract from It's Life as I See It: Black Cartoonists in Chicago, 1940-1980, edited by Dan Nadel, published by New York Review Comics at £19.99.
It's Life As I See It: Home Folks, Jay Jackson, 1954 (Copyright © Jay Jackson, 1954)
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.