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R.I.P. Morris “Morrie” Turner, 1923-2014

Morrie-drawing

Sketch by Morrie Turner for The Lovely Anna from 2003…
nobody ever sketches for me, but Anna gets them all the time.

I was sad to hear of the passing of a giant in the cartooning world this past weekend- Morris “Morrie” Turner, the creator of the syndicated comic strip “Wee Pals” and one of the real pioneers and heroes of cartooning. I got a call from mutual friend Scott Nichol out in California with the news on Sunday night.

Morrie

Morrie doing the Lovely Anna’s sketch at a picnic in Santa Rosa in 2003.

Sad to say I wasn’t very familiar with Morrie’s work until I joined the NCS. I guess “Wee Pals” was never syndicated in any of the papers we got when I was a kid growing up in Wisconsin and Minnesota. I remember seeing the “Kid Power” cartoon on Saturday Mornings, but I had never seen the strip before. At the Reubens in 2003 in San Fransisco the NCS awarded Morrie with the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award… this is a big deal and honors those who have had exemplary careers in cartooning, and had a profound impact on their field. Morrie certainly fit that bill. He was the first African-American cartoonist to be nationally syndicated. His strip was the first to prominently feature minority characters, and not just black characters. He ran the gamut with characters of many different racial and religious backgrounds, and some with physical handicaps. Other NCS members couldn’t speak highly enough of him. Intrigued, I got a chance to see some of his strips from a paperback book collection or two from the 70′s. The thing that impressed me the most was his consistent message of harmony, understanding and tolerance. He wasn’t preachy nor did he make a big deal out of all these different kids being friends and accepting each other… they just did. That was the beautiful part.

I got a chance to meet him again, this time in a more intimate setting, when a group of cartoonists and folks went out to dinner after I did a speaking event at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa. I found him to be just as genuine and warm as his cartoons were. Isn’t it great when people who do work you admire and respect end up being just as worthy of respect and admiration as people? I didn’t get to know Morrie very well, but he sure seemed like that kind of person to me.

Rest in Peace, Morrie, and thanks for spreading the message of love, tolerance and acceptance to the world for so many years. Sorry some people didn’t listen, but you made a difference to many more.

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