|Born||Morris Nolton Turner|
December 11, 1923
|Died||January 25, 2014 (aged 90)|
Morris Nolton Turner (December 11, 1923 – January 25, 2014) was an American cartoonist, creator of the strip Wee Pals, the first American syndicated strip with an integrated cast of characters.
Turner was raised in Oakland, California, the youngest child of a Pullman porter father and a homemaker and nurse mother. He attended Cole Elementary School and McClymonds High School in Oakland and Berkeley High School.
Turner got his first training in cartooning via a 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, Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, 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, it was picked-up by more than 100 after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968.
In 1970, Turner became a co-chairman of the White House Conference on Children and Youth.
Turner appeared twice as a guest on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, on May 7, 1971 and May 14, 1973. In his 1971 visit, Turner discussed his comic strip and how each of his characters were named, as he drew examples of his characters. On his return 1973 visit, he showed Fred Rogers pictures he had drawn of several of the neighbors in Fred's television neighborhood. Turner also presented a clip from his Kid Power animated series, which aired Saturday mornings on ABC at the time. As well, during the 1972–73 television 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 venues, activities and objects such as a candy factory and a train locomotive.
As the comic strip continued, Turner added characters of more ethnicities, as well as a child with a physical disability.
During the Vietnam War, Turner and five other members of the National Cartoonist Society traveled to South Vietnam, where they spent a month drawing more than 3,000 caricatures of service personnel.
For concerts by the Bay Area Little Symphony of Oakland, California, Turner drew pictures to the music and of children in the audience.
Turner launched the first in a series of Summer Art exhibitions at the East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC) on June 10, 1995.
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. Turner died on January 25, 2014, at age 90.
In 1967, cartoonist Bil Keane created the Family Circus character Morrie, a playmate of Billy and the only recurring black character in the strip, based on Turner.
In 2003, the National Cartoonists Society recognized Turner for his work on Wee Pals and others with the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award.
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.
In 2000, the Cartoon Art Museum presented Turner with the Sparky Award, named in honor of Charles Schulz.
Turner was honored a number of times at the San Diego Comic-Con: in 1981, he was given an Inkpot Award; and in 2012 he was given the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award.