Morris “Morrie” Turner dreamed of seeing his drawings in books and magazines as a child. He aspired to be a cartoonist above all else. Turner, on the other hand, was well aware that the odds were stacked against him.
He grew up in an era when white men dominated the cartoonist profession. Turner, however, did not give up on his dreams. He was eventually known as the creator of the first syndicated strip with an ethnically diverse cast of characters, as well as the first Black comic artist whose work was syndicated in major news publications.
Morris Turner was the youngest of four children raised in Oakland, California. As the youngest of the “Fighting Turner Brothers,” he started school at a significant disadvantage. Fortunately, not everyone was against Turner and his ambitions for a better life. One teacher and principal recognized Turner’s talent in his drawings and encouraged him to pursue it further.
Turner was drafted into the army after graduating from high school and faced racial discrimination. He trained as a mechanic in the military with the 477th Bomber Squad, which worked with the Tuskegee Airmen.
Turner drew in the evenings and began submitting cartoons to the military newspaper “Stars and Stripes.” Because of his work, he became well-liked by the staff. Turner created a comic strip called “Rail Head,” which nearly all of the soldiers enjoyed because they could relate to the guy who always got everything wrong but always found a way to fix it.
Turner married and worked as a clerk for the Berkeley police department after leaving the military. He continued to draw and sold his first comic book to a publication called Baker’s Help. He started out with $5 and worked his way up to $75 when he got a big break from Better Homes & Gardens. He turned to professional cartoonists, including Peanuts creator Charles Schultz, because he had no formal art training.
In response to Turner’s inquiry about the lack of an ethnically and racially diverse comic strip, Schultz advised him to create his own, and thus Dinky Fellas, which evolved into Wee Pals, was born. The series was the first to be syndicated in the United States as an ethnically diverse cartoon.
Turner has also authored several children’s books, including The Illustrated Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Turner received the Sparky Award from the Cartoonist Society in 2000. Children’s Fairyland in Oakland honored him, and he was inducted into the California Public Education Hall of Fame.