Cover Story: Pioneering Cartoonists of Color

The following is guest post from Tim Jackson, author of Pioneering Cartoonists of Color. While all of our authors have significant input on their book covers, Jackson, a nationally syndicated cartoonist and illustrator, actually drew the cover illustration that became his book cover.

Below, he writes about the iterations of this image as well as the meaning behind it.

Growing up as an aspiring cartoonist, I am told that I had a very active imagination. I remember discovering the world through an unveiling series of panels. Not confining boxes, but amorphous windows that bloomed with colorful images. It was the world as I saw it that went on to become the storytelling visuals in my comics and humorous illustrations. Therefore, some of the unrelated elements of what I created before went on to become key to the current version of the Pioneering Cartoonists of Color book cover.

In life, I have had many losing battles with a one fluid ounce (29.6 ml) bottle of opaque, velvety black India ink, usually upset by outside forces, permanently ruining hours of painstaking, intricate inking in an instant. This very event became the title of an early comic strip I syndicated nationally titled, Spilled Ink. Ink evolved on to become a title-less single panel editorial cartoon when it appeared in publications including the Chicago Defender, Cincinnati Herald, Michigan Chronicle and Tallahassee’s Capitol Outlook. By this time, drawing ink had stopped pouring down and ruining my art, but now somehow weightlessly swirls upward, creating a portal for images.

The earliest vision for the Pioneering Cartoonists of Color’s cover was more subdued, featuring a domestic parlor setting with a girl on the left and a boy on the right, laying prone on the floor, dressed in 1930s, 1940s styled “Sunday go to meeting” best. The smiling pair are engaged in the pages from an nonspecific newspaper’s Sunday Funnies. But this effort to give an air seriousness to the subject of comics was too subdued. However elements of this endeavor would linger into the final version.

Tim Jackson
In February of 2001 the earlier images of the ink-swirl and youngsters reading comics were at last combined for the first time. That year, I was offered the opportunity to write a feature about African-American cartoonists for the Black History issue of the Chicago indie newspaper, Streetwise (Vol. 9, No. 18) and they wanted an eye-catching image to attract readers. This time, the children in the illustration are standing. The girl is holding the bottle of ink and the boy has uncorked the ink which swirls upward above their heads with the images of a diverse variety of some of the African-American comic strip characters of the Black Press. In the boy’s pants pocket is a pencil and a quill drawing pen, representing the future African-American cartoonists.

A similar image was planned for 2016‘s Pioneering Cartoonists of Color book cover. The swirl of ink portal image and comic strip characters appearing within it was used. The two children, updated, now dressed in neutral, contemporary clothing are again on the floor in the prone position. The boy, holding the ink bottle is surrounded by newspaper comic pages. It is the girl who is pictured uncorking the ink bottle while holding the pen and pencil. She also has a drawing pad.

This choice of imagery was deliberate. I wanted to make a point of acknowledging the substantial number of African-American women who draw comics both in print, comic books and digital Webcomics. Onlythe ink swirl portal loses its impact somewhat, due to the question of copyrights prevented the portal from picturing the teeming array of the pioneering Black comics that are presented in the book.

Still, the cover illustration is apparently visually engaging enough that it gets attention. It prompts people to ask questions about the book whenever I happen to be commuting with it. I am frequently asked where I got the book. I matter-of-factly tell them, “Oh— I wrote it.”