Thursday, August 28, 2008
Ted Shearer's comic strip QUINCY ran from 1970 until he retired the strip, 16 years later. Ted was a cartoonist with a wonderfully grounded knowledge of illustration. QUINCY deserves more than a quick look, it deserves to be remembered.
The cartoons reproduced here are from the softcover collection QUINCY, copyright 1970, 1971 and 1972 by King Features.
Quincy was, in the tradition of the 1930s strip SKIPPY, a scrappin' philosopher. It was kid-friendly, and a beautiful thing to look at.
Jamaican-bone Ted Shearer (1921-1996) grew up in Harlem. He sold his first cartoon at the age of 16 to the New York Amsterdam News. He studied at Pratt, in Brooklyn, NY. He served in the army in WWII, in the 92nd Division, achieving the rank of Sergeant. He was a regular Stars & Stripes contributor.
Since 1937, Ted had been drawing features for the Black newspaper press. Some samples here, from Ted Jackson's great Pioneering Cartoonists of Color site. After the war, you could see Mr. Shearer's cartoons in leading magazines. He began working full-time for the the prestigious BBD&O advertising firm in the 1950s, becoming an art director there.
But he left his career for QUINCY. One of a group of new, post-war kid strips (along with WEE PALS, TIGER and MISS PEACH, to name a few), but the difference here was the look and the tone of the feature.
One source says that he achieved those painterly swooshes of dots by using some kind of Benday (or "Ben Day") paper; a specially treated art paper, popular among editorial cartoonists, that you could brush a clear fluid onto it and then dots or lines (depending on the kind of paper & the kind of fluid) would appear. It's still available, but I have been told that it's (a) expensive and (b) all those chemicals are not good for you.
Above: this is what I like about the strip. Here's a conversation that has nothing to do with running down a Harlem street and shooting some hoops; but it does no harm to show that. It's also just like kids: they talk and talk, throughout the day, no matter what they're doing. I like the kids' point of view; a low angle -- in the first panel. That bit of fence on the right, in the second panel, is just enough to let us know that they're on a playground in the city. The swooping grey Benday clouds give us the sense that this is a gloomy and/or dirty place.
The reason I wanted to show these strips is because of Ted Shearer's mastery of place and composition. By looking at the above 4 panels, we can see 4 different views that show us who these characters are and where they live. The third panel, with the city angling over Quincy and his friend Sneeze, is gorgeous.
The juxtaposition of light and dark, and the different shapes -- the jagged lines of the grass, the rectangles of the strips, the jagged stones of the fence -- all combine to give a personal, even a painterly, depiction of the park.
Mr. Shearer enjoyed painting and was in many gallery shows. He also created the BILLY JO JIVE series of books with his son.
The drawing of Quincy, Viola and Sneeze, walking away in the final panel, is an example of good cartooning. Here we are, looking at the backs of 3 cartoon characters, and we can see they are alive; each walking in a different angle, their bodies at slight pitches. And that lone hydrant next to them -- it's Ted Shearer reminding us these are city kids.