Thursday, August 28, 2008

QUINCY by Ted Shearer

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.


St. Paco said...

Thanks for the unexpected trip down memory lane.

Alex Holden said...

Nice post. Thanks!

Rob Stolzer said...

Mike, you have wonderful taste in cartoonists! I'm a big fan of Shearer's work myself, and have long felt that he's been vastly overlooked in the history of comic strips. You've done a wonderful job in analyzing Shearer's work. The things you point out are exactly the same things that I love about his work. I would also add his tremendous line work to the mix. Like Ketcham and Blake, Shearer's use of line was almost calligraphic. It really added to the expressive quality of his drawing.

In terms of the shading, Shearer used Zip-a-tone shading tape. I have two Quincy original dailies, and both of them use the shading tape, as opposed to the Benday shading paper. Shearer used Zip-a-tone like no one else. You made reference to his painterly use of the material, and you're spot on with the description.

Coincidentally, my next piece for Hogan's Alley is to be on Ted Shearer! Tom gave me the go ahead just a few weeks ago. I've recently made contact with Shearer's son John, and while we haven't had a chance to have a long discussion just yet, he sounded quite interested. Shearer's widow is also still with us. I really need the family's help in going forward, especially when it comes to Shearer's work from some of the old black press newspapers, and proofs (or scans shot from originals) of Quincy. I'm quite excited by the possibility of this!

Enough rambling. Thanks for the very pleasure Shearer surprise!

Rob Stolzer said...

By the way, here's a link to my two Quincy originals, with some updated text: I hope you don't mind that I linked to your blog page about Shearer.


Christina said...

I am reading a book called"Black Images In The Comics"by Fredrik Stromberg. This is a great book if you are a true comic fan, it shows images of Black in comics from the 1900's to now. And of course work from Ted Shearer with his strip "Quincy" is shown and tells of the positive impact that Shearer's work put on the whole media as far as Blacks and their place in the comics are concerned. I am also finding out that the resemblance between "Quincy" and Billy Jo Jive and Smart Susie Sunset had realizing that Shearer created ALL of them. I have very fond memories of watching Sesame Street and reading the few "Quincy" strips I could get my hands on and totally feeling good about the content and images being portraited in front of me. I feel that ALL Black/African-American newspapers should focuse on publishing Black/African-American comic strips ONLY in their newpapers and bringing back classics like "Quincy". It almost brung me to tears to see this strip and mentioning of it because of the many positive memories and thoughts that came through my head enjoying it so much as a kid. If anyone out there knows how I can get my hands on some "Quincy" gear,books,etc hit me up at I may just have to make my own. And like the other person said earlier, THANKS for the memories!!!!!!!

Bob Scott said...


This an incredible post that I just happened to have stumbled upon. I had almost completely forgotten about this strip! I used to read "Quincy" as a kid and I remember it fondly. His drawing was absolutely brilliant! I agree with some of the other posters who have said that Ted Shearer has been vastly overlooked. I'm not sure how many people even remember his work.

Thank you so much for posting this!