News for Nov. 18, 2005

Cartoonist Honors King Kong's Oakland Animator

11/18/05, 4:13 pm EST - Xoanon

Morrie Turner Honors Willis O'Brien

John Michlig writes: Oaklander Willis O'Brien will be honored by cartoonist Morrie Turner with a biographical story to appear in 'Wee Pals', Turner's nationally syndicated daily newspaper strip. Both artists are native Oaklanders who fought the odds, and many human opponents, to become successful artists and inspirations.

Once a failed fighter, O'Brien went from glass jaw obscurity to become the unrecognized famous monsters of filmland heavyweight boxing champion.

Mr. Turner, recalling his early years, wrote: 'Too bad he's colored.' He remembers an Oakland grammar school teacher telling another. 'That kid has talent, but he'll never make it in the art world.' In retrospect, Mr. Turner regards that remark as one of those hurts you suffer in life that inspire you to go try harder.
(From: Morrie Turner, A Salute to Pioneering Cartoonists of Color Web address at bottom.)

Willis O'Brien, born March 2, 1886, tried his hand unsuccessfully as a newspaper cartoonist, some time after his utter failure in the ring. His arts and failures contributed to the international success of King Kong. O'Brien's cartooning skills clearly communicated the actions and movements of his imaginary characters. His successful images of King Kong atop the Empire State Building decisively convinced the RKO Board of Directors to fund the movie, the most expensive RKO film to that date.

The film's highlight is a savage battle between Kong and the Allosaurus that tries to eat Fay Wray. Kong is an 18 inch puppet built around an articulated ball and socket metal skeleton. Willis O'Brien, the fighter and cartoonist, animated Kong's movements and acting. When Kong is boxing his dinosaur opponent it is O'Brien channeling his experience into his beloved puppets that we are watching. O'Brien's beloved stop-motion animation moves the heart and mind to believing in the unbelievable.

Battling O'Brien never won in the boxing ring. But every night, somewhere, a child is watching film's most fantastic fight. A death duel won by an uncredited Oakland animator. During each generation, a child watching King Kong says, 'That's what I want to do when I grow up!' Ray Bradbury, Ray Harryhausen, and Peter Jackson, chose a career in film because of seeing King Kong as a child.

Morrie Turner, born in 1923, is a multiple award winning author and cartoonist. Turner was a sword of justice during the second world war, serving with the 477 Bomber Group, the famous Tuskegee Airmen.

The Nazis are not the only monsters Mr. Turner has battled. 'Wee Pals,' is the first clearly integrated cartoon strip in America. Begun in February 1965 it now appears in over 100 newspapers nationwide. Its child characters fight prejudice and intolerance with humor and sensitivity. The 'Soul Circle' portion of Turner's strip is dedicated to offering brief biographies of the contributions of all peoples.

Mr. Turner's cartoon strips and books are used to promote literacy, reading and staying in school. His pen is a mighty sword for tolerance and education.

'My many appearances at schools of all levels gives me great personal pleasure.' He wrote.

Among his many accomplishments, Mr. Turner is a founder of the Northern California African - American Museum and Library, Oakland, California.

Mr. Turner's O'Brien strip came about from the enthusiastic request of an Oakland artist and O'Brien chronicler, Miron Murcury, who supplied the photo reference and biographical information. The two met earlier this year at Dr. Comics and Mr. Games, during Mr. Turner's book signing.

'Thank you, Morrie Turner, for shining a soulful spotlight on someone whose Art is among the most famous in the world, but whose name is unknown.' Said a delighted Murcury.

Morrie Turner's Wee Pals can be found at here.
Mr. Turner's cartoon autobiography can be found here.
A web page about Morrie Turner and other pioneering cartoonists of color is here.