Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Jerry Stewart (1923-1995)

Gerald W. "Jerry" Stewart was born on May 18, 1923, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, onetime home of Henry Jackson Lewis, who is considered the first black political cartoonist in American history. As a high school student, Stewart attended Fort Wayne Art Institute. During World War II he was staff artist on the Dalhart Bomber, camp newspaper of Dalhart Army Air Field in Dalhart, Texas. On March 25, 1946, Stewart started work as a copyboy for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. He was the newspaper's first black employee. Three months later he was promoted to staff artist. Stewart spent the next forty years with the News-Sentinel working alongside editorial cartoonists Eugene Craig and William Sandeson.

Jerry Stewart was the author of a number of syndicated comic strips and cartoons, most of which ran in black newspapers. Chickie and L'il Brother, both from 1947, were his first. Those features ran in the Washington Afro-American and possibly other papers. Scoopie, syndicated by the Pittsburgh Courier, was in syndication from June 19, 1949, to August 12, 1950. The title character, as his nickname suggests, is a newspaper reporter. Stewart's longest-running feature was Little Moments, also called Life's Little Moments. A single-panel cartoon, it ran from 1963 to 1972. Beginning in 1977, Stewart also wrote and illustrated a weekly column called "Cooking with Jerry" for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.

Stewart retired from the News-Sentinel on May 30, 1986. That same year he won the Indiana Journalism Award from Ball State University, calling it "a nice way to cap off my career." Since 1977, Stewart had been teaching art at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Fort Wayne. He continued that work after retirement. On October 29, 1995, Jerry Stewart died in Fort Wayne. He was buried in the Catholic Cemetery of Fort Wayne.

Jerry Stewart illustrated Lines and Angles, a collection of newspaper columns by Cliff Milnor published in 1980. That's the artist in the upper right looking upon the world from his own little corner as artists often do.
And here is a larger self-portrait from the same book. Jerry Stewart made a place for himself in the history of comics by having his work syndicated in the nation's black newspapers. Unfortunately, that's a chapter missing from the story of American journalism, and especially American newspaper cartooning. We very desperately need a history of black comics. If one is to be written, we must begin by gathering sources. Does anyone have information about the newspapers, the publishers and editors, the syndicates, the comics, and the cartoonists?

Text and captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

No comments:

Post a Comment