Funny Business on the Funny Page

Why some black cartoonists aren't laughing.

Courtesy of Tim Jackson

Comic strips inked by black cartoonists are about more than just being black. They muse about the angst of college kids, "bromance," even a rapping pitbull that's fallen on hard times. Yet their reach is limited. National syndicates, comics page and newspaper editors rarely allow more than two "black" strips on a funny page at a time.

The situation is so maddening to black cartoonists that ten of them have banded together to stage a "draw-in" of sorts on Feb. 10. Each cartoonist will draw their individual strips with an identical plot.

So, "Candorville"—a strip about culture clashes in the inner city and "Watch Your Head"—a strip about college students—will have different characters, but the same exact storyline.

But will anyone notice? Will anyone care?

"It's probably going to fly over a lot of heads," said "Watch Your Head" creator Cory Thomas, who organized the draw-in. Stephen Bentley, creator of "Herb and Jamaal," said, "Frankly I don't think very much is going to happen the next day, but what I envision is at least the conversation will be there."

In the late 80s familiar strips like "Curtis," created by Ray Billingsely, "Jump Start," by Robb Armstrong and Bentley's "Herb and Jamaal" successfully broke into national syndication. Although they faced the unspoken two-strip maxim then too, there were only a handful of black cartoonists competing on the national stage, so the situation was less obvious.

Then came the boon of "Boondocks," Aaron McGruder's wildy popular strip about two inner-city kids relocated to the suburbs, and with it a new wave of young artists looking to be the next McGruder. The problem now, according to many black cartoonists, is that industry hasn't caught up.

"There's still the same limited number of spots," said Bentley.

Thomas and Bentley will be been joined by Darrin Bell of "Candorville," Jerry Craft of "Mama's Boyz," Charlos Gary of "Café Con Leche," Keith Knight of "The K Chronicles," Stephen Watkins of "Housebroken," and Tim Jackson, an editorial cartoonist with The Chicago Defender and Bill Murray, creator of "Those Browns."

The cartoonists describe Sunday's action as a "reminder" (not a protest or a rebellion or a mutiny) that the race of their characters is not their primary theme. And they are hoping that their laughing public will support them.