Monday, February 28, 2011

Bertram A. Fitzgerald

Let's close out Black History Month with a look at Bertram A. Fitzgerald.

In 1966, at the age of 34, Fitzgerald jumped in to the comic book publishing business, despite having no background in writing or publishing. He had been disillusioned with biographies of writers like Dumas and Pushkin, whose African heritage had been almost completed and deliberately eschewed. So he got an old army acquaintance, Leo Carty, to draw up a comic book biography of Toussaint L'Ouverture, leader of the Haitian Revolution of the late 1700s. Though he had difficulty finding a printer and distributors for the book, he went ahead with a second issue of Golden Legacy focusing on Harriet Tubman.

Frustrated with the distribution problems, he spoke with the folks at Coca-Cola and persuaded them to help. For the price of running ads on the back cover, Coke had the subsequent volumes printed and shipped to schools and libraries free of charge. The first eleven issues were published in this manner. Fitzgerald managed to strike similar deals with the likes of Avon Cosmetics, AT&T, Woolworths, Exxon, Columbia Pictures and McDonalds for another five issues.

In 1976, Fitzgerald tried another comic that was a little more mainstream. Fast Willie Jackson was similar in style and tone to Archie but featured a predominantly African-American cast. Though it did garner standard newsstand distribution, it was discontinued after seven issues. He also produced a drug awareness comic during this time as a public service publication.

Fitzgerald ran into some legal issues in 1983 when a con artist managed to (temporarily) convince people he had acquired the rights to Golden Legacy. Fitzgerald spent several years in court to secure his books back and try to receive some monetary award. Coupled with some significant incidents of racism he experienced, he got out of publishing to work for he New York City Mayor's Office.

The Golden Legacy books are still being published to this day, although I can't say how much direct involvement Fitzgerald still has with them. I know they made an impact on me as a teen (which I talked a bit about way back in 2006) and I'm sure quite a few other folks as well. It's probably high time I pulled those books out again for another reading.

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