Friday, April 18, 2014

On Strips: Brumsic Brandon Jr.

Astute and regular readers might be wondering why I'm not running my usual Friday "On Fandom" piece today. Since I've started up a column about fans and fandom over at FreakSugar this week (the first column is here), I'd save my fan content for that and switch my Fridays here to the topic of comic strips, which is frequently glossed over in broader discussions about comics in general.

So who is Brumsic Brandon, Jr.? I don't recall hearing the name until yesterday. It was in a collection of essays by Oliver Harrington, and he spoke a bit about Brandon's then-new book, Luther's Got Class from 1976. Here's an excerpt...
Today's comic strip artists dump more chauvinism, vicious racism, kinky sex, torture and horror into the inner recesses of American brain tissue—young and old—than any other known carrier of disease. Fortunately there are exceptions. One very great exception is Brusmic Brandon, Jr.

...Naturally, the artists are exceptionally talented and the financial rewards are exceptional—which of course makes Brandon even more exceptional because he's not only a brilliant cartoonist but also a Black one! Until his arrival, syndicate doors were firmly barred against Black cartoonists...

...The cartoonist is actually violating what has always been an American taboo, and that is to create non-white characters or even poor white characters who are human, sympathetic and even loveable. Brandon employs his irresistible humor to level the walls of racism. And what better stage setting could he devise than the schools and the kids they're trying to educate
I read that and thought, "Wow. How come I've never heard of this guy before?"

Well, that's partly because Harrington's assessment, strictly speaking, is a bit inaccurate. All the originality and barrier-breaking that he attributes to Brandon should in fact go to Morrie Turner and his Wee Pals, which debuted a few years before Luther. That's not to say Brandon's work is derivative or lacking in any way; it's just that no one remembers the second man who walked on the moon. (And to be fair to Harrington, he had been living in Germany for about 15 years when he wrote that summary; it's no surprise he hadn't heard of Turner.)

It appears that none of the Luther collections are in print, and in fact most of the used copies available through Amazon don't even have a generic cover image to look at. Neither Luther nor Brandon have entries in Wikipedia, not even stubs. A Google search on "Brumsic Brandon" turns up more info on his daughter Barbara than on him. The most I can find on him (at least online) is his entry on Lambiek:
Brumsic Brandon Jr. was born in Washington DC in 1927. He started his career in comics at an early age, submitting strips for mainstream publication since the early 1940s. He also made caricatures and cartoons, some of which were collected in 'Damned If We Do, and Damned If We Don't' in 1966. It wasn't until 1968 that he came up with 'Luther', a strip deliberately set in the working-class black ghetto and dealing less with race relations than with the universal human aspects of a child's struggle for survival.

With Luther, Brumsic Brandon was determined to "tell it like it is." The strip ran until June 1986, and his daughter Barbara Brandon, who would go on to create her own strip 'Where I'm Coming From', assisted him for a while. Brumsic Brandon is still an active cartoonist, columnist and avid traveler, always searching for new ideas.
Aside from the Luther collections, the only print work I can see on him is a reference in Black Images in the Comics: A Visual History, but the index says he's only mentioned on page 7, so I wouldn't expect anything expansive there. Seems to me that this is a big hole in comics research that needs to be plugged. Anyone want to try contacting this guy while he's still around?

2 comments:

BARBARA BRANDON-CROFT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BARBARA BRANDON-CROFT said...

Anytime you want more information on my dad, look me up. I'm happy to oblige.
When Morrie Turner passed in January of this year, the NYTimes saw fit to give my dad a nod:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/arts/morrie-turner-dies-at-90-broke-barriers-in-comics.html?hpw&rref=obituaries&_r=1
As a matter of fact, my dad's work (as well as mine...and many others) will be a part of a Morrie Turner homage exhibit scheduled to run in November at the San Francisco Public Library.
And just so you know, unfortunately, my dad is no longer actively cartooning. Parkinson's disease has greatly limited his dexterity. (Plus he's 87)
I appreciate you acknowledging us.
Best,
Barbara