comic art by Brumsic Brandon Jr.

Brumsic Brandon Jr. was an American comic artist and creator of the long-running satirical newspaper comic 'Luther' (1968-1986). Along with Morrie Turner's 'Wee Pals' (1965) this was the first American newspaper comic starring black protagonists. 'Luther' was notable for its gentle satire of race relations and politics in the United States.

Early life and career
Brumsic Brandon, Jr., was born in Washington DC in 1927. He was the son of a porter at Washington Union Station. In the early 1940s, while still at school, he started submitting comic strips to mainstream newspapers and magazines. Brandon attended the New York University where he studied art. After graduation he served in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany after World War II. He was promoted to the rank of sergeant, before being allowed to return to his civilian life. Brandon worked various jobs, among them as an animator in the studios of RCA and J.R. Bray. In 1945 he became a newspaper cartoonist and caricaturist. His early work would later be collected in 'Damned If We Do, and Damned If We Don't' (1966). In 1963 Brandon collected 22 of his most socially conscious cartoons into the book 'Some Of My Best Friends' (1963) and distributed them personally. This gained him more notability and even praise from poet Langston Hughes. Between 1963 and 1985 Brandon regularly contributed political cartoons to the magazine Freedomways, published quarterly by the Freedom Movement. From 1974 to 1999 he drew similar-themed cartoons for Black Media.

Luther, by Brumsic Brandon

The 1960s saw an intensification of African-American protests for civil rights, spearheaded by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. In 1964 black people in the United States were finally guaranteed civil rights in the U.S. constitution. This increased more multicultural diversity in U.S. comics, though mostly in the superhero genre. Morrie Turner created the first U.S. newspaper comic with an all-black cast, but this only found publication in one small newspaper. Thus he remodelled his characters and added a few white protagonists too, along with children of other ethnicities. This version, renamed 'Wee Pals' (1965) was deemed more acceptable and thus got syndicated more easily. 1968 saw the creation of two other newspaper comics with black protagonists: John Saunders and Al McWilliams' spy series 'Dateline: Danger!' (1968-1974) and afterwards Brandon Jr.'s 'Luther' (1968-1986). 'Luther' debuted in the New York newspaper Newsday, which was distributed on Long Island and syndicated through Newsday Specials. Two years later, when Times Mirror purchased Newsday, 'Luther' got a nation-wide syndication through the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

Luther, by Brumsic Brandon

'Luther' revolves around a group of small children. Luther is a bright, slightly sarcastic black boy. His best friends are Hardcore, little Pee Wee, Mary Frances and Oreo and the white girl Lily. Luther's name was a tribute to Martin Luther King who was assassinated the same year the comic made its debut. Hardcore owed his name to the term "hardcore unemployed", while Oreo was slang for people who act "black" on the outside, but "white" on the inside. They live in a typical U.S. urban working class neighbourhood. Much like 'Wee Pals' the series has a satirical undertone and features striking social commentary about racism and multiculturalism. In one episode Hardcore is late for school, but it turns out he was stopped in the street by a white cop. While critiqueing white racism, usually through the invisible character of the kids' third-grade teacher Miss Backlash, Brandon also addressed discrimination of whites by blacks and prejudice within black communities themselves. He avoided coming across as heavy-handed by using a children's point of view, much in the tradition of Charles M. Schulz' 'Peanuts'. He was determined to "tell it like it is", but by using child protagonists he could keep his messages simple and gentle. 'Luther' also dealt with more universal human drama like the struggle for survival in a tough world. In one episode Luther notices his shabby apartment has a hole in the ceiling and mutters sarcastically: "Open housing".

Social consciousness
The artist didn't keep his socially conscious messages restricted to his pencil and paper, though. He joined a protest against segregation of the Westbury School District, which eventually led to the schools becoming integrated. Brandon's daughter, Barbara Brandon, assisted her father a couple of times with 'Luther' in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Cartoon by Brumsic Brandon

Final years and death
Between 1970 and 1972 Brandon occasionally appeared on the local New York children's TV show 'Joya's Fun School' (1970-1982), which was hosted by jazz singer Joya Sherrill, who used to perform for Duke Ellington's band. He gave young viewers at home drawing lessons and provided animated sequences. He also had a puppet character, Seymour the Bookworm, which he designed and operated himself. After retiring 'Luther' in 1986 Brandon kept creating political cartoons and columns to the newspaper Florida Today. He passed away from Parkinson's disease in 2014.

An exhibition of work by Brumsic and Barbara Brandon called 'Cullud' was held at the Medialia Gallery in New York in 2016. A second exhibition followed in 2017 under the name 'Soul'.

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