First Black Woman to Have Nationally Syndicated Cartoon Shares What She Wants Her Legacy to be in the Cartooning Industry

by Xara Aziz
Credit: Drawn & Quarterly

Barbara Brandon-Croft is a name you should know if you don’t already. The groundbreaking author and illustrator made history in 1991 when she was the first Black woman to have a nationally syndicated cartoon.

“I kinda put them on blast,” Brandon-Croft says. “‘You haven’t done this, why not? Here is one.’”

Her comic strip, Where I’m Coming From, explores the voices of Black women across America who discuss wide-ranging topics from love to racism. Her cartoon became so popular that it would go on to be picked up by over 60 newspapers nationwide.

“It wasn’t until somebody said to me, ‘Hey, you’re kind of funny. And you draw. You think you can come up with a comic strip?’ And I was like, ‘I think I can.’”

In an interview with WBUR, Brandon-Croft explained how little exposure Black people were receiving in the media, specifically newspapers, which were popular at the time.

“There were very few Black comic strips in the papers I was reading at all. But my dad was a pioneering Black cartoonist, one of the few who made it into the mainstream press in the late 1960s,” she said. “And he had a comic strip called ‘Luther.’ And so I was well aware of the industry. I actually worked on his comic strip at some point when I was a little bit older. So I knew what was happening; I could see it in front of me. And I also knew that if you had one Black comic, you’re not going to have another. So often my dad would be (told), ‘We already have Quincy or we already have Wee Pals. We don’t need Luther.’ I was well aware of how few Black faces were on the comic pages.”

She further revealed that her inspiration to begin cartooning stemmed from her father, who played a major influence in her life.

“My dad’s studio was our dining room table. So he would set up his situation, you know, pens, papers, pads, light box, the whole thing, do his work and then take it all down so we could have dinner on the table, she said. “I was watching a cartoonist, a real-life role model, one that I could touch, in my home.

She added: “It’s kind of interesting because when you’re younger and you’re in a small house and you’re running in and out of the house, we had to actually be quiet during the time when he was working on ‘Luther.’ So he did a daily. So for every other week, he had to do two weeks of ‘Luther.’ And so for that week that he was working on the two weeks, we had to be quiet. And it was just kind of wild to me as a young person, like, ‘This guy is supposed to be a cartoonist. He’s supposed to be fun. And we have to tiptoe around him and he’s mean. He’s actually stern.’ That was just the reality. But I saw the ethic, the work ethic that it took to do a comic strip.”

On her creative process, Brandon-Croft says that capturing the attention of her audience is most important – especially considering people typically lose interest in something not appealing to them within the first 10-15 seconds. “So you have to do something, whatever you’re going to say — and hopefully you’re saying something that is going to resonate with someone — you have to do it succinctly. You have to find the least amount of words to make this happen. So for me, I write down ideas of what I want to do or what I want to say. And then I try to figure out how I can get to that punchline. What’s the dialog that gets me there? Is it going to be two characters? Is it going to be one? Which ones are they going to be?”

She concluded that she hopes her legacy will be that she set the standard for other Black women to follow in her footsteps and she hopes other women cartoonists are proud of the impact she has made thus far.

“I was feeling very good and proud because I knew I had broken down the door, but I also felt like I was standing in the door because nobody else could get in. You know, it’s like, ‘We have Barbara. We don’t need anybody else.’ And that was kind of a weird feeling, too. I’m glad that since I’ve moved on, that there are other cartoonists out there, women cartoonists, that are making things happen. And Black women cartoonists syndicated, two of them, at least, now. There’s another woman in The New Yorker regularly, there’s Jennifer Crute. There are a lot of Black cartoonists that are out there that are women, and they’re doing it. And I hope that after I unclogged the door that I offered some path for them.”

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