Comic book pioneer and journalist Orrin C. Evans

Pioneering sci-fi writer Octavia Butler’s profile last week mentioned her passion for comic books and comics as a youngster, and it brought to mind the creations of Orrin Cromwell Evans. If you don’t know much about publishing black comic strips and comics in newspapers, you probably know little about Orrin.

He was born in 1902 in Steelton, Pennsylvania. Her father, George Evans Sr., was fair enough to pass as white, and her much darker-skinned mother, Maude Wilson Evans, often had to pretend to be the family maid when strangers visited. Clearly, this racial complexity left young Orrin with a difficult identity path to negotiate. Whether this had a consequence on his premature exit from the class remains to be conjectured.

There is a biographical gap between his dropout in eighth grade and his arrival at the highly regarded Black newspaper The Philadelphia Tribune like a teenager. In the early 1930s, he was the only black journalist on the team of The Philadelphia Record where he covered racial issues in the armed forces during World War II. And as such, he may have been among the first black journalists on general assignment with a white publication. Despite racial taunts and death threats, Orrin was a fearless reporter and was often caught in the throes of white backlash, including an incident in which he was denied access to a press conference on pioneer aviator Charles Lindbergh.

His reporting was also featured in other newspapers, including the Chicago Defender, The Philadelphia Independentand Crisis, the organ of the NAACP. The popularity of his stories convinced him that he could reach a wider audience with a comic. This opportunity arose when The record was closed during an extended strike in 1947. Along with his partners sportswriter Bill Driscoll and Harry T. Saylor, the former editor of The recordOrrin was co-founder of All-Black ComicsInc. and he was its president.

In 1947, the company published the only known issue of All-Negro Comics, a standard-size 48-page comic strip with a typical glossy cover and newsprint interior. As to how this issue went, no count has been published, although there were apparently other black comics at the time, according to comics historian Stanford Carpenter, who noted that “although there were some heroic images of black people created by black people, such as the Jive Gray comic strip and All-Negro Comics, their images did not circulate outside of segregated black communities before civil rights. Orrin, as described by writer Tom Christopher, “co-created the comic book features with the artists, which included his brother, George J. Evans Jr., two fellow Philadelphia cartoonists, one of whom was John Terrell, and the other named Cooper, and an artist from Baltimore who signed his work Cravat.The cartoonists probably wrote their own scripts, and there was another editorial contribution from Bill Driscoll.

One of the main characters in the 1947 edition was “Ace Harlem”, an African American police detective who, like the other “Lion Man and Bubba” characters, was primarily created to inspire African Americans and represent their cultural heritage fairly. Orrin’s attempt to publish a second issue failed when he was unable to purchase the required newsprint, which was rumored to be an obstacle engineered by the white publishers who began publishing. their own black-themed titles.

At some point he married Florence and they had one child, Hope.

From 1962 until his death in 1971 in Philadelphia, Orrin worked at Chester timetables and the Philadelphia Bulletin. He has received many accolades and awards – the Urban League of Pennsylvania, the NAACP, and a scholarship has been established in his name. In 2011, he and his brother were posthumously awarded the ECBACC Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award for creating All-Negro Comics. Three years later, Orrin was elected to the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame as President of All-Negro Comics.