Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Orrin C. Evans (1902 - 1971) and All-Negro Comics (June 1947)

The story behind the creation of Milestone Media has been told and retold for over 20 years, but the story behind the first comic book written and drawn by Black talent is one worth sharing.

The origins feel just like a typical superhero origin story. Orrin C. Evans was a reporter for many Black-owned newspapers throughout the north, starting with the Philadelphia Tribune  and Philadelphia Independent. In the mid-1930s, Mr. Evans was hired by the Philadelphia Record and became one of the first Black journalists at a mainstream widely-circulated newspaper in the country. While there, he wrote several general assignment pieces and caught the eye of the United States Congress with his series about segregation in the military. Written in 1944, Mr. Evans exposed how moronic and hypocritical segregation was in a military that is overseas fighting in a war where they want to restore democracy and make all men equal and free. The article was read in the halls of Congress, and Mr. Evans got many accolades from his peers for his work. 

By the end of the war, the Record was faltering and eventually ceased publication. Mr. Evans worked at various Black newspapers and outlets, including the Philadelphia Independent, the Chicago Defender, and The Crisis (the NAACP’s magazine founded by W.E.B. Du Bois) writing about issues that affect the Black community. He wanted to bring some of those positive attitudes and values he wrote about, not to mention a sense of pride to younger readers. Seeing a lack of positive, non-stereotypical Black superheroes in the still-new comic book industry, Mr. Evans felt the need to give the Black community their own champions and heroes they could look up to and be proud of.

That’s when Orrin C. Evans became a comic publisher.

Along with writers Bill Driscoll and Harry T. Saylor, Mr. Evans created a publishing team for this endeavor to create an all-Black comic book featuring Black creators and Black characters. His brother George Evans Jr., John Terrill, and a pair of one-named artists (Cooper and Cravat) were the artists and plotters of the stories in their initial book, All-Negro Comics.

Among the characters introduced in the first issue were the hard-boiled detective Ace Harlem, a hero named Lion Man who was an American-born scientist who protects and guards a mystical mountain which is a source of  an element that many kingdoms want their hands on,  a cutesy tale entitled Dew Dillies about a pair of wide-eyed childlike pixies. and a pair of humor strips, Sugarfoot and Lil’ Eggie. All of these made their way into the very first issue of All-Negro Comics in June 1947.

Sadly, this was the only issue ever published. The creative teams had strips ready for the next couple of issues, but newsprint distributors (likely pressured by bigger publishers) wouldn’t sell Mr. Evans any more paper to print his books, and he had no other choice but to shutter operations on All-Negro Comics.

Not much is known about the creators of the titles, but Orrin C. Evans returned to newspapers shortly after the end of All-Negro Comics serving as editor of the Chester Times and the Philadelphia Bulletin, director of the Philadelphia Press Association, and an officer of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, and got many more accolades from his peers up to his death in 1971 at the age of 68. The New York Times, in their eulogy, called Mr. Evans “the dean of Black reporters,” but truth be told, he was perhaps the “father of Black comic books.” 


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