Withdrawing the Color Line

E. Simms Campbell, the First Famous Black Cartoonist


All around the tiny room in the rear flat on Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem were stacks and stacks of drawing paper with pictures on them, tottering stalagmites of wispy pencil sketches, muscular charcoal renderings, stark black-and-white woodcut-style renderings, and delicately hued watercolors. The linear quality in the drawings had a nervous, searching aspect: outlines were made with several strokes of the pencil as the artist sought exactly the right placement, then the final delineation was made with single firm, dark stroke. Texture and modeling were added with grease crayon or charcoal or simply repeated strokes of a snub-nosed pencil, dashing diagonal lines back and forth across the surface of the picture to produce gray tones from dark to light. In the watercolor pictures, the lines were simpler, single strokes outlining figures and features—with color added in broad daubs and easy splashes. And sometimes, with no lines at all, modeling done with swatches of color alone.

            In the midst of the room's litter, a twenty-five-year-old man of an even, dark cinnamon complexion sat at a drawingboard propped against the edge of a dresser. His visitor, a white man perhaps only four or five years older than the artist, stared at the stacks of drawings, his eyes bulging slightly as disbelief surrendered to comprehension. He saw gag lines written below many of the pictures, and he knew, then—beyond any hesitancy or doubt—that he had discovered a treasure trove of cartoons, a bonanza of bonhomie as yet mostly untapped by the publishing world at large.

            "I wanted to yell Eureka," the man said later when writing his autobiographical Nothing But People about the early days at Esquire magazine, "—because I saw at a glance that my troubles were over" (95).

            What Arnold Gingrich called his "troubles" early that fall of 1933 any other magazine editor would have dubbed a blessing: his publisher in Chicago had just phoned him in New York to tell him that the number of color pages in the maiden issue of their new magazine had been increased from twenty-four to thirty-six. This unanticipated bonus was troublesome only because Gingrich had been hustling to fill twenty-four pages with color illustrations; with the allotment suddenly increased by a third, his quest had turned into a desperate scramble.

            They had always planned on devoting plenty of pages in the magazine to full-page cartoons, and now, with the windfall color pages, cartoons in color seemed the easiest solution to Gingrich's problem. All he needed was twelve good cartoons in color. He had journeyed to New York to secure for the magazine the work of the cartoonist whose renditions of the rounded gender would be perfect, he knew, for a men's magazine such as Esquire planned to be.

            Russell Patterson was, Gingrich said, his "beau ideal of the kind of cartoonist" they wanted: the "Patterson Girl," a regular fixture on the covers of Sunday supplements and humor magazines, was as well known as the Ziegfeld Girl. But Gingrich was on a budget, and when he met Patterson in his studio and offered him a hundred dollars each for Patterson Girl cartoons, Patterson had laughed. Just laughed.

            "I don't think any well-known illustrator would be interested in doing work for your magazine at that rate," Patterson said. "But I know a young fellow who might serve your purpose—if you don't draw the color line."

            Gingrich said he had no use for the color line—certainly not at present, desperate as he was. "Besides," he added, "—what the hell, magazines weren't wired for sound, so drawings would not carry any trace of any kind of accent" (95).

            So Patterson told him about "a fantastically talented colored kid," a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, who produced reams of wonderful drawings that he was unable to sell because, Patterson averred, as a black man, he couldn't get past the receptionist to show his wares to any editor in New York.

            He gave Gingrich an address where the artist was living with his maiden aunt, and Gingrich went to Harlem. "I had to step over squads of kids on the outside stairway to get to the room where he worked," Gingrich said. And that's how he met Elmer Campbell, who would become rich and famous as "E. Simms Campbell," Esquire cartoonist par excellence.

            Gingrich, his ears ringing and his breathing more and more constricted, pawed excitedly through Campbell's stacks of cartoons. "I saw that they were all beautifully executed," he said, "whether as roughs or as finishes. My impulse was simply to poke a finger in toward the point midway down of each pile and say, 'How much down to here?'" (95).

            He took armloads of the cartoons away with him, leaving his check for a hundred dollars as a "down payment" against future publication, which, Gingrich assured the young cartoonist, would be extensive. For the next 38 years, beginning with three cartoons in the very first issue dated Autumn 1933, Campbell's cartoons and illustrations appeared in Esquire with such regularity that Gingrich believed the cartoonist was in every issue until he died.  Gingrich had discovered this phenomenon when assembling a collection of cartoons for Esquire's 25th anniversary. click to enlarge

            For the entire quarter century, Gingrich wrote, "the common denominator was that not one issue had ever gone to press without a cartoon by Campbell." Thereafter, "it became a point of pride with the editors and the makeup people to see to it that nothing should be allowed to let him spoil that perfect record; and although there were times when it was necessary to dig up a rough sketch out of the files and run it in its really unfinished state, for failure to receive a fully rendered drawing on time to make a given issue's press date, none had, until some months after his death, ever actually gone to press without a Campbell cartoon" (97).

            However fondly and passionately Gingrich believed this, I, alas, have three issues of Esquire (January and September 1946, January 1947) without Campbell cartoons. There may be more. But the myth is, notwithstanding, a measure of the esteem in which Campbell was held.

            In addition to cartoons, Campbell collected pay for supplying gags that other cartoonists illustrated—forty or fifty ideas a month, he claimed.

            Said Gingrich: "It was Campbell's roughs and our using them to inspire other cartoonists that had the most immediate bearing on the magazine's success. Without a doubt, it was the full-page cartoons in color, an ingredient that we hadn't even thought of in the first place, that catapulted the magazine's circulation from the start" (97).

            Campbell's impact did not end with cartoons. He also contributed the image of the magazine's familiar mascot, the pop-eyed moustachio'd old rake called Esky. For weeks, Arnold had been trying in vain to come up with a satisfactory image for the purpose. He noticed several sketches of an impish little man among the drawings stacked in Campbell's room and, with the artist's permission, added the pictures to the stack of cartoons he carted off. A short time later, sculptor Sam Berman in New York transformed the Campbell character into a three-dimensional ceramic figurine, which was henceforth photographed for cover appearances with every issue of the magazine.



BORN JANUARY 2, 1906 in St. Louis, Campbell had displayed artistic talent at an early age and resolved on a career in commercial art despite occasional admonitions from his elders that any "Negro" with such ambitions would be wasting his time pursuing them. He learned the fundamentals of art from his mother, an amateur painter; his father, a high school principal, died when his son was only four, and young Campbell went with his mother to live with an aunt in Chicago, where, attending Englewood High School in 1923, the youth won a national contest with an Armistice Day commemoration cartoon. The drawing depicted a soldier kneeling at the grave of a comrade, saying: “We’ve won, buddy.”

            Campbell went to the Lewis Institute briefly and then attended the University of Chicago for a year before shifting to the Art Institute. While in Chicago, as reported online at Answers.com, Campbell was one of the creators of College Comics, “a magazine in which he did many drawings under various pseudonyms.” The magazine, however, failed.

            When he finished at the Art Institute, Campbell was unable to find satisfying work in Chicago and so returned to St. Louis and did some freelancing, but his most gainful employment was as a waiter in a dining-car on the New York Central Railroad. “It was a let-down,” Campbell said, “but it was the making of me in this field.”

            Campbell explained during an interview by Arna Bontemps in a 1945 collection of profiles of twelve successful African Americans, We Have Tomorrow: “Yes, seriously,” Campbell said. “Up to then , my work had been shallow, but I learned from my fellow waiters how close man can be to his fellow men. After this discovery, my character began to develop, and I began to paint and draw people as they really looked. Oh, I could always draw, but I was a failure as an artist till I became a successful dining-car waiter.

            “You meet all kinds in a diner, you know,” Campbell continued. “Some are dainty, some finicky, some calm and patient, some nervous, some are just would-be slave drivers. Between meals, I spent my time making caricatures of the passengers as well as of the other waiters and the steward. Before long, I had quite a collection of these sketches” (quoted online at wetoowerechildren.blogspot.com).

            Campbell showed his sketches around to various advertising studios, and J.P. Sauerwein, manager of the Triad Studios hired him. “I became one of eight artists on the staff there in the Arcade building,” Campbell said.

            Triad was one of the midwest’s largest advertising art agencies, and Campbell stayed there for about a year-and-a-half until 1929, when he left for the Big Apple. After a month of fruitless pavement-pounding, he found a job with Munig Studios, a small advertising agency that paid only a fraction of what he’d earned at Triad. And then he ran into Ed Graham, with whom he had worked on the campus magazine Phoenix during his brief matriculation at the University of Chicago.

            “Ed had come on to New York ahead of me,” Campbell told Bontemps, “and he had already broken into the humorous magazines and made a name for himself. He knew the editors, and they knew him. I showed him some of my drawings and gags, and right off the bat, he said, ‘I’ll take you around. This stuff is good.’”

            Campbell was also befriended by C.D. Russell, who was drawing for Judge a full-page cartoon called Pete the Tramp (later, starting January 10, 1932, a syndicated comic strip), and got “a pat on the back” from James Montgomery Flagg.

            Before long, Campbell said (Patterson’s contention notwithstanding), he was selling cartoons to newspapers and the old humor magazines, Life, Judge, College Humor, and Ballyhoo. He began attending the Academy of Design in his spare time, and he studied at the Art Students League under George Grosz, the exiled German satirist. In 1932, he illustrated a book of poetry by Sterling A. Brown, Southern Road. And the next year, he illustrated Popo and Fifina, a young adult novel set in Haiti by Bontemps and Langston Hughes. For both, Campbell drew in stark black-and-white in the woodcut style then peaking in popularity in the work of German Expressionists and, in this country, with the wordless novels of Lynd Ward. click to enlarge

            Then he ran into Russell Patterson.

            According to the 1949 King Features Syndicate brochure, Famous Artists and Writers, Patterson gave Campbell the advice that set him on the road to celebrity and opulence.

            “Look,” said Patterson, “you’re a good cartoonist, but you draw everything under the sun—men, women, cats, dogs landscapes—everything. Why don’t you specialize? You might stick to women. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this screwy business over the years, it’s that you can always sell a pretty girl” (n.p.).

            Syndicate promotional literature of that day is notorious these days for happy fabrications, and the meeting with Patterson might be just such a literary concoction. But judging from Arnold’s story and Campbell’s subsequent career, there is doubtless more than a mere grain of truth in the anecdote. In any event, shortly after his debut in Esquire, Campbell was getting commissions from all around town and elsewhere.

            But it was in Esquire that he achieved the apotheosis of his art.

            George Douglas, writing about Esquire in his history, The Smart Magazines, said: "The Esquire connection meant the most to him, no doubt, because in essence he, as much as anyone else, established the magazine's visual style. His work was highly finished and polished, of course, and he could render a wide variety of curvaceous females—chorus girls, innocents, vamps, supercharged office secretaries—in moods ranging from the voluptuous to the risible. His touch, in any case, fit Esquire to perfection. It was slick, jaunty, tongue-in-cheek, stylishly erotic, playfully adult. So apt was the material that it was used eventually in all manner of drawings, not only cartoons—fashion drawings, covers, illustrations for stories and articles, fillers of all sorts” (194).

            Campbell’s pictures shimmer with color and shapes, line and hue syncopate to conjure a radiant world of masculine fantasies. Esquire to a incandescent T, with cravat and well-polished shoe.

            Esquire issues through the 1930s often included a half-dozen Campbell cartoons, only one of which featured the seraglio shenanigans for which he is most fondly remembered. In the issue for June 1940, the harem is depicted in a double-page foldout cartoon, glorious in furiously blushing watercolor, seemingly spontaneously splashed across click to enlargethe expansive canvas. A 1948 article about exercising uses his pictures of a comely damsel to demonstrate the exercises. And Campbell also contributed prose articles on the nightclub life in Harlem and other topics, all illustrated with his vibrant colors.

            In the February 1936 issue, Campbell wrote an article about dance trends in Harlem and illustrated it with three pages of dancing watercolor pictures. Here (in italics) are a few paragraphs from the article; we’ll post the pictures after the prose (which, as you will see, has an engaging scintillation of its own)—:



ALL HARLEM DANCES. Here, in the heart of New York, between the Bronx and Central Park, wriggling black America disports itself nightly to the Lindy Hop, the Shim Sham Shimmy, or to Truckin’, its latest dance creation. In a score of tiny night clubs, in low-ceilinged cabarets, shot with amber and dull red lights, couples twist, wriggle and tap to Harlem’s high priestess—the dance. Gone are the days of the Charleston, the Heebie Jeebies, made famous by Louis Armstrong, and a score of lesser Stomps. For those possessed of indefatigable constitutions, it’s the Lindy Hop; for the tap-conscious, the Shim Sham Shimmy, shortened by Harlemites to the Sham; and for everyone inclined to shuffle, it’s Truckin’. ...

            Lindbergh’s world-famous flight to France will always be commemorated by Harlem in the Lindy Hop, an outburst of gaiety, of pent-up emotions, a dance of sheer joy and abandonment: ‘Ole Lindy did it!—done crossed de ocean!—oh, swing it boy—swing it!’

             A couple glides across the floor, their arms are propellers, then wings, as they spin and are off. ... A lithe black boy and a full-bosomed girl, heads thrown back, eyes closed, strut toward each other like game cocks. ... The girl is as loose-hipped as a marionette. The boy seems to be made of India rubber. ... Each has his own interpretation of the Lindy, although both are keeping time to the mad tempo. They snap their fingers, twist their shoulders, and move in an ever-widening circle, tapping and spinning as they literally sail away. Now, stamping their heels and swaying to the rhythm, the dancers come toward each other: ‘Oh, get off, boy!—slick black boy in the plum-colored suit, show ’em how to do it!—strut—slide—strut—truck lightly.’

            They embrace, dip, and are off again. Two or three times they repeat this figure, each swinging away, spinning, yanking the other all over the floor, and dancing furiously around the other, finally fusing together and doing a side-kick, holding hands tightly for balance. ...

            Eliminating every movement of exertion is the ‘Truck’ or ‘Truckin’, as it is called. It’s done to four-four time and consists of placing the right foot behind the left heel and sliding forward flatly on the right foot, the left knee bent and kept close to the right leg. At the completion of the slide, the right foot is turned abruptly outward, the body swinging right. This same movement is begun again with the left foot, starting the slide close to the right foot, and the right knee bent. The head is inclined to the side, arms akimbo and swinging slightly. It’s the ‘Take it easy’ dance of Harlem.

            As to its origin, Cora La Redd of the Cotton Club, ‘Rubberlegs’ Williams, the dance team of Red and Struggie, and numerous entertainers have claimed to have had some part in its birth, but ‘Chunk’ Robinson, a comedian, told me it was first used, positively, as an exit number by ‘Bilo’ Russell from Memphis, Tennessee. It was about eleven years ago in a show called ‘The Borders of Mexico’ with an entire Negro cast, that Russell had the happy thought of sliding off the stage with a rifle on his shoulder. The step had no name, just a shuffle or an ambling gait. The expression ’Truck’ was used around 1932 in Harlem when one of the bucks of the evening in bidding adieu to his friends, would say, ‘Well, boys, I think I’m gonna truck on home.’

            My idea is that the association of porters with carrying bags on trucks, with Negroes pushing and shoving packages and heavy burdens could logically be followed: to haul one’s self home—to shove on home—to ‘truck’ on home. ‘Chunk’ Robinson, however, tied the expression up with the dance and started it in New York at Small’s Paradise, a cabaret. It was an instantaneous hit. All of the clubs throughout the length and breadth of Manhattan, including Broadway revues and clubs, are now featuring a ‘Truckin’ number, and one cannot tell just where it will end. ... Where it started and where most of Harlem’s dances reach their terpsichorean peak is the Savoy Ballroom on Lennox Avenue, the ‘Home of the Happy Feet.’

            Outside, on the street corners, awaiting the dance hall’s opening, the boy who runs the elevator in your building, the boot-black, the errand-boy, all of them in ankle-length overcoats and sporting pear-gray, almost brimless hats, are as actors awaiting their cue. Through the long, weary day, they have been menials and domestics in the downtown white New York, but at night, in Harlem, they throw off the garb of servility and don royal raiment. Harlem is in the ascendancy at night.



AND HERE’S how Campbell illustrated this exuberant exposition.

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            Campbell’s pervasive presence in Esquire would easily justify dubbing the cartoonist the spirit of Esquire in its first couple decades.

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            Beyond the pages of Esquire, Campbell’s sprawling signature appeared on cartoons published in Cosmopolitan, Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, Redbook, The New Yorker and other mainstream magazines. One of his drawings was on the cover of The New Yorker for February 3, 1934; he’d had covers on both Life and Judge earlier in the decade and again later. And he was sought out by advertising agencies, particularly if pictures of shapely jeune filles would help promote sales of the products. According to Answers.com, Campbell was one of the highest paid commercial artists in the 1930s.

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            During his interview with Bontemps, Campbell explained why he drew cartoons instead of expressing himself in other so-called higher visual arts: “I prefer cartooning. You see, I like jokes, and it’s hard to put a joke into an oil painting. Have you ever noticed how quiet people are in art galleries? Well, I don’t think that’s what pictures should do to you. They should make you want to laugh, talk, shout—anything but hang your head.”

            He’d done serious paintings of the artistic sort, he went on—among them, “The Wake” and “Levee Luncheon,” both of which in exhibition “got their share of attention, but even then, the thing about them that critics mentioned was their humor.”



LIVING UP TO HIS BURGEONING INCOME, Campbell moved into the Dunbar Apartments on Seventh Avenue, the most glamorous apartment building that African-Americans had in New York. And there, the cartoonist met Cab Calloway, jazz musician, band leader, and the instigator of Minnie the Moocher, whose scat "hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho" enlivened the evenings at the Cotton Club whenever Duke Ellington had gigs out-of-town. The jazz man and the cartoonist became fast friends and frequent habitues of Harlem nights.

            Calloway loved Harlem. "Harlem in the 1930s was the hottest place in the country," he wrote in his autobiography, Of Minnie the Moocher and Me. "All the music and dancing you could want. And all the high-life people were there. It was the place for a Negro to be. ... No matter how poor, you could walk down Seventh Avenue or across 125th Street on a Sunday afternoon after church and check out the women in their fine clothes and the young dudes all decked out in their spats and gloves and tweeds and homburgs. People knew how to dress, the streets were clean and tree-lined, and there were so few cars that they were no problem. Trolleys ran down Lenox Avenue to Central Park. People would go for picnics on a Sunday afternoon, and the young couples would head for the private places between the rocks to spoon and make eyes at each other. I'm not being romantic. Harlem was like that—a warm, clean, lovely place where thousands of black folks, poor and rich, lived together and enjoyed the life" (116-117).

            Harlem was also the destination for much of New York's night club population, white as well as black. And Calloway and Campbell joined in.

            "He was the first Negro cartoonist to make it big,” Calloway said (employing the term for his brethren that was then, in the mid-1970s, still racially judicious). “By the time I met him, he was a well-established cartoonist. He was also, like me, a hard worker, a hard drinker, and a high liver. I used to think that I worked hard. Cotton Club shows six or seven nights a week, matinees at the theaters a couple of afternoons, theater gigs sometimes in between the Cotton Club shows, and benefits on the weekends. But Campbell outdid me. He drew a carton a day, not little line drawings, but full watercolor cartoons. And he played as hard as he worked. He loved to drink. When we got to know each other, we would go out at night to the Harlem after-hours joints like the Rhythm Club and just drink and talk and laugh and raise hell until the sun came up. Somebody would get us home and pour us into bed, and we'd be back at it again the next night.

            "One of my favorite cartoons by Simms," Calloway continued, "shows a boys' choir in a big church. All the choirboys are white except for one big-eyed Negro. The choir master is getting ready for the Sunday service, and he's looking at this Negro kid with a reprimand in his eyes. The caption reads: 'And none of that hi-de-ho stuff.' Elmer did that cartoon in 1934, and it was published in Esquire in October of that year.

            “He and I were tight friends by then,” Calloway went on. “Jesus, I loved that man. He was one of the straightest, most natural men I'd ever met. Unaffected, you know, just honest and open; loud and noisy when he got drunk, and ornery as hell when anybody disturbed him while he was working. ... Over the years, we stayed close to each other. Many a night, he and I would hang out together screwing around, drinking bad gin straight in after-hours joints. I would complain to him about my wife, and he would complain to me about his. We were personal with each other, and we could holler at each other about our problems while we laughed at them. ... We joked and laughed and shared things, man to man. There are few men I've had that kind of friendship with" (118-119).

            When Campbell drew a map of Harlem night spots, Calloway proclaimed it “not an ordinary map; it gave a better idea of what Harlem was like in those days than I can give you with all these words. I always loved that map, and I still have the original of it in my office at home”—as prominent in his abode as he and the Cotton Club are at the lower left on Campbell’s map. click to enlarge

            In 1936, Campbell moved to fashionable Westchester County where he built a flagstone mansion on a lush four-acre tract of land, about which Gingrich exclaimed: "It was many years before it was anything but earthshaking to have a home of that kind [in that neighborhood] occupied by a Negro” (96).

            Campbell worked in his studio at home, sending the finished work to his clients in Manhattan and elsewhere. Eldon Dedini, another cartoonist celebrated for his painterly style when he was cartooning for Playboy, was under contract to Esquire in the 1940s to produce gags for other cartoonists, and he told me something about Campbell’s working methods. Apparently, so the story goes, Campbell’s cartoon hadn’t arrived at the editorial offices, so a messenger was dispatched to White Plains to pick it up. But when he arrived, he found there was no cartoon to be picked up.

            Nothing wroth, Campbell invited the messenger into his studio, poured a tumbler of whiskey and began to paint as he drank. He finished both the drink and cartoon at about the same time, neither taking him very long. Probably apocryphal.

            While Campbell drew cartoons about life among the fun-loving classes and wrote articles about the nightlife in Harlem, he was justly celebrated for drawing pretty girls, and he gained renown for the watercolor bagnio cartoons the populace of which he rendered in lovingly luminous flesh tones. The girls in Campbell's cartoons looked white, but according to the cartoonist, "If they came to life, they'd be colored. Colored girls have better breasts andmore sun and warmth," he is reported to have said; "I like a fine backside, and they have it!"

click to enlarge            In April 1940, Campbell's leggy ladies began appearing in black-and-white in a dailynewspaper cartoon called Cuties from King Features Syndicate. Drawing with a supple pen, Campbell created pictures that contrasted the naked linear simplicity of his girls’ long legs with the etch-like fine-line shading that delineated their attire, a happy combination that kept Cuties going until 1971, eventually achieving a circulation of 145 newspapers. But the cartoonist’s photograph didn’t appear in syndicate promotional literature until the late 1940s: a black man drawing zaftig white girls in various states of undress, however modestly portrayed for newspaper readers, would have scandalized the editors of papers in the South, who, as a matter of course, would undoubtedly have canceled their subscriptions to Cuties in droves.

            In the early years of his syndication, Campbell's race was a well-kept secret at King. And when he occasionally joined other cartoonists of the National Cartoonists Society in roving around Manhattan nightclubs, his racial identity sometimes underwent transformation. If the group was stopped at the door by the bigotry of the day, Campbell's cohorts assured the officious factotum guarding the entrance that the dark-skinned man in their company was, in fact, an Arabian prince. Doors promptly swung open.

            The color bar began to be lifted somewhat in the 1950s, but Campbell had, perhaps, had enough, and by then, he was able to do something about it. In 1957, he left his baronial mansion in White Plains and moved to Switzerland, where he lived until 1970, mailing his work to stateside clients. In the early 1960s or thereabouts as Esquire underwent format changes, Campbell's harem girls moved to Playboy. Campbell returned to the U.S. in the fall of 1970 and soon thereafter learned that he had cancer. He died in January 27, 1971. Calloway was heartbroken.

            "I have lost many relatives and friends in my years," Calloway wrote, "but other than the death of my mother, none has struck me as Elmer Campbell's did. It was because the man was so full of life that his death hit me so hard." At the funeral home, Calloway was overcome. "I was angry that he'd left me," he said. "The feeling came upon me so suddenly that I had no control of myself. This goddamn man who I had known for so long and spent so many drunken and sober, joyful and serious hours with had left me." He began beating his fists on the coffin and hollering. His wife and friends pulled him away. click to enlarge

           Said Calloway: "I've known and worked with people like Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Lena Horne, Dizzy Gillespie, Jonah Jones, and Bill Robinson—to name just a few—but if you want to know the name of a guy I loved, remember E. Simms Campbell. My friend" (120).

            The rest of us will remember Campbell as a brilliant stylist, an artist of surpassing skill. His mastery watercolor is stunning. And he displayed similar mastery of other illustrative modes throughout a long and prolific career. He was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2002.

            Campbell was, as far as I'm able to determine, the first African American cartoonist to achieve celebrity in the world outside the black community. Although Campbell is sometimes called the Jackie Robinson of commercial art and cartooning, that christening is probably posthumous: unlike Robinson’s, Campbell’s race was a secret for much of his career. But his mark on the history of American cartooning is indelible.


Campbell's mastery of watercolor is stunning. And he displayed similar mastery of other manners of drawing and painting.


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