When this tweet came up in my Twitter feed a few days ago, it brought back some smiles.
Morrie Turner created the comic strip “Wee Pals,” arguably the first newspaper artistic feature to include kids from all races and ethnic backgrounds playing together and having fun – as well as sharing their own social and cultural lives.
His “Wee Pals” strip started out with only a few newspapers carrying the cartoon, way back in 1965. More newspapers added the gentle strip in 1968, sadly as a result of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Wee Pals bloomed into a popular strip in hundreds of newspapers in the 1970’s, and Turner was still drawing the strip when he passed away in 2014.
Here’s a short news feature on Turner as he creates a Wee Pals daily episode, this video is from television station KCRA in 2010.
The comic strip is still running today, featuring the main character Nipper (based on Turner’s childhood) and his dog General Lee, along with Ralph, Connie, Oliver and many other kids as part of the “Rainbow Gang.” Here’s an example of a Wee Pals strip that originally appeared in 2014 – along with a Turner-penned “Soul Corner,” a featurette highlighting the accomplishments of people of color.
But the crazy thing is … I never saw “Wee Pals” in my local newspaper. So my first exposure to the series wasn’t while rifling through the nespaper and reading Beetle Bailey or Blondie or Peanuts.
No, my exposure to Wee Pals wasn’t even in a format where they were called Wee Pals.
See, in 1972 ABC partnered with Rankin-Bass – the animation studio behind your favorite Christmas specials – and produced “Kid Power,” a Saturday morning cartoon featuring the Wee Pals gang.
In fact … here’s an episode of the series.
Wow. I’m not sure how well this show has aged over the past 45 years, but you can tell it’s definitely a product of its time. A laugh track in an animated cartoon? And some of the dialogue sounds like some really desperate approximations of jive. Seventeen episodes of Kid Power were produced and aired on ABC from 1972 to 1974, and then it disappeared.
But Wee Pals the comic strip continued onward, and Turner drew the series until his passing in 2014.
And so today, I thought it might be fun to bring back a glimpse of Morrie Turner’s kids – Nipper, Oliver, Ralph, Connie, and the rest. Hope you enjoy.