Comics have always been inclusive when it comes to implementing people of color into the story line. Of all the various media forms, comics were some of the early adaptors who made room for Black characters. We have celebrated many moments of inclusion in recent years, but before there were ever a RiRi Williams , Storm or Black Panther, there was a Lion Man and Ace Harlem. It would be a shame to celebrate those names without honoring those who came before and essentially those who have paved the way. With that said, Orrin Cromwell Evans is a name we should all become acquainted with when discussing Blacks in comics.
Evans was an African-American journalist and comic book publisher. He is cited as the first Black writer to cover general assignments for an all white publication when he joined the team at The Philadelphia Record (a daily newspaper published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1877-1947). When The Record closed its doors in 1947, Evans decided that he could continue to share Black journalism through his own company, which he later called the All-Negro Comics. He appointed himself President and built a team that included former Record editor Harry T. Saylor and sports editor Bill Driscoll. Mid-1947, the All-Negro Comics company released its first glossy cover copy with a newspaper interior which was made up of 48 pages. When Evans attempted to publish his second issue, he was unable to purchase the newsprint that was required. Sources have said that he was blocked due to the prejudice distributors along with white-owned publishers whom considered Evans to be competition.
Evans’ All-Negro Comics are rare and when people stumble upon them, they are often in mint condition. The precious works of art were drawn by Black artists and the characters featured throughout each and every issue were of color. At the time, it was completely unheard of and in some respects an act of bravery on Evans’ part. His stories had a vision for his people. For instance, his character Ace Harlem (an African-American police detective), Lion Man and Bubba were all facets of the storyline that were meant to inspire Black people to take pride in their African heritage during such a harsh time in history. After the All-Negro Comics, it took nearly 28 years before we saw the Black female character Storm arrive on the scene. As we celebrate our Black heroes this month and beyond, it is important that we also celebrate the unsung heroes who are often overlooked.
Take a look at the vibrant pages from the All-Negro Comics below.