September 10, 2021 • By Christine Pasalo Norland

5 Facts About Jay Paul Jackson

On September 10, 1905, Jay Paul Jackson was born in Oberlin, Ohio. The son of a gallery photographer, Jackson grew up to become an international artist, most prolific as a cartoonist, illustrator, and graphic artist. Between the late 1920s to the 1950s, Jackson’s works appeared in multiple high-circulation publications of the Black Press such as the Chicago Defender, Pittsburgh Courier, New York Amsterdam News, Baltimore Afro American, and Ebony.


To celebrate the 116th anniversary of his birthday, here are five facts about Jay Jackson to encourage you to do a deeper dive.


1. HE WORKED ON 17 COMIC STRIPS, 3 PULP MAGAZINES, AND 1 COMIC BOOK.

Jay Paul Jackson’s career in the sequential arts began in newspapers in 1928 with "(Seeing Ourselves) As They See Us," an illustrated column that appeared off-and-on in the national editions of the New York Amsterdam News, the Pittsburgh Courier, and the Chicago Defender. His style of visual storytelling soon extended into magazines, the pulps, and a comic book. As a career cartoonist and illustrator, he took on all roles in the art process, from writer, penciller, inker, colorist, and letterer, depending on what was required for a particular work. More often than not, Jackson was the only creator and driver behind the comic strips he worked on. Here are all of his known credits to date:

COMIC STRIPS & CARTOONS


PULP MAGAZINES


COMIC BOOK

  • "Blond Garth, King of the Isles" in Colossus Comics #1

2. IT STARTED WITH SIGN PAINTING.

I had sign painted the whole countryside before a severe case of lead poisoning put me out of the sign business,” wrote Jackson in his self-authored artist’s bio published in the October 1941 issue of Fantastic Adventures. The countryside in reference was Delaware, Ohio. From there, he and his young wife got on a train to Chicago, "where effortlessly I became first poster artist and then shop foreman for a chain of theaters," he wrote. Which theater chain? The Warner Bros. theater chain.


3. HIS EARLY ADULT LIFE WAS MARKED WITH TRAGEDY.

"Everything was swell until the old man with the scythe caught up with my life and struck swiftly, viciously," continued Jackson in his artist's bio for Fantastic Adventures. By the age of 22, he had survived the deaths of his first wife, the elder of their two children, and his father. As a single father to infant daughter Carrie Lou, the act of drawing comics became a way for him to process his grief and depression.

Life had done me dirt and I resented it... so I drew and wrote about people on the down beat,” wrote Jackson.

About six years later, he found love again, both in work and in life. By 1933, he had become a staff artist at the Chicago Defender where he met Eleanor Poston, his "girl Friday, my good right arm and the rarely silent power behind the throne." They were married on September 7, 1935.


4. HE ILLUSTRATED ADS, PIN-UP POSTCARDS, AND FOR THE U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT.

Jackson continued to freelance while he worked full-time on a variety of single-panel, half-page, and full-page cartoons and comic strips at the Chicago Defender. He contributed poster illustrations to the U.S. Treasury Department's war bond campaign during World War II. He also did advertisement art for Murray's Superior Hair Pomade and Murray's Hair Pressing Cap, and "Glamour Girls" pin-up postcards for Boston-based Colourpicture Pictures. In 1948, he was hired by Pepsi-Cola to create the full-color, Afrocentric Pepsi-Cola challenge ad series that ran in Ebony, and in 1949, did mural work in Mexico.


5. TWO OF HIS COMIC STRIPS PUBLISHED AFTER HIS UNTIMELY DEATH.

On May 16, 1954, Jackson passed away after suffering a heart attack. He was only 49 years old. A few years prior, he had developed two comics with the goal of breaking into mainstream syndication: a single-panel cartoon called "Girligags" and an innovative single-panel, multi-character and multi-dialogue full-page gag comic called “Home Folks.” The national syndicates passed. Upon his death, Eleanor approached the Chicago Defender to publish the works. Thanks to her efforts, the Chicago Defender published a year's worth of “Girligags” and “Home Folks", according to historian Tim Jackson in his book "Pioneering Cartoonists of Color".

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Help continue to spread the word about Jay Paul Jackson’s contribution to comics and the popular arts! Much of this information comes from the book “Pioneering Cartoonists of Color” by Tim Jackson (no relation to Jay Paul Jackson) published by the University Press of Mississippi. For a full list of sources that informed this edition of 5 Facts About, check the References section on our Resources page.


5 Facts About aims to strengthen the online presence of historic artists, creatives, and writers from marginalized communities. Is there an artist, creative, or writer you’d like to recommend? Send an email with “5 Facts About” in the subject line to contact[at]hellobarkada.org.


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