Charles Criner Cartoons: The Fascinating Story Behind Them
Charles Criner started his cartooning at a very early age. He remembers his mother bringing home empty cereal boxes from the woman for whom she worked. There were cartoon animals printed onto the surface, which pleased Charles and his sisters.
The first cartoon that he made was when he was still in elementary school. He remembers it being of two children in a bunk bed, although he no longer can recall the caption. The next one of his cartoons made the Athens Daily Review Newspaper. He and his family lived in the small town of Athens, Texas. It must have been a thrill for them to see the artwork of young Charles in that local newspaper.
By the time Charles was in the eleventh and twelfth grade, he sold some cartoons to magazines catering to black audiences. One of them was Jive, and the other was known as Bronze Thrill. According to Charles, they were the equivalent of Playboy. He never admitted to his mother or grandmother that he had submitted them and received money for them.
Cartoon description from Wikipedia:
"The concept originated in the Middle Ages, and first described a preparatory drawing for a piece of art, such as a painting, fresco, tapestry, or stained glass window. In the 19th century, beginning in Punch magazine in 1843, cartoon came to refer – ironically at first – to humorous illustrations in magazines and newspapers. In the early 20th century, it began to refer to animated films which resembled print cartoons."
Charles Criner enrolled as a student at Texas Southern University in the year 1964 in Houston, Texas. He took a psychology class from Mrs. Audrey Lawson, the wife of Reverend Bill Lawson, the pastor of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. One day she overheard Charles telling other students about his cartoons sold to some national magazines, and she wanted to see them. He never showed any of his comics to her for the same reason he did not show them to his mother. However, they became friends. Charles ended up creating art for her husband's t-shirt business, which was on display and for sale in the TSU book store.
Dr. John Biggers, who was the head of the art department at TSU, influenced Charles as to the type of art Charles still produces today. Using the medium of painting and lithography, Charles tells the story of blacks in our country, also informing future generations of Black-Americans from where they have come and the struggles they overcame to get to where they are today.
Art affects people's lives. Appreciation of art can take different forms. The art of nature, such as those experienced in lush forests, magnificent sunsets, rushing waterfalls, or budding flowers, inspires some people. The written word or paintings inspire others. Even cartoons have their place.
Assorted Cartoons by Charles CrinerClick thumbnail to view full-size
From NASA to The Houston Post
Charles worked as an artist for NASA during the time of the moon landing. He left that job to work for the daily newspaper, The Houston Post. That job was cut short when he was drafted into the army.
Charles Criner's artistic talents were put to good use while he served three years in the army. Charles showed his cartoons to the base newspaper editor, and he was happy to accept them. They were published in the base newspaper monthly. Below is his description in his own words.
"The army was great for me. When my company found out that I was an artist, I was lent to the schools in Killeen, Texas, to teach art classes and aid the teachers in creating other art projects. My job in our company was as a graphic artist. I created posters and painted signs for the bases in our company. I also painted portraits for the captains and other high ranking soldiers.
It wasn't until I got a call from Washington that my company realized that I was drawing a comic strip on base. When I started drawing the script for the Armed Forces Press Service, my stay in the army changed. As long as I provided Washington with the cartoons, I was free to do whatever I wanted to do on base."
Now the Johnny Jones cartoons were being printed in all of the army newspapers. Charles also began to produce HUD advertisements for The Houston Post. Somehow the federal government helped fund those local HUD ads.
Johnny Jones CartoonsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Meaning of HUD
HUD is an acronym. It stands for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This agency assists low-income people get access to various types of housing assistance. They base their income assistance on medium incomes and fair market values, depending upon where the applicant lives.
HUD became a cabinet position within the Executive branch of the Federal government under President Lyndon B. Johnson in the year 1965. President Johnson became well-known for his program called the "Great Society."
HUD Cartoons by Charles CrinerClick thumbnail to view full-size
Have you, or anyone you know, ever purchased a HUD home?
Post Army Years
After being discharged from the army, Charles applied to The Houston Post for a job. He thought that he would be accepted, but that did not happen.
Despite his expertise in creating cartoons, he was never able to sell them to national cartoon syndicates successfully. A lifetime friend of Charles by the name of William Hygh, whom he met during his college days, tried to assist Charles with the wording for cartoons. All they ever received were rejection slips.
Here is an explanation of why that undoubtedly happened in his own words: "When I was drafted into the army, it dawned on me that my little characters were black. No one ever told me that might be the reason why none of the cartoons sold. It was amazing that it never crossed my mind that the cartoon characters should not be black." That was not a problem in the army. He could create cartoons with people of all colors.
Charles started a very successful sign painting business, and he also did illustrations for many prominent Houston business operations. A drastic change in circumstances came about due to a family member's illness. Charles had just about lost everything of value when a miracle of sorts happened.
A drawing board was brought to his home by the preacher and a church member of the "Word of Grace Baptist Church." That made him look at his paintings in a new way. The very same day, The Houston Post, which was under new management, offered him a job to do a daily comic strip plus others. His impending financial nightmare was finally over.
Houston Oilers and Rockets CartoonsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Houston Post
Charles worked for The Houston Post newspaper creating cartoons used as a part of ads for various businesses, and he also was employed to generate more HUD advertisements.
The Wonder Broker HUD ads ran each Sunday. Seasonally, the Oilers and Rockets cartoons ran weekly in the sports section. The Job Crowd was a daily cartoon.
In addition to those cartoons, Charles created a full-page colored advertisement to entice more readership for The Houston Post. He was happily employed until the publication closed in 1995. Until that time of closure, Houston had two daily newspapers, The Houston Post and The Houston Chronicle.
THE JOB CROWD CartoonsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Wonder Broker Series of HUD AdsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Houston Chronicle
Charles next worked at The Houston Chronicle. He created "The Dogs," which was a comic strip featuring the dog races in Dickinson, Texas. It ran once a week in the sports section of the newspaper until he quit that job in the year 2000 to become the resident artist at The Printing Museum, where he still works today.
The Dogs CartoonsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Archived Criner Cartoons
Many of the cartoons of Charles Criner are now at the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at A & M University in College Station, Texas.
If you are a real cartoon enthusiast, and if you are in England, be sure to visit the Cartoon Museum in central London.
What type of cartoon do you most enjoy?
Questions & Answers
© 2020 Peggy Woods