Thursday, November 24, 2011

Alvin Hollingsworth…creator

I have a soft spot for creators. Musicians, Actors, Writers, Artists….whatever. They don’t even have to be particularly GOOD creators. Just the act of creating has a value that cannot be calculated and adds immeasurably to our collective self exploration. Carl Sagan once postulated that we humans are one of the organisms through which the Cosmos knows itself. If in fact we are the “eyes of the Cosmos”, creators facilitate that sight by making the colors richer, the textures fuller and the music just that much sweeter.

As a comic collector I have a special fondness for the people who give us our comics. Of course we all know about the giants from the past like Jack Kirby, Curt Swan, Bob Montana, Seigel and Shuster, Joe Simon and so many more. Today we have the likes of Ed Brubaker, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and an entire generation of creators who consistently push the medium to new heights of creativity.

I am always happy when I discover a new or forgotten creator. In this case it was the latter, His name was Alvin Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth drew comics in the 1940’s and 1950’s. He had a nice clean and very realistic style that was more along the lines of what you might have seen AFTER 1970. He often inked his own work. Alvin was definitely ahead of his times.
He worked on titles such as Wings, Rulah, Jungle Goddess, Master Comics, Witchcraft, Mysterious Comics, and Romance Comics such as Youthful Romances.

In fact after he retired from the Comic Book field, Hollingsworth became a renowned fine artist and taught as a college professor at the University of new York and Hostos Communtity College. His subjects included the civil Rights for women, Jazz, and dance among others.

Alvin left us in July of 200 at the age of 72.

Hollingsworth was African American.

I mention this because the Golden Age of comics was hardly “golden” if you were an African American. Like so many areas of American life, people of color were either excluded entirely or made use of only as a stereotype. It may be hard to believe today but it was not until 1948 that a black man was allowed to play Major League Baseball and it would be nearly another thirty years before an African American was hired to MANAGE a team in the majors.
Hell, it was not until 1968 that TV saw it’s first interracial kiss. And even then Kirk was only kissing Uhura under the command of an alien influence and doing his best to resist it! Now I don’t know about anyone else but *I* would not have to be coerced to kiss Nichelle Nichols!
In the world of comic books we did not see men and women of color as leading characters or heroes in comics until the late 60’s and early 70’s with the likes of The Black Panther, Luke Cage, The Falcon and Storm. Old prejudices die hard.

So back to the 40’s and 50’s and the world of Alvin Hollingsworth. African Americans were almost completely non-existent in comic books. When they DID appear it was in the most demeaning and stereotyped manner. Bug eyes, grotesquely large lips, and huge ears. These depictions in NO WAY resembled any person of color who ever populated this planet. Worse than that, African Americans were portrayed as lazy, superstitious and cowardly. All completely untrue and unfair stereotypes.

If that was how FICTIONAL characters were treated one can only imagine how many doors were closed to African American creators at the time. The odds were not particularly good.

But every now and then someone comes along who beats those odds. Hollingsworth was simply too talented to be denied.

And he also had the opportunity to portray African Americans as beautiful, dignified people in Fawcett’s experimental title Negro Romance.

Romance comics were coming into their own around 1950 as the Superhero wave of the Golden Age was going into decline. Fawcett’s other romance titles were selling very well and editor Roy Ald, a Caucasian editor by the way, decided to take a shot at targeting an African American audience made up largely of females! Ald had worked with Hollingsworth when the latter was a very young man and the two got along very well and became close friends. Ald actually wrote the book while Hollingsworth did the pencils. It is unknown whether or not Alvin inked this book but given the fact that he was also a capable inker it is likely that he did this as well. Hollingsworth and Ald portrayed African Americans in a far more complementary, if (you will excuse the pun) romantic, light than other comics. These were attractive, educated and desirable people. If the characters were somewhat sacirine, so were the white characters in Fawcett’s other romance books. (In fact MOST Fawcett characters tended to be a bit…bland. Captain Marvel lead the pack!)

It is not known if Hollingsworth did ALL of the artwork in Negro Romance but he did pencil a great deal of the book.

Although Negro Romance only lasted three issues the mere fact of it’s existence is remarkable and reflects the talent and sensitivity of the men who created it.

Of course I did not know Alvin Hollingsworth and have only ever seen a few pages of his work. But he was a man and like many men I HAVE known, Alvin overcame great odds and I am sure he paid a personal price for that. He left the world a bit richer and more beautiful than he found it. And he made a powerful statement without blowing anything up to do it.

Alvin Hollingsworth was a creator.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving

That’s 30!


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