Artist David Lloyd has reported the death of cartoonist Manny Curtis on his web site.
“Another great cartoonist of my acquaintance passed away earlier this month,” he says of the Enfield-based creator, one of the first to have a comic strip featuring black characters in prominent roles in Britain.
“[Manny was] not a comic strip artist like Phil Gascoine,” David recalls, “though he worked commonly in the three-frame newspaper strip format – but a gag man. He drew reams of single gags as well as creating many series of three-framers.”
Manny Curtis was born 23rd October 1924 in London, England. In 1942, at the age of 18, he was called up into the British Army, and he fought in the Far East until the end of the Second World War in 1945.
After leaving the army, Manny took up cartooning for a living. He worked for most British national newspapers, and several magazines (including Playboy), and created the first mainstream ‘black’ cartoon character, “Algie and Fred“, published by the once hugely-popular Titbits magazine in the 1960s and 1970s, a strip accepted because, thanks to recent house move, the then editor could readily identify with the characters featured.
The strip appears to also have been known as “Frankie and Johnnie”, and was promoted under this title by Manny himself.
Later, Manny became a cartoonist for The Sun, where he created a strip about a TV-addicted little girl, before creating “Mixed Blessings“, a continuation of “Algie & Fred”, in which he dealt with racial prejudice and intolerance.
He also wrote sketches for TV shows such as The Two Ronnies, Not the Nine O’Clock News and Don’t Ask Us.
“He was the kind of cartoonist who first got me interested in the whole field of cartooning when I was a kid, poring over the dozens of single gag cartoons that used to fill tabloid newspapers then,” says David. “which were all about files in cakes, cheese straws, and vengeful wives with rolling pins. It was the simple yet powerful line of such drawings that got me started in this job that I ended up doing. And Manny was a master of that style of work.
“He was also a staunch defender of his profession and it’s standard of craftsmanship, and a pugilist in debate.”
In an article for the Big Lottery Fund web site in 2005, Manny recalled his voyage to Burma with his usual good humour.
He returned to his South Lancashire Regiment in 1944 after a fortnight’s home leave in Roman Road, Bow, East London, he was sure he’d be in Italy in no time.
But after he boarded the giant P&O liner Strathaird off Greenock, he noticed that the Indian crew were a bit tight-lipped about destination details. “I could well understand their reluctance to tell me how long it took to get to Italy, because security was a big thing then,” recalls Manny, who now lives in Enfield. “They must all have been briefed to say that we were going to Bombay, and I appreciated that. But when we sailed through Port Said and into the Red Sea I began to have doubts about ever getting to Italy.”
After hospitalisation with malaria in India, Manny Curtis served for the next year in Burma, taking part in many fierce battles and seeing many comrades die. After he was returned to Britain in November 1945 he suffered a near-fatal bout of cerebral meningitis. After his recovery, he served in an army training centre near Warrington until he was de-mobbed in 1947. (Manny’s recollections of his time in Burma are posted here, on the burmastar web site.)
Manny features in this video from Word of Mouth Films on YouTube, talking about the origins of his comic strip Algie and Fred, which ran in Tidbits magazine and was the first modern humour strip in the UK to regularly feature black characters.
“He had a long life and his legacy was laughter,” David Lloyd remembers. “We should all be so lucky.”