Friday Foster, from the cover of the 1972 comic book.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Chicago Tribune Syndicate
First Appeared: 1970
Creators: Jim Lawrence (writer) and Jorge Longeron (artist)
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It lasted less than five years. It was adapted into a movie, but the movie is remembered as a lightweight (when it's remembered at all). It involved creators whose other credits in American comics are …

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… even less prominent. It wasn't critically acclaimed, particularly prominent, or very popular. So — why write about Friday Foster?

It's because Friday Foster, which debuted on January 18, 1970, was the first mainstream syndicated comic strip to star a black woman. In fact, other than a handful of broadly stereotyped caricatures from the industry's very early days (such as Pore Lil Mose, by Yellow Kid creator Richard F. Outcault) and a few series aimed solely at black newspapers (such as Jackie Ormes's pioneering Torchy Brown), no American comic strip had ever borne the name of a black lead character. Ted Shearer's Quincy arrived later the same year, and Brumsic Brandon Jr.'s Luther a year later, but Friday Foster was the first.

Today, being the Diahann Carroll of comics doesn't seem like a very great distinction. But considering it was right about then that Beetle Bailey actually lost a few papers just for adding Lt. Flap to the cast, it was rather a bold move at the time.

The strip was created by writer Jim Lawrence and artist Jorje Longeron, and syndicated by The Chicago Tribune Syndicate. Lawrence is known mainly for radio scripts and juvenile series fiction (e.g., Hardy Boys, Tom Swift Jr.), but also did some scripting for syndicated strips, including Buck Rogers, Captain Easy and Joe Palooka. Longeron has no other credits in American comics, but was a fairly well known cartoonist in his native Spain, and throughout Europe, before taking on Friday Foster. And the syndicate is most famous for its early strips such as Gasoline Alley and Little Orphan Annie, but by the time Foster began, was also handling such "modern" ones as Dondi and Mary Perkins On Stage.

Aside from being of the same syndicate as this strip, Mary Perkins was also of the same genre — soap opera storylines, told with a photo-realistic art style. The form was set by Allen Saunders and Ken Ernst in Mary Worth and later used in Judge Parker, The Heart of Juliet Jones and others. The title character of Friday Foster was a former fashion model, now assistant to a world-famous photographer; and the strip was about her comings and goings in the glittery world of modeling.

When Longeron left the strip, in 1974, his successors, including Howard Chaykin (Cody Starbuck) and Dick Giordano (later an executive at DC Comics), continued to draw it in a similar style. Their tenure was brief, however, as 1974 was also the year the strip ended. Before it did, it was licensed as a comic book by Dell Comics, but only one issue (October, 1972) was published. It is said by some to be Dell's last comic book.

The movie version, produced by American International Pictures with Pam Grier in the title role, didn't make it onto the screen until 1975. It was more-or-less typical of the blaxploitation flicks of the time (Friday uncovers an anti-black conspiracy while investigating the murder of a friend), tho perhaps a bit less violent than most. Reviewers were unenthusiastic when it came out, and remain so about its video releases.

All in all, Friday Foster doesn't seem a very likely trendsetter. But there are an awful lot of black protagonists in mainstream syndication today, and she was the first. So a trendsetter is exactly what she is.


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Text ©2002-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © The Chicago Tribune Syndicate.