FAST WILLIE JACKSONMedium: Comic books
Published by: Fitzgerald Periodicals
First Appeared: 1976
Creators: Bertram Fitzgerald (writer) and Gus Lemoine (artist)
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Fast Willie Jackson was what Hollywood would call a "high-concept" property, i.e., one that can be reasonably well described in 25 words or less. Willie and his gang were just like Archie, but black. The series ran in the 1970s, the decade when Beetle Bailey could get up-to-date by adding Lt. Flap to the cast, and The Chicago Tribune Syndicate could be innovative by launching Friday Foster. Fast Willie Jackson
was created to fill a perceived need, serving a demographic hitherto under-represented in American comic books.
Fast Willie's publisher, Fitzgerald Periodicals, had dabbled in black-oriented comic books before. Its Golden Legacy, which ran 16 issues between 1966 and '72, had celebrated black history with issues devoted to such topics as Harriet Tubman and Ancient African Kingdoms. The first issue of Fast Willie Jackson had a cover date of October, 1976. It was written by publisher Bertram Fitzgerald, who has no known credits outside his own company, The art was credited to Gus Lemoine, but a lot of readers believe that was merely a pseudonym for one of the regular Archie artists. Henry Scarpelli, whose other work includes Swing with Scooter for DC Comics, has been mentioned by Archie Comics mavens as possibly having been involved.
The cast was headed up by Fast Willie himself, good-natured, easy-going and not overly ambitious, easily identified as the analog of Archie himself. Other direct analogs include Jo-Jo, who is a lot like Jughead, and Hannibal Jones, the counterpart to Big Moose. The girl all the boys went ga-ga over was Dee Dee Wilson. But there were also a few whose blackness was more than skin-deep, such as Jabar, a militant, afflicted with perpetual comedic anger. The Reggie-like bad guy was Frankie Johnson (no relation to the cartoonist who did Boner's Ark), who wore flashy clothes and used a lot of slang. They all took high school classes from Ms. Fronda in Mo City, exact U.S. region, like that of Riverdale, unknown. As a group, they were described as "cool, bad, fast and together brothers and sisters."
Not quite every character was black. José Martinez, who ran the local teen hangout, The Spanish Main, was Puerto Rican. Another neighborhood businessman, who had a martial arts school, was Asian. The most prominent Caucasian character was Officer Flagg, who represented the local police, and whom the kids referred to as "The Man". Another Caucasian, not named, had no function other than to float his head above the logo and answer the question "Can you dig it?" with an assertion that he could.
Unfortunately, not enough readers seem to have been thus enabled. Like many 1970s attempts in various media to exploit the growing black economic clout, Fast Willie Jackson didn't catch on with the public. Latter-day commentators have remarked that Fitzgerald would have done well to hire a professional writer of teen humor comics, instead of handling that job himself, because the scripts tended to be flat and unfunny. Whatever the reason, it lasted seven issues, the last of which came out in 1977. Fitzgerald Periodicals didn't publish any more comic books.