The 1970s saw a rise in representation for African-Americans in popular culture–although that representation wasn’t always sensitively done. But with Blaxploitation films bringing in big box office returns (especially as compared to the cost to produce) people suddenly became aware of a large black audience that wasn’t being tapped–and a variety of players moved to fill that void. One of the more well-intentioned of these was Fitzgerald Publications. Fronted by Bertram Fitzgerald, the company published a number of issues of Golden Legacy in the late 1960s and early 1970s that told the historical stories of prominent Black figures. But in 1976 the company took things a step further.
That year, Fitzgerald brought out the first issue of FAST WILLIE JACKSON. It was a teen humor comic very much in the mold of the popular ARCHIE titles, but one featuring an almost entirely black and minority cast. It was a noble experiment, but one that didn’t catch on well enough with the public, and so only lasted seven issues.
The artwork on FAST WILLIE JACKSON was provided by Gus LeMoine. It’s never been definitively proven, but the common belief is that Lemoine was a pseudonym, one being used by a regular contributor to the ARCHIE line who wanted to fly under the radar on this assignment. Popular consensus seems to be that it was Harry Scarpelli who was actually drawing these stories, but again, that’s not a definitive conclusion.
ADDITION: I’m informed in the comments that Gus LeMoine was a real person, an artist who worked for Archie for a decade. So whether Scarpelli may have helped out on this series or not, it’s mostly legitimately credited to LeMoine.
The writing was done by Fitzgerald’s owner and publisher himself, Bertram A. Fitzgerald. And that’s where the problem comes in. Fitzgerald wasn’t really an experienced comic book writer, and so his scripts simply aren’t as funny or as clever as the average contemporaneous ARCHIE offering. He might have ben better off bringing an established writer on board rather than trying to do it himself. By the same token, FAST WILLIE JACKSON appears to have been a project close to his heart, so I can understand his desire to be directly involved in its production.
While it’s not too difficult to find copies on the back issue market of the seven issues that were released, FAST WILLIE JACKSON is relatively obscure–nobody has much reported on it (or GOLDEN LEGACY, Fitzgerald’s other title). It’s simply not that well known.
One person who remembers FAST WILLIE JACKSON, though, is creator Erik Larsen. As is his wont, Larsen incorporated the cast of FAST WILLIE JACKSON into his long-running SAVAGE DRAGON series, figuring that they must be public domain by this point. He wasn’t incredibly overt about what he was doing, but to anybody familiar with the series, the inclusion was obvious.