Through his undisputed talent, tenacity, and ingenuity, E. Simms Campbell broke barriers by becoming the first famous African American cartoonist.He remarkably animated the world around him and we honor his legacy by showcasing his iconic 1932 NightClub Map of Harlem on our “Savoy” and “Ellington” Luxury Candles.
Campbell was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1906, just two years after the St. Louis World’s Fair. His father, Elmer Cary Campbell, passed away when he was just four years old. Elizabeth Simms Campbell was an educator, and raised her son independently. Over time, Campbell became inspired by his mother’s watercolor paintings, and quickly discovered his artistic streak. After moving with his mother to Chicago, Campbell began creating cartoons in high school for the school newspaper. He began cultivating recognition for his work when he won a national contest for his cartoon “Armistice Day” and built up the momentum to win several other national cartooning competitions and exhibitions.
Campbell received a degree from the Art Institute of Chicago, and went on to briefly work for Phoenix magazine. He also spent some time as a railroad dining car server, and would often draw caricatures of the passengers. Impressed by Campbell’s talents, a passenger offered him a job to work at Triad Studios, an advertising agency in St.Louis, Missouri in 1927. Soon after, he moved in with his Aunt to New York City in 1929.
Upon his arrival to NYC, Campbell easily acclimated to the buzzing energy of the city and networked with dozens of artists and creatives. Soon after, Campbell joined Esquire magazine at its inception in 1933 and would go on to have his work featured in almost every issue up until 1958. He made his mark by creating the magazine mascot “Esky” and introducing his “Harem Girls”—a series of watercolor cartoons depicting voluptuous women, which garnered a lot of attention. From that point on, Campbell’s career took off. He soon began creating illustrations for Cosmo, Ebony, The New Yorker, Redbook, and Playboy.
He also created sensational advertisements for companies such as Barbasol, Bisquick, SpringMaid Fabrics, and Hinds Cream.
In 1939, Campbell became the first black artist to have his work syndicated around the nation. Although his race was kept a secret in order to prevent any resistance by Southerners, King Features published Campbell’s Cuties comic strip in over 140 newspapers throughout the country.
Inducted to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2002.