Born on January 2, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri, artist E. Simms Campbell went on to work for the art studio Triad and a variety of magazines, illustrating a children’s book by Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes as well. He became a prolific illustrator for Esquire in 1933, remaining with the publication for decades and also helming his own syndicated feature Cuties. He died on January 27, 1971.
Background and Education
Elmer Simms Campbell, better known as E. Simms Campbell, was born on January 2, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri, to educators Elizabeth Simms and Elmer Cary Campbell. With his mother a watercolor artist, Campbell honed his own illustrative techniques, winning a noted art prize while attending Englewood High School in Chicago.
He attended the Lewis Institute, University of Chicago and Art Institute, providing work for humor publications as well. During the 1920s, Campbell made ends meet by working for the post office and railroad lines, where he illustrated passengers. He eventually worked for the St. Louis art studio Triad and later an ad agency in New York, where he took additional classes at the Academy of Design and the Art Students League.
In 1932, Campbell created a “Night-Club Map of Harlem” and saw his illustrations published in the Sterling Brown poetry work Southern Road. He also collaborated with writers Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes on the children’s book Popo and Fifina: Children of Haiti.
Campbell started drawing for Esquire in 1933, and was the magazine’s resident illustrator until the end of the 1950s, becoming famed for drawings that often featured pin-up women and that had a satirical take on upper crust culture. He was the creator of Esquire‘s mustached, bug-eyed mascot Esky and of the Cuties comic strip series, which went into national distribution and appeared in book form. Thus he became the first African-American illustrator to be syndicated and whose work was featured regularly in U.S. national periodicals. His art was also seen in publications like Ebony, The New Yorker, Playboy and Redbook. It was unusual at the time for an African-American artist to illustrate mostly white characters, and as such Campbell’s race wasn’t generally known to readers.