Spencer Thornton Banks was a Black commercial artist. He was born on June 5, 1912, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and moved to St. Louis, where he graduated from Sumner High School and attended Webster College.
In 1939 and 1941, before enlisting in the Navy, Banks exhibited his work at the City Art Museum. He later took classes and exhibited his work at the People’s Art Center, the first fully integrated arts community center in St. Louis, which he helped found in 1942. He also taught at Washington Technical High School.
Banks published two comic strips in the St. Louis Argus starting around 1939, one being Pokenia, which was published in the genre of a soap opera. The Dowd Modern Graphic History Library (DMGHL) is home to the Pokenia Comic Strip Collection. Materials in the collection include original pen-and-ink drawings on board by Banks, mainly dating from ca.1939.
Pokenia, the protagonist of the comic strip, always causes a stir with her appearance that drives other women to bristle and take note, while men offer her compliments. Pokenia works at a flower counter with fellow employees and patrons, all of whom are Black. She eventually develops a romantic relationship with the store’s bookkeeper, Eddie.
It is unknown if Banks’ comic strips were syndicated. He was one of only a few known early Black artists who created a comic strip featuring an all-Black cast. Pokenia is one of the earliest strips to feature a Black female lead.
For more information on he Pokenia Comic Strip Collection, contact Skye Lacerte, curator of the DMGHL.