Elton Clay Fax was born on October 9, 1909 in Baltimore, Maryland. His father, Mark Oakland Fax, was a stevedore at the Baltimore Railroad Depot Quartermaster. His mother, Willie Estelle Fax, was a talented seamstress. They were both African Americans, and their families had each lived in Maryland for several generations. They had two children. His brother Mark was two years younger. They lived in a rented two-family home at 1516 Presstman Street, which was only three blocks West of Union Station.
His brother Mark was a child prodigy. At the age of fourteen he played the musical scores that accompanied silent films at Baltimore's Regent Theater.
After graduating highschool in 1927 he attended Claflin College in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Claflin is a historically black university affiliated with the United Methodist Church.
On March 12, 1929 he married Grace Elizabeth Turner. They eventually had three children, Betty Louise, Virginia Mae, and Leon.
In September 1929 he transferred to Syracuse University, where he studied Fine Arts. He was in the same class with Harry Anderson and Tommy Lovell. In 1931 he received a BFA.
After graduation he returned to Claflin College to teach art. In 1934 he accepted a teaching position at the Harlem Art Center in NYC. While in New York he also worked for the WPA Federal Art Project, an enlightened government program that provided relief income for artists during the Great Depression. He joined this stimulating circle of artists, most of whom had intelligent political concerns and leftist sympathies. He later recalled, "Harlem meant a lot to me when I first saw it in the 1930s. Let me tell you one of the little things that meant so much. Lacy, a big black policeman, was directing traffic. White folks had to stop and go when he told them. Where I came from, no black person was in charge in that way."
By 1940 he began to supplement his income by working as a freelance illustrator. His first pulp illustrations appeared in Weird Tales. He also drew Pen & Ink story illustrations for other pulp magazines, such as All Sports, Complete Cowboy, Popular Football, Real Western, and Western Action. These were all published by Columbia Publications.
Besides drawing pen & ink art for the pulp magazine industry, he also had a significant career in the 1940's as a cartoonist. He worked with Funnies Inc., Quality Comics, Novelty Comics, and Continental Features Syndicate, which distributed comic books for black communities.
In 1942 he created the newspaper comic strip, Susabelle, a precocious young girl, whose pantomimed antics appeared for three years in a popular nationwide syndicate of black newspapers.
He went on to write and illustrate over thirty books on black history, historic figures, global cultures, and his own world travels.
In the 1950s he and his family toured South America, visiting Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, and Mexico. In the 1960s he toured African nations, such as Nigeria, Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia.
In 1972 he wrote and illustrated Garvey, a biography of the great American Black Nationalist, Marcus Garvey.
In 1972 and 1973 he visited the U.S.S.R., where he was an honored guest of the Soviet Writer's Union.
In 1976 he was given a Rockefeller Foundation Research Grant to study art in Italy.
In 1982 he was a guest of the Bulgarian Writers Conference. His last published work was an autobiographical article in 1986, "It's Been a Beautiful but Rugged Journey."
His life was filled with remarkable accomplishments and acquaintances with historic personalities. His brother grew up to become Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Howard University.
He eventually settled in Woodside, Queens, where he served as writer-in-residence at the Langston Hughes branch of the Queens Public Library.
Elton Fax died in his home in Queens, NY, at the age of eighty-three on May 13, 1993.
© David Saunders 2009