Turtel Onli (born January 25, 1952, in Chicago, Illinois) is an American artist, entrepreneur, author, art therapist, educator, and publisher.
Over Onli's career, his work has touched upon a variety of disciplines in fine and applied visual art, producing works in painting, drawing, illustration, publishing, fashion, and multimedia production. Onli has authored and illustrated several comic books and graphic novels, including NOG, Protector of the Pyramids. He is known as "the father" of the "Black Age of Comics," a movement dedicated to the promotion, creation, and support of Afrocentric comic books and graphic novels. Onli coined the term "Rhythmism" to define and interpret his stylizations, which fuse primitive and futuristic concepts. A public school art teacher, now retired, Onli has worked in the Chicago Public Schools for more than two decades.
Onli graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. He later returned to the Art Institute and earned a Master of Arts in Art Therapy. His education includes studies in Paris, France, at The Sorbonne and the Centre Georges Pompidou.
In 1970, Onli founded the Black Arts Guild (BAG), which featured touring art exhibitions and published work by its members. In 1974, in conjunction with BAG, he published Funk Book and a series of greeting cards. In 1980, he co-published a zine called PAPER with the Osun Center of the Arts. In the early 1980s he created five issues of another early comics zine, Future Funk.
Onli's illustration clients include Playboy Magazine, Chicago Magazine, Avant Garde Magazine, McDonald's, Motown Productions, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, MODE magazine, and Paris Métro magazine. His work is in the collections of Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, the Chicago Children's Museum (The Rhythmistic Bench), and Johnson Publishing Company. Onli has been a visiting artist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In 2005: Onli curated “Reverend Phillips and Turtel Onli: An Artistic and Spiritual Legacy,” at the Center for the Visual and Performing Arts in Munster, Indiana, an exhibition featuring the visionary charts created by his late grandfather, the Rev. Samuel David Phillips, and Onli’s own Rhythmistic paintings.
In 2010 he opened the new Onli Studios at the Bridgeport Arts Center in Chicago.
Throughout his career, Onli has created Afrocentric super-powered characters who tap into humanity’s innate attraction to exaggeration, the supernatural, and pseudo-theological mythology. They represent Onli's belief in the ideal of the powerful defending the weak. He uses the "hero vs. villain" paradigm as his vehicle for reaching beyond “perceived” norms.
Onli's character NOG, Nubian of Greatness, one of the earliest Afrocentric comic book characters, was featured in the Chicago Defender, starting in 1979, before transitioning to the comic book NOG, Protector of the Pyramides from 1981-82. NOG returned in NOG is Back!! in 1994 and Nog Nu!! in 2011.
In 1993, Onli spearheaded the inaugural Black Age of Comics convention at the Southside Community Arts Center in Chicago, where it was held for three consecutive years. Black Age of Comics Conventions have since been held in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Detroit; with Philadelphia's annual ECBACC being the most prominent. Other recent Black Age of Comics conventions were held in Chicago's Bridgeport Arts Center and Kenwood Academy.
From 1984–1989 Onli worked as an art therapist with young people in Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes.
Onli worked as an art instructor in the Chicago Public Schools.
Onli has taught at Columbia College Chicago, and is currently an adjunct professor of Art Appreciation & Drawing at Harold Washington College.2006: Glyph Comics Awards Pioneer Award — for bringing positive, diverse images to the world of graphic novels and comic books
NOG: Protector of the Pyramides (self-published, 1981–1982)
Future Funk (BAG, 1980s)
Malcolm 10 (self-published, 1992)
Sustah-Girl (Castel Publications, 1993) — with Cassandra Washington
Grammar Patrol (Castel Publications, 1994) — with Cassandra Washington
Nog is Back (self-published, 1994)
The Origins of Team Blanga: Heroes of the Black Age (Onli Studios, 2007) — includes an original CD soundtrack by Hardy Headz
Let's Go Green in the City (Onli Studios, 2008)
Sasa (Onli Studios, 2010)
Nog Nu!! (Onli Studios, 2011)
East/West Zodiac & Journal (Onli Studios) — with Kocao Winbush
The Legend of the AZANIAC
1977: Second World Festival of Black and African Art and Culture (FESTAC) (Lagos, Nigeria) — group show
1991: Prairie Avenue Gallery (Chicago, Illinois) — "The Return of Watermelon: The Redefining of a Stereotype" group show group show
2001: The African American Cultural Center (Chicago, Illinois)
2005: Center for the Visual and Performing Arts (Munster, Indiana) — “Reverend Phillips and Turtel Onli: An Artistic and Spiritual Legacy”
2007: "Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet Chicago" group show — "It'z A Rhythmsitic World." Never boring!!!“
2011: Tubman African American Museum — "Afro Futurism in the Visual Arts" group show
2011: ETA Creative Arts Foundation — “Passion Fruit: The Other Chicago Black Movement” solo exhibition
2013: DuSable Museum of African American History — "AFRICOBRA: Art and Impact" group show