Honorary Fanbro: Jackie Ormes
Before Storm, Huey and Riley, Miles Morales, and Misty Knight, who were our African American comic stars? If you read comics in the early 20th century, you probably couldn’t find any.
African American comic characters were presented just like people in the black community, either as a sambo, mammy, Uncle Tom or a bone-in-the-nose bushman. In mainstream comics like The Adventures of Tintin, the prejudices of the author are clear.
Jackie Ormes (1911-1985) became the first African American woman to have a career as a cartoonist. She challenged stereotypes in her characters Torchy Brown, Patty Jo and Ginger. Her cartoons were topical and politically progressive for the time. She wrote for various African American newspapers from 1937 to 1956. The single-panel cartoon Patty-Jo ’n’ Ginger ran in the Pittsburgh Courier from September 1, 1945, until September 22, 1956. Patty-Jo was an outspoken and smart child and her older sister Ginger was a fashionable, pin-up style, college graduate.
This led to the creation of the Patty-Jo doll, produced from 1947 and 1949, the first upscale America black doll. Her final comic Torchy Brown in Heartbeats ran in the Courier from August 19, 1950, until September 18, 1954. Torchy was an independent woman who took on racial and environmental issues while searching for love. Here you can see a short film of Ormes in her studio and with her Patty-Jo dolls.
Although much of her personal life remains a mystery, Jackie Ormes’s works speak to her witty and defiant creativity. Artists still struggle with diverse, realistic representation in all media, but the early work of Ormes cleared the path that we can walk on today.