Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist

Jackie (L) with Eartha Kitt and unidentified man

If you've been paying attention at all, you know I love comic books. So when I found Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist by Nancy Goldstein, I squeed with delight! Finding out that she was smart, sexy, sassy and successful only made it better!

Jackie (born in 1911 in Pittsburgh, PA) had such talent when she was young that her parents thought it would be a waste of time and money for her to take art classes, though she eventually attended an art institute. She stole all the paper in the house for her creations and often other items like bars of Ivory soap which she would carve.

She also had a great interest in writing and while still in high school, Jackie pestered the publisher of the first African American weekly newspaper, Pittsburgh Courier, for a job, resulting in a few reporting opportunities.

In 1943, she approached the Chicago Defender for a job and was hired as a woman's column writer. Two years later, she was able to convince her bosses to let her work as a cartoonist and in 1945 Candy debuted. Candy was a single panel cartoon about a housemaid mocking her employer and occasionally stealing her clothing. The comic ran only 4 months and Jackie was never paid for it.
"I'm getting fed up with rolling her cigarettes.
It's enough to make me break down and share my tailor-mades!"

"Gee, I hope Mrs. Goldrocks doesn't gain any more weight. I can't possibly wear a size larger."

After leaving the Chicago Defender for the Pittsburgh Courier the same year, Jackie created her longest running comic: Patty-Jo 'n' Ginger, which premiered just days after the A-bombs were dropped on Japan. Patty-Jo 'n' Ginger made often shocking social and political statements through the mouth of a precocious little girl, Patty-Jo, while her older sister, Ginger, provided the silent sex-bomb reaction shots.

The cartoon ran in 14 different cities and was so popular that a line of Patty-Jo dolls and doll clothing was created, which was another outlet for Jackie's love of fashion design. The cartoon ran for 11 years!
"Now that the war is over, I guess we'll see what the men shortage
had to do with that no-nickel Jody we've been puttin' up with!"

"Shucks - Let's go price atom bombs - they haven't outlawed THEM yet!

"Ok - ok, you're making it... but I just know this 'new look' is
bound to catch up with me too, sooner or later!"

Note: "New look" was the name of the Dior spring fashion line that year.

"So it seems our A-bombs can make Americans outta ANYBODY,
no matter WHERE!"

"Get outa HERE with that boom-boom-boom... an' don't come back no more!"
Note: This mocks a popular song at the time, "The Thing" by Phil Harris,
which had a "punch line" of three bass drum beats instead of words.

"What'cha mean it's no game for girls? We got feet too, ain't we?"

In 1950, Jackie began a new series called "Torchy Brown Heartbeats" and later "Torchy in Heartbeats." This was an action-adventure/romance comic in which Torchy Brown, the heroine had many adventures in love, environmental justice, racial equality and more. With "Torchy in Heartbeats," Jackie was able to indulge her love of fashion even more by drawing paper dolls/pin-ups sections below the strip. (Click on them to see a readable version)

For much, much more information about Jackie Ormes' groundbreaking career, read Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist by Nancy Goldstein. All information and images were taken from this book.

Read more:
Megan Rose Gedris: Lesbian Comic Artist Extraoirdinare
Frank: The Trippy Cartoon Whatsit
My Top 5 Web Comics

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Keith Sader said...

Have you read Octavia Butler's sci-fi/horror?

Stacey K said...

I like the "We got feet too ain't we" cartoon.

Joe Pontillo said...

Great find! Thanks for sharing.

May said...

I haven't, Keith, but I guess it's something I should check out..?