Jackie Ormes: Torchy, Candy, Patty-Jo & Ginger!
Posted: February 28, 2015 Filed under: English | Tags: Black History Month
Jackie Ormes_ Silhouette by Bruce Patrick Jones
Jackie Ormes (1911-1985), considered to be the first Black-American Woman cartoonist /syndicated comic-strip writer/illustrator, was born Zelda Mavin Jackson in Monongahela, Pennysylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh. She began her newspaper career as a proofreader for the Pittsburgh Courier, an African-American weekly that appeared every Saturday. .
Nancy Goldstein, author of an exceptionally-detailed 2008 biography of Ormes, states:
“In the United States at mid (20th) century – a time of few opportunities for women in general and even fewer for African-American women – Jackie Ormes blazed a trail as a popular cartoonist with the major Black newspapers of the day.” Her cartoon characters Torchy Brown (1937-38, 1950-54), Candy (1945), and the memorable duo of Patty-Jo and Ginger (Ginger a glamorous quasi-“pin-up” girl, and Patty-Jo her frank and accurate kid sister, 1945-56) delighted readers of the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender.
“Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem” was a comic-strip telling the tale of a Mississippi teenager who finds fame and fortune as a singer and dancer at The Cotton Club. “Candy”, a single-panel comic, featured a wise-cracking housemaid. In the 11-year-running “Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger”, precocious child Patty-Jo “kept it real” (as only a child could) in her commentaries about a range of topics – racial segregation, U.S. Foreign policy, education reform, the atom bomb, McCarthy’s “Red” paranoia, etc., while her older “Sis”, Ginger, posed or strutted in mute mannequin glamour. Both Ginger, and the later Torchy Brown (of Torchy Brown in “Heartbeats”) presented gorgeous and fashionable Black women in an era when few such images were to be found. The final newspaper strip for “Heartbeats” in 1954 also hit home on themes of racism and environmental pollution.
Briefly, from 1947-1949, Ormes was contracted by a doll company to design a realistic Black girl doll (not a Mammy or Topsy stereotype), and she would become an avid doll collector in later life. Married happily for four and a half decades, she retired from cartooning in 1956 but continued to draw and paint still-lifes, portraits and murals. One of the founding directors of the DuSable Museum of African-American History in Chicago, she was deeply committed to her community.
But it is Jackie Ormes’ special populist-art contribution to American culture – her unique comics – that we remember today – during Black History Month 2015!