The First African American Woman Cartoonist
by Nancy Goldstein
Published by University of Michigan Press
In the United States at midcentury – a time of few opportunities for women in general and even fewer for African American women – Jackie Ormes (1911-85) blazed a trail as a popular cartoonist with the major black newspapers of the day. Jackie Ormes chronicles the life of this multiply talented, fascinating woman.
Ormes’s cartoon characters (including Torchy Brown, Candy, Patty-Jo, and Ginger) delighted readers of newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier and Chicago Defender and spawned other products, including an elegant black doll with a stylish wardrobe and “Torchy Togs” paper dolls in the funny papers. Ormes was a member of Chicago’s black elite, with a social circle that included the leading political figures and entertainers of the day. Her politics, which fell decidedly to the left and were apparent to even a casual reader of her cartoons and comic strips, eventually led to her investigation by the FBI during the McCarthy era.
The biography’s more than 150 illustrations include photographs of Jackie Ormes and a large sampling of her cartoons and color comic strips, including some furnished by cartoonist and cartoon historian Tim Jackson. Her work provides an invaluable glimpse into American culture and history, with topics that include racial segregation, U.S. foreign policy, educational equality, the atom bomb, and environmental pollution, among other pressing issues of the times – and of today’s world as well.