Posted on 03/18/2008

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African American
Comic Strip
Female Cartoonist
Jackie Ormes
Torchy Brown
Paper Dolls
circa 1942

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She was the first African American female cartoonist

She was the first African American female cartoonist
Jackie Ormes (1917 - 1986), began her journalistic career as a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Courier in 1938 covering the John Henry Louis & Joe Lewis heavyweight boxing match. On May 1, 1937, Ormes' created her earliest cartoon. It was an action, romance, and soap opera comic featuring a Black heroine named Torchy Brown. Torchy Brown became a full-color Sunday feature. In its first episode, Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem, she was a teen-ager with a family.

In the late 1950s she started Torchy Brown Heartbeats that tackled issues such as sexism, racism & environmental pollution particularly perpetuated upon Black populated areas. Torchy was a woman of color that was not only sensuously drawn in contrast to the genre of the day that depicted black women as maids & mammies, she was portrayed as smart, brave and daring to stand up to the powers that be for justice.

Ormes also designed and marketed a line of cutout fashions for a paper doll version of her character, called Torchy's Togs. During its five year run, Torchy was very popular. Young girls liked her as a paper doll, while older girls who could sew, made their own versions of Torchy's togs. Young men in the armed forces found a use for Torchy as an attractive pin-up girl who was brown-skinned. In 1942, she then came to work for the Chicago Defender in a non-artistic position.

In 1946, Ormes introduced another strip, a single panel cartoon titled; Patty Jo `n Ginger. Patty Jo was a precocious, socially aware little girl living with her much older adult sister Ginger. The Patty Jo character went on to become this nation's first positive image 'Negro' character doll that hit the toy stores in time for Christmas (1948). The Patty Jo dolls are now collector’s items. In the late 70s, arthritis limited her artistic work, however Ormes remained a serious artist, painting murals, portraits (specializing in children's faces) & panels that decorated her home. She was also a passionate doll collector & member of the Chicago Chapter of the United Federation of Doll Clubs. In the 1950’s as her arthritis became worse, doll collecting began.

Retiring from cartooning in the 1960s Ormes had approximately 150 dolls, including a German-made doll, which was the predecessor to the Barbie of today. The oldest in her collection was 50 years old. Ormes was celebrated in Chicago's black social & fashion circles. She was also on the board of directors of the DuSable Museum of African-American History and Art. Ormes’ strips were syndicated in black newspapers across the country, making her the only nationally syndicated black woman cartoonist until the 1990s.

Jackie Ormes died in Chicago on January 2, 1986.

Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine