Representation in the arts matters, as evidenced by presence of rising stars Nilah Magruder, the first Black woman to write for Marvel Comics, and Aphton Corbin, a storyboard artist for Pixar. These talented women have their own respective creative influences, but Jackie Ormes, the first Black nationally syndicated woman cartoonist, certainly paved the way.
Ormes was born Zelda Jackson on August 1, 1911 in Pittsburgh, Penn. After high school, Ormes took a job with “The Pittsburgh Courier” as a proofreader, eventually moving to writing and reporting in 1930. In 1937, Ormes produced the comic strip “Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem,” which followed the life of a Mississippi teenager hoping to make it big as a singer at the famed Cotton Club.
Ormes and her husband, accountant Earl Ormes, settled in Chicago where she worked as a writer for “The Chicago Defender,” producing the comic strip “Candy” in 1945. Both “Torchy Brown” and “Candy” had relatively short runs, but Ormes returned to work for the “Courier” and produced her influential and longest-running strip, “Patty-Jo ‘N’ Ginger.” The comic ran for 11 years until 1956, spawning the first Black doll based on a comic character, the Patty-Jo, in 1947. The doll was popular among Black and white collectors at the time and is still a coveted piece among doll enthusiasts.
After retiring in 1956, Ormes remained a fixture in Chicago’s vast arts scene, including becoming a founding board member of the DuSable Museum of African American History. She was also an avid doll collector, contributing art in various South Side Chicago installations.
Ormes passed in 1985 at the age of 74. She was posthumously induced to the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame in 2014.
PHOTO: Public Domain
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