Jackie Ormes

Jackie Ormes, born Zelda Mavin Jackson (1911–1985), was an African-American cartoonist and journalist who is widely recognized as the first African-American woman to create a syndicated comic strip. She played a significant role in breaking barriers and addressing social issues through her comic strip characters.

Ormes began her career as a journalist and cartoonist in the 1930s, contributing to various African-American newspapers and magazines. Her first comic strip, “Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem,” debuted in the Pittsburgh Courier in 1937. The strip followed the adventures of Torchy Brown, a young African-American woman from Mississippi who moves to New York City to pursue a career in show business.

Torchy comic strip, ca. 1950s

In 1945, Ormes introduced another popular comic strip called “Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger,” which featured two sisters who provided commentary on social and political issues of the time. The strip often tackled themes such as racism, women’s rights, and Cold War tensions, making it one of the first to address these topics in the mainstream comic strip format.

Ormes’s work was notable for its portrayal of strong, independent African-American female characters who confronted societal challenges. Through her characters, she challenged stereotypes and advocated for social change, making her a pioneer in using the comic strip medium for social commentary.

Zelda “Jackie” Ormes drawing Torchy Brown

Aside from her comic strip work, Ormes also created and marketed fashionable paper dolls featuring African-American models. These paper dolls reflected her passion for fashion and served as a form of empowerment for young African-American girls who rarely saw themselves represented in popular media.

Jackie Ormes left a lasting legacy as a trailblazer and visionary in the world of comics. Her work contributed to the representation of African-American characters in popular culture and tackled important social issues of her time. She remains an influential figure in the history of African-American art and cartooning.

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