Jackie Ormes (1911 - 1985)
To say Mrs. Ormes is an inspirational creator and ahead of her time is an understatement.
Born Zelda Jackson, she was a journalist who was hired as a proofreader of the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the first major and most influential Black newspapers in the country. While at the Courier, Ormes created Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem, a story about a teenage singer from Mississippi who realizes her dream to perform at the legendary Cotton Club in Harlem, New York.
After moving to Chicago in 1942, Mrs. Ormes wrote for another influential Black newspaper, the Chicago Defender (ironically a sibling publication to the Pittsburgh Courier since 2003) where she contributed feature stories, a social column, and after the end of the second World War, a one-panel comic strip called Candy (not to be confused with Alvin Hollingsworth’s comic strip Kandy), which was the misadventures of a sharp-witted housemaid who didn’t conform to the stereotypical Mammy archetype of the era but rather shapely, attractive, and realistic, a rarity in any medium.
Mrs. Ormes returned to the Courier in 1947 and created a new one-panel strip that lasted 11 years. Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger chronicled the lives of a pair of sisters, a short, opinionated, sharp-tongue little girl named Patty-Jo and her older, statuesque sister Ginger. Patty-Jo was also the inspiration of a popular doll produced by Terri Lee Dolls and noted for its realistic Black American features as opposed to the Topsy/Mammy dolls of the day. Only produced for two years, the Patty-Jo dolls are collectors items.
1950 brought the reintroduction of Mrs. Ormes’ Torchy Brown, who was no longer a teenage performer but now an independent woman looking for love and a place in this world while taking on issues of the day, particularly civil rights, in a new full-color title, Torchy Brown in Heartbeats. In 1957, Mrs. Ormes retired from comics but continued to create fine art and living a busy social life throughout the Chicago area.