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Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist

Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist

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By Nancy Goldstein. Published by University of Michigan Press. 

Softcover, 164 pages, B&W and Colour, 2019 (hardcover published in 2008)


At 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. Her cartoon characters (including Torchy Brown, Candy, Patty-Jo, and Ginger) delighted readers and spawned other products, including an elegant doll with a stylish wardrobe and “Torchy Togs” paper dolls. 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 cartoons and comic strips provide 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. This celebrated biography features a large sampling of Ormes’s cartoons and comic strips, and a new preface.

Nancy Goldstein became fascinated with the story of Jackie Ormes while doing research on the Patty-Jo doll. She has published a number of articles on the history of dolls in the classical world and the United States.

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Praise / Awards

  • "In the first book devoted to Ormes, Goldstein not only recounts with enthusiasm the trailblazing cartoonist's remarkable story . . . but also keenly analyzes Ormes's influential cartoons and the role black newspapers played in the struggle for racial equality. With a generous selection of Ormes's forward-looking cartoons resurrected for the first time, this is one exciting and significant book. Viva Jackie Ormes."

  • "Imagine if the only images of black people in the thirties, forties, and fifties were those in the mainstream media! Thank you, Jackie Ormes, for telling it like it was and recording it all with consummate grace, humor, and style. Ormes paved the way for me and we traveled many of the same paths—working as a journalist, struggling to make a way in the 'man's world' of cartooning, and addressing in our cartoons a range of issues still with us, even fifty years later. The importance of this book is immeasurable. Nancy Goldstein's commitment to uncovering Jackie's story—one that was clearly endangered—and providing this comprehensive collection of her work is nothing short of magnificent.”
    —Barbara Brandon-Croft, creator of Where I’m Coming From

  • "Double Trouble. . . . Jackie Ormes could draw like an angel, tell a great story, slyly insert a comment on racial inequity, and throw in a few sexy frocks, all with panache. The mainstream papers missed a lot by not having Ormes in their pages, but her community benefited by having an incredible artist tell their stories, undiluted by those same mainstream papers. This book fills in a missing historical connection for all of us who love comics and cartoonists and need to have all our stories told. Little girls, pick up your pens---start your strip now!"
    —Nicole Hollander, creator of Sylvia

  • "I am so delighted to see an entire book about the great Jackie Ormes! This is a book that will appeal to multiple audiences: comics scholars, feminists, African Americans, and doll collectors."
    —Trina Robbins, author of A Century of Women Cartoonists and The Great Women Cartoonists

  • "In an assured, comic book style, Jackie Ormes drew opinionated, often sexy, and always well-dressed heroines who delighted African American audiences in the 1940s and '50s. But because her work appeared in black newspapers, Ormes flew under white America's radar. Now, thanks to Nancy Goldstein's fascinating biography, her story will delight anyone interested in comics, women, dolls, fashion, and what it was like to be a middle-class black person in mid-twentieth-century America. Jackie Ormes is a terrific find."
    —Signe Wilkinson, Philadelphia Daily News, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning

  • "[A] groundbreaking new book. More than just a biography, this monumental homage pulls together for the first time pages and pages of reproductions from Jackie Ormes, an original American cartoonist, active from the mid 1930s through the mid-'50s. . . . Goldstein's most joyous accomplishment is in having presented a portrait here of a subtle revolutionary of a bygone era."
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

  • "One of the few full-length books devoted to a cartoonist who is not a white male. . . . a resource of the best kind. . . . Goldstein's research is comprehensive."
    Women's Review of Books

  • "Jackie Ormes is a compact masterpiece that should serve as a model for future research on black cartoonists and on black popular culture in general."
    —John Woodford, The Black Scholar: Journal of Black Studies and Research

  • "If one has ever enjoyed the daily newspaper comics or the Sunday afternoon funnies, then Goldstein's amply illustrated biography of Jackie Ormes, the first African-American woman cartoonist, is a must-read . . . Goldstein provides running commentary on the historical context and backdrop for much of her creative work. Goldstein also offers her own bled of close analysis and art criticism as she discusses the span of Ormes's syndicated comics."
    —Marsha I. Walker, Johnson C. Walker University, Multicultural Review

  • "Goldstein . . . establishes a perspective from which to revalue the power of the black press, not in its conventional acts of reportage, but in serial features in which "the news" and "the editorial" are often interlocked."
    American Periodicals: A Journal of History, Criticism, and Bibliography

  • "Black papers are extremely rare in their original form . . . in a major coup that bespeaks Goldstein's dedication to the project, she succeeded in locating a cache of original Courier color comic sections from which to reproduce the amazing Torchy in Heartbeats strips."
    Hogan's Alley

  • "Clear chapters and fascinating appendices . . . illustrate the life of a woman who poked at the rules of society even as she charmed them with her talent, wit, and legendary beauty. Goldstein has unearthed a chapter of comics history that might easily have been forgotten."
    Teacher Librarian

  • "Jackie Ormes: the First African American Woman Cartoonist is a fascinating story about a trailblazing, multi-talented artist." 
    American Studies, Earnestine Jenkins

  • "Goldestein's book is a wonderful introduction to a woman who turns out to be as fascinating a person as you could hope to read about, an incredible artist and cartoonist who was pioneering not just for the reason given in the sub-title, but because of how far ahead of her time much of her work was. Ormes' life and work seems even more exciting, because so much of what Goldstein does seems like an act of discovery or introduction: Here's one of those great real-life cartoonist characters who, chances are, you've either never heard of, or never heard so much of."
    Comic Book Resources
  • "Offers a fascinating look at a comics trailblazer whose name and works have largely fallen through the cracks of time and memory. . . .Besides its compelling account of a racist national climate alien to most readers under the age of 50, Goldstein's book will attract curious cultural critics, casual fans and comics historians with its look at the black press, its infectious admiration for the subject and numerous reproductions of Ormes's work. The image of a minority woman holding her own in the troubled America of 1937-1956 is a powerful one."
    --Publisher's Weekly
  • Named a Best Book of 2008 by The Village Voice

  • Winner: American Library Association (ALA) 2008 Booklist Top 10 Art Book
  • Winner: American Library Association (ALA) Booklist Top 10 Black History Nonfiction of the Year
  • Winner: American Library Association (ALA) Booklist Top 10 Biography of the Year
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