5 Impressive Facts About the First Black Woman Cartoonist

Jackie Ormes was the first Black woman to create, write and draw her own syndicated comic strip in the United States. For those who read and enjoy comics, you may realize that there are not a lot of female creators working on prominent characters for DC Comics and Marvel. However, in the 1930s, Ormes (born Zelda Mavin Jackson), was making a comic strip before Batman and Superman became the cultural icons they are now. She was a pioneer who deserves the same credit as Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, C.C. Beck, Joe Kubert and many others. Ormes was ahead of her time just like Orrin C. Evans.




Torchy Brown in ‘Dixie to Harlem’

Ormes’ first comic strip was published in the all-Black newspaper the Pittsburgh Courier from 1937-38. Above, you can see the extreme detail of her work. This strip showed the great migration of African-Americans moving to the North to escape the Jim Crow South. Torchy Brown is a teenage girl from Mississippi who goes to Harlem to find fame as a singer and dancer.

The Importance of Representing Black History Icons in Comic Books

Some of them couldn’t fly. They didn’t wear colorful costumes, and they didn’t have superpowers. But they were superheroes all the same. Others were as real as Spider-Man. Throughout the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, comic books appeared featuring real or fictional African-Americans.

The real-life Black heroes were brilliant scientists or former enslaved people who risked their lives for the freedom of their people. Fictional Black heroes defeated villains ordinary humans could not.

In 1947, the first issue of Negro Heroes featured George Washington Carver, Matthew Henson, Harriet Tubman and Joe Louis. The second issue featured Booker T. Washington, Sadie Alexander, Jackie Robinson and many other real-life Black heroes.

Nonfiction African-American comic books continued into 1969 when the Gilberton Co. produced Negro Americans. Like Negro Heroes, the Negro Americans comic book covered the lives of African-American great achievers. Many illustrations in the nonfiction comic books appear to have been taken from photographs, and the plain yellow, brown or blue colors give the stories a real and not fantasy look.

In the 1940s, All-Negro Comics stood out as being owned, produced and written by Blacks. Unlike Negro Heroes and Negro Americans, however, All-Negro Comics featured fictional African-Americans. Ace Harlem is one character in All-Negro Comics. Although Harlem is a tall, Hollywood-handsome Black detective, the bad guys might be called stereotypes. Other characters in All-Negro Comics were created for laughs but may also have displayed an image many Blacks did not care to see.

Probably the best character to come out of All-Negro Comics is college-educated Lion Man, who is an agent for the United Nations. Lion Man’s mission takes him to Africa where he meets his sidekick — an orphan named Bubba. Today, you’ll find a character named Lion Man appearing in various comic books including Batman. This is likely because Lion Man carries the title of Public Domain Superhero. One of the most interesting versions of Lion Man is the comic book tutorial by Eric Neal that teaches life lessons to children.

The life story of Orrin Cromwell Evans, creator of AllNegro Comics, involves Nazi-sympathizer Charles Lindbergh, racism and Evans’ determination. Tom Christopher states that Evans “went out of his way to meet Morrie Turner, the first syndicated black cartoonist. He was always impressed with the way a well-executed cartoon could simplify and clarify complex issues.”

Nonfiction comic books related the lives of outstanding African-Americans in an easy to understand format. The fictional African-Americans in comic books produced Black heroes with a positive image. Whether fiction or nonfiction, the African-American characters in early comic books sent the message to readers that he or she could also achieve through determination.

Source: Demetrius Sherman at Black Girl Nerds