Can Jackie Ormes step into the world she’s created through her comic strip heroine Torchy Brown?
Jackie ORMES (1917-1985) made history as the first female African-American cartoonist to publish and syndicate her comic strip series, Torchy Brown. Published in the black-owned newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier in 1937, Torchy Brown reached over a million readers a week at its peak.
Ormes was equally known as a crusading columnist, humorist, artist and activist: she spoke not only with her person but used her pen and brush as an instrument of protest and change. Her life was in her art and her art was her life.
Torchy Brown begins her journey as a young, naive teenager who yearns to go North with dreams of seeking fame and fortune as a performer at Harlem’s famed Cotton Club, then transforms herself into a powerful heroine who battles the evils of society; racism, sexism and environmental neglect—against the backdrop of her own romantic longings.
“Torchy Brown could never have been some kind of mushy soap opera," Ormes said. "She was no moonstruck crybaby, and she wouldn’t perish between heartbreaks. I have never liked dreamy little women who can’t hold their own.”
Torchy opened doors which were closed to Jackie, whose life was circumscribed by the restrictive social mores and racism of the time. During the course of a career spanning three decades, Ormes produced four separate comic strips: Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem, Candy, Torchy Brown Heartbeats and Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger. Patti-Jo, a precocious, socially aware little girl, became licensed as the first realistic American black doll to hit shelves Christmas of 1947.
It all started when I picked up a copy of the Chicago Reader, and there on the cover were headshots of an older, African-American woman and a sexy, intelligent, strong cartoon heroine. It was the cartoonist Jackie Ormes and her creation, Torchy Brown. That image spoke to me. I knew at that moment this was a story that needed to be told.
Jackie Ormes created and took charge of how she wanted a woman—a woman of color—to be represented. That was in 1937. She did what no one else was doing at the time and few are doing today. She created a character who could step into a world that was forbidden to her. Ormes gave voice to her feelings, to her longings, to the world around her, and broke barriers while doing it. This is a story about hope in the face of enormous obstacles.
Susan has devoted herself to bringing Jackie Ormes’s story to life. Work as a writer/producer include documentaries, industrials, commercials, social action non-profit videos, and spec scripts, all of which have been optioned. She recently helped launch a non-profit which uses the arts to enrich the lives of children in foster care.