Reposted from my now-defunct comics blog.
The Ormes Society is a great resource for learning about black female comics creators. In fact, they have a recent two part series about black women in comics, with tons of info and links: part one, part two.
The organization is named after Jackie Ormes, the first African-American female cartoonist.
Years before Tarpé Mills created Miss Fury, Jackie Ormes was modeling her stylish and beautiful characters after herself, and defying stereotypes about black women while she did it.
In the United States at midcentury—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…
Ormes’s cartoon characters (including Torchy Brown, Candy, Patty-Jo, and Ginger) delighted readers of newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier and Chicago Defender and spawned other products, including an elegant black doll with a stylish wardrobe and “Torchy Togs” paper dolls in the funny papers. 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 politics, which fell decidedly to the left and were apparent to even a casual reader of her cartoons and comic strips, eventually led to her investigation by the FBI during the McCarthy era.
— from the description of Nancy Goldstein’s biography of Ormes
September 4, 1937:
Torchy Brown in “Dixie to Harlem” depicted the escapades of a teenage country girl, starry-eyed and slightly wacky, abounding in pluck, optimism, and determination. Dinah Dazzle, her friend’s cousin, visits from New York City, inspiring Torchy with fanciful daydreams. Here she heads North by train to try her luck at the Cotton Club in Harlem, in a setup ripe for week after week of humorous scenes. While presenting a funny, entertaining story, this strip reflected the real struggles of people moving from the South to the North. Ormes mocks the predicament of passing for white as youthful Torchy puzzles in the southern train station whether to go in the direction of the “Colored” arrow or to the more comfortable “White” section.
— from jackieormes.com
KMBC interviews Goldstein about Jackie Ormes and Torchy Brown.
NPR has a story on Ormes here, with some comics to view.
Nancy Goldstein’s biography reprints a large sampling of Ormes’ strips and illustrations. You can buy it here. Unfortunately, it appears to be the only place to find her work reprinted.