Thursday, April 24, 2008

New Release Spotlight: Jackie Ormes

Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist by Nancy Goldstein

As graphic novels continue to gain respect in the literary world, there is a corresponding renaissance of interest in cartoonists of the past. In the introduction for Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist, author and doll collector Nancy Goldstein explains how she wrote this book almost by accident.

“What began for me as a small hobby project turned into an exploration of previously uncharted territory: the life and art of the first black woman newspaper cartoonist.”

Goldstein traces the life of Jackie Ormes, nee Zelda Mavin Jackson, from her birth in 1911 in rural western Pennsylvania to her prominent position in Chicago as an activist, socialite, and cartoonist. Between 1937 and 1956, Ormes published four different comic strips, syndicated by major black newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender. She not only touched on every major issue of the time, but many that would not be widely addressed for decades, such as environmentalism. In fact, Ormes was so influential that she was investigated by the FBI, whose files Goldstein used to compile her book.

Beyond biographical details, Goldstein wisely dedicates almost a third of the book to reproductions of Ormes’s work. The “Patty-Jo ’n’ Ginger” panels dominate, and feature “interpretive captions” for readers unfamiliar with the social context. This series, which was Ormes’s longest running and most widely known, features the small, sassy Patty-Jo who makes insightful wisecracks while her older sister, Ginger, poses like a pinup girl and wears all the latest styles.

Goldstein’s background as a doll collector shows when she dedicates the last third of the book to Ormes’s creation, “Patty-Jo.” However, the book is well researched and well written, which makes it more than a textbook or extended research paper. Perhaps Goldstein sums it up best.

“On one level, Jackie Ormes’s work can be enjoyed as entertaining and a diverting way to consider a shared American past. But with the recovery of her work, students and researchers can now more fully consider Ormes in relation to cartoon and comics history, art history, American folk humor, and the black press.”

How fitting that a work about Ormes would also manage to be both engaging and educational.

Review by Mel Wells, Indigo Editing, LLC

ISBN-13: 978-0472116249
Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Pub Date: February 2008
Hardcover: $35.00

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