Tiara Jones, History 270: African-American History
Jackie Ormes: Ground Breaking Illustrations
Cartoons are often thought of as cute little pictures for children, but they are much more than that. According to the cartoon editor of the New Yorker, Robert Mankoff, “Cartoons present a different way to see life’s problems.” Cartoons provide people with a different vantage point to view the world around them. Editorial cartoons in America date back to before America was even a country, with Benjamin Franklin’s first cartoon published in 1754. Cartoons have withstood the test of time and have still managed to be popular in today’s publications. Many people have made a career of cartooning, but many of the well-known names belong to white males, leaving many to think that they were the only ones thinking and creating, but that was the farthest thing from the truth. Black men such as, Herbert Block and Bill Maldin were also successfully drawing up cartoons in the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s. There was also another star that history neglects, Jackie Ormes, the first African American female cartoonist.
Nancy Goldstein, a doll historian and enthusiast, stumbled across Ormes while helping a friend research the connection between Ormes’s Patty-Jo doll and the Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger cartoon. Goldstein was blown away by Ormes’s work and wanted to see more, and that was the beginning of her book Jackie Ormes: the First African American Female Cartoonist. Although Goldstein herself is a white woman, she saw Ormes for her talent and not simply her race. Her research told her more and more about how innovative, revolutionary, and radical Jackie Ormes and her work were, and Goldstein just knew the rest of the world needed to know Jackie Ormes.
The vast amount of research and consideration Goldstein put into this biography is evident, even from simply looking at the over twenty pages of notes and references found at the back of the book. Goldstein really wanted to do Ormes justice, and went as far as to contact and collaborate with those who are kin to Ormes such as her sister Delores, and sister-in-law Vivian. She also consulted Tim Jackson, a Chicago-based syndicated cartoonist and cartoon historian, who helped with early research and the multitude of pictures and cartoons found in the book. Goldstein did note that in her research she could not locate personal letters, editor’s letters, nor articles, essays, or papers that would have given more insight to her life and career, which does limit her knowledge of Ormes.
Goldstein did not intend for her work to be the sole authority on Jackie Ormes, but instead a starting point for other researchers to pick up and add to the story. Although Goldstein did not intend for her book to be the sole authority on Ormes, it is currently. Every other recent article concerning Ormes points back to Goldstein’s work. Goldstein’s book is basically the bible of Jackie Ormes. It is amazing how much she was able to collect when there is such limited information available on Jackie Ormes outside of her book.
Goldstein paints a really complete portrait of Jackie Ormes as a woman. Not only does she write about Ormes’s artistic work, but her philanthropic contributions, and includes a section about her FBI file to give readers a more complete picture of who she was. Goldstein tells Jackie’s story in a way that is thorough and authentic, like she was telling her own story. She gives a detailed history of Ormes’s upbringing, and reveals that her name was in fact Zelda Mavin Jackson, and she received the nickname Jackie from her surname. Goldstein tries to capture who Jackie was as an intellectual, and chose to illustrate Ormes’s evolution as an artist and her wide range of interests and commitment to issues of the day. She also included over 150 pictures in the book, which include personal pictures, but more so her comics so that readers can get a strong sense of Ormes as an artist and a better understanding of her work. Goldstein dedicated an individual chapter to each of her popular cartoons in order to provide a deep unique appreciation for each, as well as a chapter to her innovative Patty-Jo doll.
Nancy Goldstein really wanted to know Jackie Ormes and all that can be received from her matchless work. She helps readers understand the magnitude of Ormes being the first African American female cartoonist. She gave herself a voice when women did not have one. Ormes was doing something women did not do, and doing it in her own unique way. In her cartoons she used her own characters that represented real people and allowed people to see themselves in her cartoons. This helped add to the timelessness of her work. She also portrayed black women in a light opposite of what was the norm for the day.
She depicted images of smart, beautiful, well dressed black women, which became personified in her Patty-Jo doll. Ormes was also able to document black history and pop culture in her cartoons, through the array of subjects and current events she commented on in an opinionated but humorous light. Her topics ranged from racism to war to poverty to sexism, she covered it all. Her last cartoon published in 1954 confronted the issues of racism and the effects of pollution on the poor.
Goldstein’s main purpose in researching and writing this book was to make the public aware of this unsung but very important figure in history. She recognizes how advanced Ormes’s writing style was, and how it set the tone for other black cartoonists today, such as Where I’m Coming From’s Barbara Brandon-Croft and the Boondocks’ Aaron McGruder. She also brings attention to the fact that although one would think that after Jackie Ormes there would be many mainstream African American female cartoonists, there are currently none, and in fact there are very few males. She also wanted to set straight many of the inaccuracies she came across in her research and included a special section of the book to address those and set the record straight. Goldstein also wanted to bring to light all the black cartoonists that fail to receive proper recognition, and inspire others to do the research needed to bring their stories to life. Lastly, this book serves as a call to continue the search for and collection of history of Jackie Ormes, as well as financial donations to help make more knowledge about her available to the public.
This book was written for a multitude of readers, for anyone who can resonate with any aspect of Jackie Ormes. It was written for African Americans, for women, for historians, for artists, for the oppressed, for those whose stories and voices are also forgotten, for thinkers and innovators, the list goes on. Goldstein did a superb job of capturing the life and liveliness of Ormes and telling her story with that same liveliness and excitement. Readers will walk away informed of not only who Jackie Ormes was, but what made her special, along with a deep understanding of and appreciation for her art and her work.
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