Born more than a century ago in Pittsburgh, Zelda Mavin Jackson went by her married last name in 1937 when she became the first African-American woman to create a comic strip for a syndicated newspaper. She’s been a trailblazer for decades, starting with the debut of “Torchy Brown in ‘Dixie to Harlem'” in the Pittsburgh Courier and continuing through tapes like “Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger.”
The Eisner Awards, which have inducted major comics contributors for three decades, have now seen fit to include Ormes, who drew for two decades and, even after ending her cartooning career, was also a Chicago activist. during the civil rights movement.
The Eisners, who are featured mid-summer in San Diego during Comic-Con International, have increasingly diversified their Hall of Fame inductees in recent years, including color designers like Antonio Prohías, George Perez and brothers Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez in 2017.
Ormes represents a particularly pivotal addition, however, as her career dates back to a time when she was redefining the portrayal of black characters on the comics page. Her three-dimensional characters included Torchy Brown, who in the 1930s headed north from her rural Mississippi to see if she could make it at Harlem’s Cotton Club. Ormes also imbued his latest tape “Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger” with biting political commentary; this comic would spawn a Patty-Jo doll.
“It is very heartening to see Jackie Ormes receive this well-deserved honor,” Martha Kennedy, curator of popular and applied graphic arts at the Library of Congress, told Washington Post Comic Riffs. “Being both a woman and an African American made getting into comics unusually difficult for her, but she forged a groundbreaking career in the field and produced an impressive body of innovative and thoughtful work in the four feature films she created.”
Ormes also created the “Candy” comic strip, centering on a sharp-tongued domestic worker, and brought back her first comic book character in 1950 for “Torchy in Heartbeats.”
Barbara Brandon-Croft, who in 1991 became the first nationally unionized black cartoonist, is also featured on this “Drawn to Purpose” show. Creator of the sociopolitical comic strip “Where I come from”, she welcomes the decision of the Eisner Hall of Fame.
“Finally! I’ve been singing his praises since I was a cartoonist myself,” Brandon-Croft says of Ormes via email. “With my dad [Brumsic Brandon Jr.] being a pioneer draftsman, I made it a point to learn history.
“Whenever I’m asked to be the first black woman to unionize nationally, I say, ‘Wait. I’m just the first dominant press,” she continued. “Jackie preceded me by decades, and [she] recorded our story in his remarkable style in the pages of the black press for many years. I’m so happy, finally she gets her due.
Ormes, who died in 1985, and former Marvel Comics director of direct sales Carol Kalish were announced this week as the judges’ selections for automatic induction. This year’s Eisner panel includes Candice Mack of the Los Angeles Public Library, comics critic/journalist Graeme McMillan, Florida comics retailer Tate Ottati, New York comics scholar Nhora Serrano, the creator-educator Alexander Simmons and manga/anime expert William Wilson.
Industry professionals will vote for this year’s final four inductees from these nominees: Charles Addams, Jim Aparo, Gus Arriola, Karen Berger, Howard Cruse, Carlos Ezquerra, Dave Gibbons, Paul Levitz, Tarpé Mills, Françoise Mouly, Thomas Nast, Lily Renée Wilhelm Peters Phillips, Posy Simmonds, Rumiko Takahashi, John Wagner and S. Clay Wilson.
The Eisner Awards will be announced at a ceremony in San Diego during Comic-Con, which begins July 19.