Brandon-Croft, Barbara. “Where I’m Coming From.” Detroit Free Press, 1989-2005.
Where I’m Coming From was the first nationally syndicated weekly comic by an African-American woman cartoonist. The comic centered on nine black women and their daily musings on life in America; the work is politically charged, both so that black readers could identify with the black women depicted, and so that white readers could see the struggles of black Americans. The comic is simplistic in style, depicting only the heads and arms of the characters; Brandon-Croft has acknowledged that this was a reaction to black women being too often “summed up by their body parts.” Where I’m Coming From handled a broad range of topics, from rape convictions to single motherhood, thus depicting a diversity of black female experiences with a profound depth of feeling and sharpness of intellect
Ormes, Jackie. Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger. Pittsburgh Courier, 1945-1956.
This single-panel cartoon depicted a fashionable, college-educated woman named Ginger and her opinionated younger sister Patty-Jo. The cartoon featured gags about domestic life and satire of society and politics; Ormes frequently used it as a platform to protest racial injustice. Patty-Jo frequently brought a youthful clairvoyance, and functioned as a truth-teller in matters of social importance. Ginger, on the other hand, was meant to function as a positive role model for black women, for she was smart and fashionable, but also very much invested in her home and family life.
Ormes, Jackie. “Dixie to Harlem”. Torchy Brown. Pittsburgh Courier, 1937-1938.
This comic strip made Jackie Ormes the first nationally published African American cartoonist, and was one of the earliest positive representations of black women in comics. This humorous story follows teenage country girl Torchy Brown as she leaves the South and makes her way to Harlem, where she eventually finds stardom at the Cotton Club. Torchy’s story was meant to mirror the Great Migration, and to evoke the struggles experienced by those who migrated. Ormes often used the youthful and starry-eyed Torchy to comically engage with real political issues, as when Torchy ‘s puzzlement over which section of the train she should sit in prompted a discussion of whether she could pass for white, the ethical implications of passing.
Ormes, Jackie. Torchy in Heartbeats. Pittsburgh Courier, 1950-1954.
Torchy made her return in this full-color comic strip, this time re-imagined as a mature, independent woman. The rebooted comic strip had a very different feel than the original, for it employed many of the tropes common in romance comics of the 1940s and ‘50s. The comic followed Torchy’s various adventures and romantic misadventures; though much of the narrative was devoted to Torchy’s efforts to find love, Torchy herself had become an outspoken character, who spent much of her time challenging racism, violence against women, and environmental injustice. Torchy also traveled abroad, thus depicting a new, modern woman involved in the larger world. The weekly comic always included a cut-out paper doll with an extensive fashionable wardrobe, thus providing a weekly opportunity for positive self-representation for young black girls and women.
Also by Jackie Ormes: Candy, a syndicated comic about an attractive, wisecracking housemaid.