David Brothers is blogging Black History Month, spotlighting great cartoonists George Herriman and Jackie Ormes, thus far.
Ormes’s work is, for lack of a better phrase, aggressively normal. Part of overcoming a four hundred year head start is proving that you’re just as much of a normal person as everyone else. In her strips, black kids are just as smart as white ones, black families are equal to whites, and people do groundbreaking things like “have regular relationships” and “tell jokes.” Her work outside of comics reflects that normalcy, too. She had dolls made of her characters, and took part in campaigning for social issues and supporting her community.
Herriman and Ormes are both icons of black comics, as far as I’m concerned. Herriman was there and worked at a point in time where I didn’t think there were any black people working in comics, much less legends of the craft. Ormes provides a valuable counterpoint to the frankly crap portrayal of blacks in mainstream books, in addition to emphasizing the normalcy of black citizens. I just wish more of her work was in print, but that doesn’t seem too likely.