In honour of International Women’s Day, I want to talk about a film. Even though it was only available through a temporary backers-only link, I was able to view the video and say something about it. It’s a small film, a mini-documentary about Jackie Ormes: the first African-American female cartoonist and creator of the comic strip Torchy Brown and the panel series Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger.
This mini-doc was made by Respect Films, the same film-makers that created the documentary She Makes Comics which focuses on women in the comics industry and fandom. The Jackie Ormes Bonus Documentary itself was the result of the She Makes Comics Kickstarter reaching beyond its initial goals. It was originally going to be included in She Makes Comics itself, in a bonus or extras section, but Respect Films decided to release it on Vimeo.
The Jackie Ormes mini-doc was meant to be a part of the greater narrative of She Makes Comics: or, at the very least, it was gleaned from the primary material that the film-makers gained from their interviews. I admit that I really looked forward to watching this video and learning something new: not just about Jackie Ormes and her work, but also the time period and culture that she lived and worked in, and how it influenced her art.
It is shorter than I expected it to be, but it has some very fascinating elements. While Jackie Ormes’ work is talked about, what we get is a basic outline of what she did and the idea that she covered aspects of Black culture through her work during the late 1930s all the way until she retired in 1956. What I find particularly fascinating is that not only was Jackie Ormes a female voice in a male-dominated industry, but she was a woman of colour that spoke about Black culture in a pre-Civil Rights time span. For instance, Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger is a panel series in which the older and younger sister duo talk and argue about everything under the sign: including race and politics.
At the same time, you can see that Ormes plays in, and utilizes, the romantic genre of comics through the character of Torchy in Torchy Brown: dealing with her desire for love and a depicted love of fashion but, at the same time, portraying her strength, self-respect, and need for personal independence. Ormes manages to create characters that are not traditional or racial stereotypes while not shrugging away from the realities around her.
I just wish we could have seen more in that mini-doc, but I think the most striking thing — for me — was the discussion about an extremely personal and sad event in Jackie Ormes’ life: on how she used her art to, in part, channel that grief into something informative and eternal. It is this element and the entire mini-doc that fits into the spirit behind She Makes Comics narrative: a brief but poignant outline of a story told on behalf of someone gifted and departed by her living compatriots. At the same time, this documentary stands on its own: along with the work and life of Jackie Ormes herself.