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for Monday, April 6, 2009

Jackie Ormes

Comics history being one of my passions, I was excited to make the acquaintance of a terrific cartoonist of whom I had formerly been unaware. Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist by Nancy Goldstein [University of Michigan Press; $35] introduced me to an artist whose life was inspirational and whose comic strips and panels are delightful.

Ormes started out as a proofreader for an African American weekly newspaper and that's the corner of the media where her comics and columns continued to appear through September of 1956. Her "Dixie in Harlem" (1937-1938) featured Torchy Brown, a pretty Mississippi teenager who found her calling as a singer and dancer in the famous Cotton Club. For a short time near the end of World War II, Ormes also created "Candy," a single-panel cartoon about a housekeeper. But though Candy was an attractive wiseacre, she was not the perfect spokesperson for the cartoonist's wit, progressive ideals, and upscale lifestyle.

That spokesperson came to life in 1945. "Patty-Jo 'n' Ginger" was a single-panel cartoon, this one starring a cute, insightful young girl and her gorgeous sister. Patty-Jo was the only voice in the strip and, while she usually went for laughs, she would just as often include political and social commentary without those laughs. Ginger never said a word in the panels; she was there to give male readers a pin-up girl. The sisters made a good team, especially in light of Ormes' skill at drawing lovely ladies wearing fashionable clothes and, on occasion, undergarments. The feature continued for eleven years until Ormes retired from newspapers.

Goldstein comes to Ormes by way of her interest in dolls. A Patty-Jo doll was the first non-stereotypical African American doll made in the USA. It's highly-prized by doll collectors, of which Ormes was one. Indeed, she hand-painted the faces of many Patty-Jo dolls and trained the other artists who painted them.

Ormes was a journalist, cartoonist, painter, and crusader for African American pride, civil rights, and other progressive causes. She was, of course, investigated by the F.B.I. during the sad era of the McCarthy witch-hunts, but she seems not to have attracted a great deal of attention from J. Edgar Hoover's agents, who realized her activities had more to do with elevating African-Americans than anything else.

Goldstein's biography of Ormes is fascinating reading, though her writing isn't as exciting as her subject. However, the book has dozens of pages of comics, including gorgeous examples of "Torchy in Heartbeats," the weekly comic strip Ormes did from 1950 to 1954. It was an ongoing soap opera and, from what's featured in the book, it ranks with some of the best stuff that appeared in the romance comic books of the day.

My quibble about the writing aside, Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist is an eye-opener of a book. Goldstein is to be commended for what she accomplished here. This biography earns the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony



Unfriendly Fire

Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America by Dr. Nathaniel Frank [Thomas Dunne Books; $25.95] absolutely makes its title case. Some have already called it the definite history of the military's failed "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Frank's meticulous research and moving examples of the human price of the policy combine with his forceful delivery and utterly unassailable logic, exposing the policy for the sham it always was and remains. The book is informative, insightful, intelligent, and satisfying. On an emotional level, I was horrified by the outright bigotry and lies that have denied gay men and women their right o serve their country...and by how that bigotry and those lies have cost the military the services of straight men and women who might otherwise have enlisted. Instead, the military lowered standards to allow violent criminals and other unsuitable individuals to join its ranks. Madness.

Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America earns the full five out of five Tonys. If you actually care about national security - and not just the fear-mongering of the right - it is a book you must read.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony



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Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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