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First and Last – Friday Foster and Torchy Brown

January 18, 1970, fifty years ago today, heralded the debut of the first “mainstream” comic strip starring an African American heroine: Friday Foster by Jim Lawrence and Jorge Longaron.

above: the January 18, 1970 Friday Foster debut strip (hat tip to Doc Vassallo)

The strip would run four years never getting a large number of newspapers to sign on. A comic strip with a black woman as the focus was not popular in a number of areas in the United States at that time. Jorge Longaron stepped off the strip in late 1973; Gray Morrow, Howard Chaykin, Dick Giordano, and maybe others  filled in on the art chores until it ended on February 17, 1974.

above: the last Friday Foster strip of February 17, 1974 (Howard Chaykin/Dick Giordano  art?)

Friday Foster would reappear on the comics pages as a guest in a 2019 Dick Tracy story.

 

There is a reason Friday Foster is referred to as the first “mainstream” comic strip featuring a black female lead – Torchy Brown is the reason.


above: May 1, 1937 Torchy Brown (from bad microfilm)

Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem by Jackie Ormes first appeared in the Pittsburgh Courier on May 1, 1937. Torchy Brown ran for one year, then Jackie moved on to other projects. In 1950 the cartoonist returned and revived Torchy for a new run – Torchy in Heartbeats (originally Torchy Brown Heartbeats). This version ran from 1950 to 1954. The strip, featuring an African American heroine by an African American heroine, was distributed nationally. But the papers carrying the comic strip were Black Newspapers, and so, unfortunately, the strip went mostly unrecognized by comics history for decades.


above: the last Torchy strip from September 18, 1954.

Both the first and last Torchy strips can be read (all cleaned up with much better resolution) in Nancy Goldstein’s excellent biography Jackie Ormes, the First African American Woman Cartoonist, along with Jackie Ormes’ other strips and creations.

 

Thanks to Comics Workshop for the first Torchy strip.

Mark Carlson-Ghost covers the Friday Foster strip in detail.

While you’re waiting for Goldstein’s book, check out the Jackie Ormes website.

If we’re lucky the soon-to-be-released Friday Foster collection
will be popular enough to get an English edition/translation.

 

Community Comments

#1 Darryl Heine
January/18/2020
@ 7:08 pm

Was there even a Friday Foster live action movie circa 1975-1976 a year or two after the comic strip ended?

#2 Brett Mount
January/19/2020
@ 2:17 am

Good memory:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073019/

#3 Brad Walker
January/19/2020
@ 12:19 pm

Not to mention a single issue from Dell Comics.

https://www.comics.org/series/2041/

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