George "Jimmy" Orlando Thompson was born October 3, 1907 in Toronto, Canada. His father, George Thompson, was born in 1878 in Canada. His mother, Mabel Martin, was born 1879 in Canada. His parents married in 1906 and had two children, George Thompson (b.1907), and Dorothy Thompson (b.1912). The family lived at 21 Havelocke Street in Toronto. The father owned and operated a photography shop.
Both Thompson children were raised in Toronto, where they attended public school.
The son enjoyed working in his father's photography shop, where he learned to shoot and develop film, as well as to print enlargements.
In June of 1923 George "Jimmy" Thompson was fifteen years old, when he completed his junior year of high school, after which he left schooling and entered the work force. His first job was in a photo lab at a Toronto newspaper, where he processed and printed photos of newspaper cameramen.
In October of 1925, at the age of eighteen, he began to draw sports cartoons for a Canadian newspaper. Instead of using his birth name, George Orlando Thompson, he signed this work, "Jimmy Thompson." He developed a unique approach that combined a realistic portrait of a player with topical career facts illustrated with little cartoon characters. These central portraits were drawn from his own reference photos of athletes. His single-panel sports feature proved popular with Canadian sports fans.
On October 30, 1928 The Niagara Falls Gazette reported, "Insures Arm For $25,000 - Jimmy Thompson, well-known Canadian cartoonist has insured his right arm for the sum of $25,000. The insurance is against total disability. Breaks don't count."
On December 15, 1930 The Buffalo-Courier Express announced the new comic feature "Hockey," written and drawn by Jimmy Thompson. This was his first work to appear in U.S. newspapers. According to the announcement, Jimmy Thompson was, "one of the most prominent sports cartoonists in Canada. Jimmy knows his hockey from one end of the rink to the other. He will give the inside stories on many of the famous players, relate anecdotes and jokes, as well as tell about intricate plays. Thompson spends his spare time traveling with NHL teams to gather all of his information first hand. Jimmy has been drawing sports cartoons for Canadian newspapers from coast to coast for the past five years."
By 1930 Jimmy Thompson was famous enough to appear in Canadian advertisements for Buckingham Cigarettes.
The 1932 Toronto Business Directory listed George Orlando Thompson living at home with his parents and his younger sister at 57 Grosvenor Street.
In 1936 Jimmy Thompson drew "Red Men" for The Winnipeg Tribune. According to historian Ron Goulart, "Jimmy Thompson's Red Men had the best Indian stories in comic book history. It portrayed conflicts among tribes and mixed in Indian magic and folk tales. His protagonist, a Mohawk named Black Hawk, was a man of skill and intelligence."
On May 15, 1937 George Orlando Thompson of Toronto, Canada, filed for a copyright with the U.S. Patent Office for a four-color feature newspaper comic strip entitled, "RED MAN," a dignified history of North American Indians. Due to the legal nature of this document, the artist fully identified himself as, "George Orlando Thompson, doing business as Jimmy Thompson."
At that same time, another artist who also worked at The Winnipeg Tribune, William Kemp Starrett (October 6, 1889 - July 9, 1952), stopped drawing a popular comic strip for the Ledger Syndicate, entitled "War On Crime," written by Rex Collier under the supervision of J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the F.B.I. That job vacancy was filled Jimmy Thompson.
A few days later, on April 8, 1937, George Orlando Thompson crossed the U.S. border and was recorded by immigration documents to be five-nine, medium complexion, with blue eyes and brown hair. He listed his occupation as a "professional artist" employed by The Philadelphia Ledger newspaper, at Independence Square in Philadelphia, PA. The artist also stated his intention to permanently reside in the U.S. and to apply for citizenship.
The "War On Crime" comic strip remained in syndication for another year, before it ended in 1938, after which Jimmy Thompson left Philadelphia and moved to New York City, where he lived at the Tudor Hotel, 304 East 42nd Street. This was a deluxe residence on the eastern edge of Manhattan, facing the East River. The area was featured in the Hollywood movie, "Dead End," written by Sidney Kingsley and Lillian Hellman.
In 1938 Jimmy Thompson decided to create a second comic strip about the American Indians, so he traveled to Montana with his camera and sketch book to study the Crow Indian Reservation.
According to the autobiography of Agnes Yellowtail, "We had an old friend, Jimmy Thompson, who came and lived with us in 1938. He was just like one of us. If he had anything, it was just like ours. Jimmy was a photographer from back East, and he drew a comic strip called "Red Man," which appeared in newspapers all over the country. He used Crow Indians as models for his characters in the cartoons. One time he drew my cousins, Ataloa and Ferale Hogan, as princesses who had been separated from their tribe and their many adventures before getting back to their people."
After gathering his research materials, Jimmy Thompson created "Red Eagle," which is considered his most accomplished work. "Red Eagle" featured a Cherokee Indian who was in love with "Blue Sky," a Crow Indian. This Romeo-and-Juliet story combined romance, action, fantasy, and Indian legend. His sixty-four page story was released by McKay Publications as a full-length Feature Book #16.
To promote "Red Men" McKay Publications held a contest for the best drawing of "Black Hawk, the daring warrior of Red Men." The winning prize was a "Real Indian War Bonnet." The judge in the drawing contest was the artist Jimmy Thompson. The winners were announced in the April 1938 issue of King Comics. There were so many excellent drawings that additional prizes were awarded to six kids, each of whom received an original drawing by Jimmy Thompson.
McKay also produced Magic Comics and King Comics. In 1939 Jimmy Thompson drew "Indian Lore" for Magic Comics, and his previously-published comic strip, "Red Man," was reprinted in King Comics.
In 1940 Jimmy Thompson left NYC and moved to Tucson, Arizona, to work for The Arizona Daily Star newspaper. He lived at 290 South Sixth Avenue in Tucson.
In 1941 he returned to Montana visit his friends in the Crow Indian reservation. On this trip he fell in love with a young woman, Joy Yellowtail, whose father was Robert Yellowtail, the leader of the Crow Indian reservation, and also the older brother of Agnes Yellowtail. According to her account, "Jimmy and Joy Yellowtail went everywhere together, and Donnie Deernose and I chaperoned them. They wanted to get married, but her father, Robert Yellowtail, was very opposed to it. He married a teacher from Lodge Grass Elementary School. [On May 15, 1942 George "Jimmy" Thompson married Harriet Keen Moore. She was born on September 15, 1920 in Cincinnati, Ohio.] They separated afterwards, and Joy, who married a Cherokee Indian, was killed later in an automobile accident. When the war came Jimmy went back East in 1942."
During WWII Jimmy Thompson was too old to serve in the military, so he remained in NYC, where he found abundant work in comic books, which enjoyed high profits, while suffering a lack of talented replacements for their drafted artists. Jimmy Thompson went on to draw "The Human Torch" and "The Angel" for Timely Comics. He also drew "Robotman" for D.C. Comics, and "Mary Marvel" and "Captain Midnight" for Fawcett Comics, through the Binder Shop.
On August 1, 1947 Jimmy Thompson returned to Montana, where he worked at The Missoulian newspaper, He lived at 541 Hill Street in Missoula. While living in Missoula he finally applied for U.S. citizenship.
According to Agnes Yellowtail, "Jimmy came back to the Crow in 1949 and lived with us. He realized he was very ill and wanted to return and be with the Crow Indians when he died, for he knew we would take good care of him. But he didn't stay long this time, because he had an enlarged heart, and he needed hospital care. At the Hospital in Billings they put him in an oxygen tent, and we used to go and visit him almost every day. We were visiting him one day, and Donnie Deernose wanted to go out and eat. By the time we returned, after that little time, Jimmy had passed away. We felt just terrible. We kept Jimmy for six days, and tried to locate some of his relatives, but couldn't locate any. Donnie sold his Nash car and used the money to pay the hospital bills. Jimmy was buried in Billings."
George "Jimmy" Orlando Thompson died at the age of forty-one at the Deaconess Hospital in Billings, MT, on September 16, 1949.
© David Saunders 2016